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The legacy of one of Cranbrook’s longest-running businesses—Sandor Rental Equipment

Judy Sandor with her son in front of some equipment at Sandor Rental Equipment

Judy and Robert Sandor, a mother-and-son team, have taken on leadership roles at Sandor Rental Equipment. They are carrying on the legacy of the company's founder and namesake, the late Frank Sandor. Kerry Shellborn photo

Judy Sandor is honouring her husband’s memory by taking their Cranbrook rental business to the next level

Judy Sandor's story is one of resilience, determination, and a profound commitment to carry on a cherished family business. Taking the lead at Sandor Rental Equipment Ltd. in Cranbrook following her husband Frank's passing, Judy stepped into the role of CEO with unwavering courage. Frank Sandor's journey from Hungary to Canada in the midst of revolution laid the foundation for what would become a cornerstone business in the East Kootenay region. From humble beginnings as a cement finisher, Frank's entrepreneurial spirit flourished, leading him to establish the first rental business in the Kootenays in 1969. Now, 55 years later, Judy continues to steer the company forward, embracing innovation while honouring her husband's fondness for community involvement and service.

Judy’s son, Robert, lives in Alberta but travels to Cranbrook to work with her from Monday to Friday, going home to his family on weekends.

Why buy? Sandor Rental Equipment has just about every tool and machine under the sun available to the public, including the largest cranes in the region, along with professional operators. —Kerry Shellborn photo

Building a new life: Frank Sandor’s entrepreneurial journey

Frank Sandor came to Canada from Hungary at 26 years old, back in 1956. His home country was in the midst of a revolution, and he saw an opportunity to build a new life for himself. He started a business in the 1960s, becoming a regionally known cement finisher by trade. With the help of his trusted crew, Frank did work on several major East Kootenay projects, including the Kootenay Trout Hatchery and the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.

In 1969, a new idea came to him, and he decided to start up the first rental business in the Kootenays. He opened the business in a quaint main street location that used to be a discount food store.

By the time Judy arrived from Hungary in 1977, the business was already in a new location, with all the space and equipment they needed to operate smoothly.

In 1980, Frank decided to sell the company to someone else, but it was not to last. A year later, he repossessed it after the new owner burned down the building. He had to start over from scratch, at a fresh location.

“He had a few cranes and not as much equipment,” Judy explained. “And so we ran it that way very successfully for a few more years. I became strongly involved in the business in 1997.”

Party queen: Judy Sandor turned her creative decorating hobby into a thriving side of the rental business with the addition of party supplies in the early 2000s. During the peak summer months Sandor Rentals rents their party accessories to an average of 10-15 parties a week. —Kerry Shellborn photo

Party rentals: From hobby to a valuable addition

Judy started out working at the front, offering customer service and otherwise taking care of the store. After working with tool and equipment rental for a while, she grew tired of it and wanted to add something new to the company. That’s when she had the idea of adding party supplies to the rental offerings.

“I love weddings,” she said. “It started as a hobby—or what I thought was a hobby—and then grew into a full-time business. We are now we renting tents, tables, chairs, any accessories you might need.”

Sandor Rental Equipment now has approximately 15 to 20 rental bookings a week for their wedding supplies and equipment, and they also assist with other major events.

“Last year I did a celebration of life,” Judy said. “We had chairs and tables because now people do it outside. After that, it just took off from there and then now we do more and more. You touch a lot of lives. That goes back to my husband. He was a strong believer and he always helped the community.”

A pillar of the community, and a dearly missed prankster

Frank was known for helping others, getting involved in the Cancer Society, SPCA, Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

“I would like to continue the same thing alongside my son,” said Judy, “for Frank’s legacy to go on because he was a great guy. He was a jokester, we miss that. And even after hours, like five o 'clock, he finished work but still kept a gate and our door open until the last customer left. Then he had a circle of friends who visited him after hours. And that's where the fun began—he called it Happy Hour. That was his relaxation with his friends, they would prank each other—and then other people!”

Frank’s good-natured trickery was not just reserved for his buddies. Sometimes Judy was on the receiving end.

“He was a great cook, but a messy one. One time I will never forget, he phoned me from home and he said, ‘I have a surprise for you.’ I thought, ‘Holy cow, maybe the guy’s come to his senses.’ In the meantime, he came down to the shop, and when I went home, I looked at the kitchen. There were pots and pans, about 20 of them, all over. I phoned him back and I asked, ‘That was your surprise?’ He said ‘Yes, and I'm not even going home until you finish it or clean it up.’ So yes, even towards me, he was a prankster. But he also did other things; he was well-liked.”

Frank’s team was made up of committed, long-time employees, including his stepfather, who adored him. He was charismatic, and always willing to lend a hand and get in there with the crew when needed.

He played many strong roles in the community. He was the first in Cranbrook to offer crane rentals and the person to call when repairs were needed—he was even responsible for setting up the city’s Christmas tree.

Party on: Make your special event memorable for all the right reasons by consulting with the party expert, Judy Sandor, on your vision for weddings, parties, corporate events and celebrations of all kinds. Sandor Rentals has tents, wedding arches, tables, dishes, cutlery, decorations, sound equipment, bouncy castles and just about anything else you can imagine to make your event a success. —Kerry Shellborn photo

Taking on every new challenge with optimism

Similar to Frank, Judy came to Canada to enjoy the freedom and possibilities available. She takes the same hands-on approach to business, and has been working hard ever since she arrived. When she first got to Canada, she started out working several different types of jobs just to learn the language. Over the years, she tried her hand at nursing school and hairdressing, but ultimately opted to pursue something else.

“I’ve always liked challenges in my life,” she said. “I still enjoy coming to work, even right now with my husband not here anymore. I didn't know the accounting and bookkeeping part of it. So at this age I am learning that, which is quite challenging and frustrating. But I have to, because my husband left the business to me!”

Having her son there to assist has been a tremendous help, after Frank’s passing in 2022. Robert runs a detailing business in Alberta and does well balancing responsibilities in both provinces. The future of Sandor Rental Equipment remains bright.

“I still think it's a very good business,” Judy said. “It has many years to go, and I want to build it for the future generation, not so much for me. I'm dedicated and all that, but I don't want to do it as long as my husband. I have other interests in life, I want to travel, I love to do other things, but right now it's good. So a couple more years and after that, probably my son could take over or the two of us will figure it out which way to go.”

Cheers: Mother and son share a lighthearted chuckle as they brainstorm together on future improvements to their thriving rental business. They recently brought in high-demand items like a sparkle machine and 360 photo booth for the younger crowd. —Kerry Shellborn photo

Sandor Rental Equipment looks to the future with optimism

Plans for the future include a technology upgrade, to incorporate computers and run the business more efficiently, as well as continual equipment improvements. Given the growth and development taking place in Cranbrook, there should be no shortage of demand. It isn’t just contractors renting equipment from Sandor—average homeowners are often in need of tools on a short-term basis to complete a DIY project, and they would wisely rather rent than buy. Sandor Rental Equipment has a small Bobcat, aerator and other equipment that most renovation-savvy folks can use without having to hire a professional.

New wedding supplies have also been purchased this year, which Judy is very excited about—including their popular electric fireworks light, and a photo booth. A bouncy castle is also being added to the list of rental offerings.

It brings Judy a great deal of joy to help make events special for the people planning them.

“A significant one was when a young girl came to my shop and she was really panicking,” she said. “There was a New York Times picture in her hands and this was the kind of wedding she wanted to create. I had to look at it a couple of times and I said to her, ‘yeah with a backdrop, we can create it, but not exactly what is in the picture,’ because at that time—it was a couple years ago—I didn't have that many items in my wedding shop. But I said to her how about I draw a picture and we can get close to that.  It was an outdoor wedding and she wanted a garden theme. I will never forget that. We used the backdrop framed and we put greenery on it with curtains, so we created the garden theme for her. She was very grateful.”

With the support of her son, Judy has all she needs to build the legacy her husband would be proud of.

“I don't really tell my son, but I see my husband in him,” she said. “He had the same ambition and vision. So it's a good feeling for me overall. Wherever Frank is up there, I think he probably feels good about that.”

Visit the Sandor Rental Equipment website to learn more about this company's enduring legacy in Cranbrook.