In a world where equipment thieves will try anything to get their hands on a rental store’s equipment, Garrett Shurling (and his team at Badger Rental Services) are prepared to stop them. 

Garrett’s exploits were recently featured in Rental Pulse (see transcript below). He stopped by the Front PORch to talk about his crime-fighting technique. We proposed a potential new superhero name for him. He even gave advice on what to look for in a drone and how to ensure you’re using maximizing the benefit you get from the tech you might consider a « for fun » acquisition.

Brian: Hi Garrett! Welcome to the Front PORch. 

Garrett: Thanks, man, glad to be here. 

So I was reading through Rental Pulse and I saw a story about your encounter with some equipment thieves. You explained their scheme and how you went about getting the equipment back, and it was all interesting, but I really wanted to talk to you about the specifics of what you’re doing in this story. First of all, it features a drone. Why do you have a drone? 

Well, you know, I’ve always been attracted to technology, not necessarily for technology’s sake, but for what I could create or do with it, in and out of the business. We make lots of family videos and stuff like that, but we also use it pretty extensively to produce content for our Facebook and Instagram accounts and just to kind of tell the story of Badger Rental Services from a different perspective.

At what point did you decide it should be used for fighting crime, like a less-dramatic Batman? Do you call it the Badger-copter? Are you Badgerman?

We have got to come up with a really cool name for it, because it’s been used to recover several pieces of highly-valuable equipment so far. So I’ll get right on coming up with a better name for it than just “my drone”. 

OK, so you initially got it for marketing purposes, or just because you were interested in drones?

Yeah, I was just interested in drones. I’ve crashed my share of ‘em and made my share of cool videos as, y’know, a hobby. But we got the call that this trailer had been located with the GPS device that we put on there. I drove out to the site where it was supposedly at, and wasn’t able to visually confirm, from the road without going onto these people’s property, that the trailer was, in fact, there. I knew from past experience that if the sheriff’s office weren’t able to visually confirm that it was on the property, that they would not escort me in there to go and repossess it. So I parked about a mile away so as to not attract any undue attention from the folks that I suspected had the piece of equipment, flew it over, took a couple of really good pictures and a couple seconds’ worth of video, and drove over to the sheriff’s office of the county that the piece of equipment was in – which was several counties away by then – and provided them with pictures and video, proof of ownership of the trailer, and just kind of told them the backstory. To my surprise, they said “Let’s go, jump in, and go get it.”

You mentioned that you saw it on the GPS that it was there. But at what point did you realize “oh, this equipment, it’s not actually where we thought it was going to be – it’s stolen”?

This is actually becoming a big problem – it was almost a month before we realized that the trailer was rented under false pretenses because these customers that they’re utilizing all have Net 30 accounts, charge accounts where we bill them monthly for pieces of equipment.  They don’t work for the companies, they never have, they don’t have any association with them. They just simply drive by job sites and they’re IDing construction signs on the job site – they’re calling in and saying “Hey, this is Bob from Joe’s Construction Company, and I need a skid steer and a trailer out here on the job site.” Of course, the construction company may have a charge account with us or some other rental company in town, and they’ll just simply keep calling different rental companies until they find somebody to bite. In this case, it was us. We went out there, delivered it, the guy was actually there and signed the paperwork, looked totally legit…and as soon as we left, he left with the equipment. 

We didn’t figure out anything was wrong until we sent the bill at the end of the month to our client and they said “Uh, we never rented this.” (laughs) So we said “Uh oh, let’s find out where it’s at,” and thankfully, we did that day, because when I – when the sheriff and I – actually went in there, they had already stripped all the decals off, they had removed the tag off the trailer. So it was getting ready to go somewhere else soon.

Good thing they checked their bill and actually paid attention! OK, so, you figured out where your GPS is…what happened in the past where they told you they couldn’t escort you on the property? Why are you going out on this trip to get pictures?

Well, y’know, if we have a suspicion that something’s where it shouldn’t be, and we contact law enforcement, the typical path to recovering a piece of equipment is: You have to report it stolen, and that takes some time. That goes out to some type of report that gets communicated throughout all the different agencies, law enforcement in your local area, and basically, they’re just kind of on the lookout for it. We have not had a lot of success using that longer, more inefficient process. But when we can provide them with that instant proof of “Hey, listen, here’s where the GPS says it is, here’s a picture of it with the timestamp, here’s my contract that we signed together, and here’s my proof of ownership,” lots of times, that will get local law enforcement – mainly your local sheriff’s office, to be compelled to get involved right away. There’s a sense of urgency about the matter – we know where it’s at, we know it’s not supposed to be there, so they’re a whole lot more likely to jump in and help today. 

Yeah, I feel like when you’ve made the entire case for them, it’s like “Hey, here it is. Let me give you all the evidence you need, and let’s go do this.”

Yeah, and you leave no room for doubt. We just feel like we did all the legwork, we know the situation backwards and forwards, and we just walk into the room with a lot more confidence knowing that we’ve visually identified the piece of equipment. 

For sure. So what do these trips look like? Who’s going with you? Do you have like a team that goes with you? Are you going in the middle of the day or are you going after work? Is there a particular crew that you have for all these operations?

No, it’s just me, man. We certainly do have a couple of guys where, if we’re going to do a simple repossession of a piece of equipment – the customer’s just not paying or or they’re abusing the equipment, damaging it – and we just need to get it back, we have a couple of guys that work for us who specialize in that type of operation. But when it’s just reconnaissance, I kinda think the smaller the footprint, the better. So it’s just me in my unmarked, black pickup.

K, so it’s just Badgerman himself. There’s no Robin. 

(laughs) Man, what a third-rate superhero that would be. Woof. 

Well, we’ll work on the name, I guess. 

Yeah. 

How many of these recon missions have you gone on?

We have successfully gotten back three pieces of equipment using the drone and the GPS data in combination. There has been – in one of the instances, where the perpetrator actually found the GPS module and took it off. We were just lucky enough to get it before he actually moved it. 

Nice. So the drone’s paid for itself?

The drone has for sure paid for itself many times over. Even with the equipment recovery scheme…

I was going to say, even just not counting the marketing, huh?

Yeah, even just not counting the marketing. But yeah, the marketing’s been really good, too. Our aerial photographs of our piece of equipment in an interesting part of town…has been shared by local news media and…all kinds of different outlets. It’s been a really good thing for us. 

What’s your plan for if you’re confronted by the thieves while you’re doing these recon missions? I understand if you don’t want to share your tactics publicly, but I don’t think that this podcast is all that popular among equipment thieves. Now, in fairness, I haven’t heard that much from our audience, so it’s possible that it’s entirely full of thieves, but…

Right, it could be. 

If you want to explain it, then go ahead here. If you don’t, then I’ll understand and cut this whole thing. 

Yeah, man, we don’t have much of a plan for when we’re confronted ‘cause we don’t plan to be confronted. Part of the wonderful thing about the drone and the GPS is – like I said – I can park miles away. The specific drone I use, by DJI, has a five-mile radius, so I can travel up to five miles away, park in a Wal-Mart parking lot or down the street in a cul-de-sac, whatever it needs to be to not look like I’m obviously flying just straight up and over into this person’s yard. And y’know, the drone’s also quiet, which is a pretty recent thing. Drones have, until the last couple of years, been really big and loud and obvious – they’re these big white rectangles with huge rotors that sound like 6,000 gnats flying overhead. So that’s been really helpful, too. 

We always try to stay up at least 100 feet off the deck. When you’re that high up, it’s pretty impossible to hear and even harder to see. They’ve never had a clue we’re flying over and doing any kind of recon. 

OK, now, I don’t own a rental store, but I like to imagine that some of the people listening to this do. Let’s say they’re inspired by your Badgerman – again, we’re pretending this is your name for now – they’re inspired by your exploits and they want to get their own crime-fighting technology. What should they be looking for?

Well, certainly, DJI is the industry leader in aerial video drones right now, both in the categories of video quality and ease of use. I don’t think anybody who is in the rental industry is interested in dedicating hundreds of hours of flight time to learn how to operate one of the difficult-to-use drones. Everything from DJI is super simple to operate, they all shoot high-def, 4k video, take amazing pictures. I would definitely say to find a drone that’s easy to use, takes good photographs, good video and just go out there, spend a dozen hours or so learning how to fly it, and when the time comes, you’ll be ready to deploy that technology to get your equipment back. 

Or you can shoot some fantastic video! We’ve gotten some calls from customers that have said “Hey, I know that you guys are really active on social media. Y’know, we’re going to have your 80-foot man lift down beside this beautiful building doing this intricate mural. Would you guys like to come down and take some photographs?” My answer is always “Absolutely.”

Sounds like you can get a little bit of training for these operations on your own site, just practicing taking shots of what you’ve already got. 

Yeah, that’s right. There’s certainly a little bit of added pressure when it’s going out and doing recon on a stolen piece of equipment. You’re for sure amped up a little bit more than when you’re going out to shoot your friend, who’s a customer, using your piece of equipment. 

A camera’s pretty important – as you mentioned, you don’t want to get the drone too close to ‘em, so you wanna be able to see something from a little further up, right?

Yeah, sure, you don’t want to go crash into the side of their house. (laughter) You’re trying to be stealthy, y’know? 

Don’t put your logo on your drone, just in case. 

Yeah, I don’t want to have to go knock on their front door and be like “Can I have my lawnmower and my drone back, please?”

You mentioned earlier that you’ve been using it a lot for marketing and you’ve done a lot of videos. Where can people go to see some examples of the cool videos that you guys have made?

Badgerrentalservices.com is our website. We’ve got some media on there, but probably the best place is going to be the Facebook page. 

So probably Badger Rental Services, I’m guessing?

Yeah, facebook.com/badgerrentalservices.

OK, is there anything else you wanted to mention about this whole thing today?

I think that it’s important to know your local laws. Drone laws vary greatly across the country, across states, and even across counties. So, y’know, before you go buying a drone and getting yourself in trouble with law enforcement, I would definitely make sure that what we’re doing is OK where you live. 

Good advice, I like that. Don’t break laws trying to catch people breaking laws. 

That’s a good plan. I like that plan, too. (laughs) Also, drones…they’re really cool pieces of equipment, but they’re also very dangerous pieces of equipment. They’re basically an upside-down weedeater flying through the air. You don’t want to get it around anybody or anything that you might damage. 

Alright. That sounds like good advice. 

Be careful, be smart, and have some fun with it first.