This is the season for spring cleaning. And when the sun comes out and the grass begins to grow, business begins to boom at Tilton Rentall in Oak Bluffs. De-thatchers, aerators, ladders and lawnmowers. Leafblowers, hedge clippers, scaffolding and concrete mixers. They’re all in high demand at this time of year, as homeowners and landscapers alike begin to shake the winter off Island yards and gardens.
“People come alive and they start to think about projects and events,” said Tilton owner Sandra Lippens.
Ms. Lippens has been at the helm of the business for the past 30 years, after taking over from founder Tebby Tilton. Earlier in his career, Mr. Tilton had previously worked in construction, and founded his rental company using some of his early investments.
“When he decided to get out of that business, he had all of these tools left over,” Ms. Lippens said. “It was a very modest beginning.”
Ms. Lippens moved to the Island in 1980 and crossed paths with Mr. Tilton, who by that time had also taken up scalloping.
“He asked me to watch the place,” Ms. Lippens said. “I started to watch the place, and one thing led to another, and 30 years later, here we are.”
“Here” is the rental facility at the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Barnes Road, still at its original location. A large cedar-shingled house that contains the front office sits at one side of the property, while storage buildings sit on the other. One storage building is tall, with wide barn doors that swing open to reveal a portion of the rental inventory. A collection of antique horseshoes nailed to the insides of the doors are inscribed with quotes from some of the more memorable customers (one couldn’t pay because he “went to the bagel store yesterday”).
The inventory was built over the years based on requests from customers, although Ms. Lippens said she still does not stock larger equipment such as backhoes. The biggest pieces of equipment are the power aerators and the concrete mixers.
“Out of respect for my neighbors, I want to keep [the property] as rural and local looking as possible,” she said.
Still, she said, “There’s very little that we don’t have.” At this time of year, lawn care equipment such as de-thatchers are popular. Ms. Lippens has a machine for every step of the lawn-making process, from rototiller to mower.
For all of her expertise in the business, Ms. Lippens notes that “90 per cent of the tools that I rent I have never operated.”
“I have never sanded a floor but I can tell somebody exactly what to do and how to avoid problems,” she said. “I’m able to teach somebody how to do something, and I count on their ability to carry it out and actually do it.”
Clientele at Tilton Rentall is largely divided into two camps: those who don’t want to make the financial investment in a machine they will only use once a year, and those who need a temporary gear replacement.
Party planners, homeowners and large construction companies alike rent from Ms. Lippens.
“The people that built the West Tisbury Library, they were in and out of here with this, that and the other things,” she said. Lawrence Lynch, the company that built the roundabout, were also frequent renters.
“They have everything,” Ms. Lippens said. “But it could have broken down, or somebody didn’t think, oh gee, we’re going to need to drill these holes today.”
Part of the business also includes rentals for parties or special occasions. The Tilton Tents truck is a familiar sight on Island roads during wedding season. Ms. Lippens began incorporating party rentals in the early 1980s. The two rental endeavors complement each other well.
“Our tool business has been very helpful in many instances regarding the party business,” she said. “We get out there and somebody has a branch that’s in the way — hey, take out that branch.”
A flexible outlook is key in the rental business — on both the part of the customer and the proprietor.
“I love friendly people with a good sense of humor,” Ms. Lippens said. “Things happen — you’re talking about mechanical stuff, you’re talking about weather . . . I think we do a pretty good job most of the time,” she said.
“We seem to make it work.”