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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Hawaiian Rent-All sold to new owner

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

For 40 years, brothers Gordon and Norman Loui have rented just about any kind of tool to Hawai'i consumers, contractors and businesses. Now for once, they have sold something — their company.

Paul Gibfried, left, purchased Hawaiian Rent-All from Gordon Loui, right, and Loui's brother Norman. The business is well known for the messages on its marquee.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

The founders of Hawaiian Rent-All recently sold the tool-lending store at the corner of McCully and Beretania streets, which is perhaps better known for its often witty and sometimes irreverent sign slogans, to a businessman from Missouri.

Since 1964, the Loui brothers have stocked useful rental items that someone might need on rare occasion but not want to buy — anything from household tools like a 20-cup rice cooker or champagne fountain, to personal tools like crutches or a bullhorn, to mechanical tools like a chain saw or generator.

"We wanted to become a sort of supermarket of rentals," said Gordon, who with his brother started the company as a United Rent-All franchise before going independent 10 years later.

Over the years, the Loui brothers have rented all kinds of stuff — from vibrating-band belly-buster exercise equipment, which the store no longer carries, to a liquid carbon dioxide-powered kit to freeze water pipes, which is available for plumbing emergencies.

Among the more popular items today are the rotisserie grill with electric-driven spit, ladders and pressure washers.

The store's most expensive and largest item is a $160-a-day earth excavator small enough to drive through a doorway. On the low end, customers can rent a folding chair for 75 cents a day.

For several years, Gordon, 66, and Norman, 64, had considered retiring. They got serious two years ago by assessing the profitable company's financial condition, documenting some 3,200 tools and hiring a business broker on the Mainland.

"I like the business," Gordon said. "But 40 years of it is time to cut back and let other people carry it on."

By chance, Paul Gibfried, the founder and former president of a custom metal casting factory in Missouri, was moving to Hawai'i and looking for a business to buy.

Gibfried, 53, said he was tired of working behind a desk at Monett Metals, a foundry he started 25 years ago as an investment for a private corporation. So he arranged to buy a car-rental business on Maui, but he said the seller backed out at the last moment.

"I was left with a car in the hull of a ship and all of my furniture moving, and I happened to find this business," he said.

The purchase was completed last month, but the Loui brothers are helping Gibfried make the transition for another 30 to 60 days. The company's staff of about 10 will stay on. A purchase price and annual revenue were not disclosed.

While familiar with all sorts of tools, Gibfried wasn't sure what to make of Hawaiian Rent-All's old-fashioned theater-like sign. But as he described the business to local people, he understood that the message board was a hallmark of the store.

"Oh, the one with the sign ... " goes the typical response of longtime residents referring to Hawaiian Rent-All.

The sign went up along with the building in 1968, after the business moved out of an old liquor warehouse on Kona Street near Ala Moana Center.

The messages, regularly suggested by customers and employees, are often a play on words that make for humorous advertising, such as yesterday's sign: "Our House jacks are screwed up."

But the slogans aren't always commercial, such as this previous Hawaiian Rent-All message: "DRIVE WITH CARE. LIFE HAS NO SPARE."

"It depends on what's going on," said Gordon, who is trying to come up with a witticism touching on the city's investigation into illegal campaign donations.

Gibfried said he plans to continue the messages, which usually avoid politics, sex and religion — though they have raised the hackles of passersby who have read: "MOM-IN-LAW COMING? ROLLAWAY BEDS: WITH OR WITHOUT ROCKS" and "We rent lots of wrenches but not wenches."

"Some are good, and some are not so good," Gordon said, adding that there are no plans for a farewell message, though he and his brother may call Gibfried from time to time with suggestions.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8065.