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From Lebanon to Africa to Chicago: All roads lead to rental

By Connie Lannan

October 1, 2023

Ziad Khoury A USA RentalsZiad Khoury’s love of heavy equipment has taken many turns and resulted in many ventures around the world. They all have led him back to the United States to establish A USA Rentals, an equipment rental startup in West Chicago, Ill.

It all began back in Lebanon, where he was born. “My dad was an equipment dealer/trader and world traveler. He had locations in the Middle East, Europe and the United States. I always spent time with my dad at work whenever I had the opportunity. I have been playing with heavy equipment since I was a kid. My first job was to be in charge of the spare parts department at my dad’s business,” Khoury says.

Throughout the years he also worked at his father and brother’s concrete and asphalt plant. His uncle did construction, so he helped him as well, overseeing various projects.

After college, he traveled to Nigeria to open a branch in that African nation with a partner of his father’s business, selling new and used equipment.

Wanting to run a business on his own, he moved to another location in Africa, got a yard and started a dealership. “While I was there, I had people who wanted to rent from me. I was in an oil-producing part of the country. Oil companies like Daewoo Engineering and Construction Co. and Agip gas were there, and I started renting excavators to Daewoo. That is how I got a taste of the rental industry. I liked it very much,” he says.

At the young age of 24, Khoury was running his own equipment dealership. “I started traveling to the U.S. to buy equipment, shipping it back to Africa and selling it there. One of the first auctions I went to was one offered by Ritchie Bros. in Chicago. I liked Chicago a lot,” says Khoury, who has been to many different areas of the U.S. since his father had a branch of his business in Atlanta.

Running a business in Nigeria can be challenging, so he decided to leave after a few years and return to the U.S. An American citizen, Khoury landed in New York City. “I started to buy equipment and sell it online to my customers back in Africa. I did that for a couple of years, but then I decided I didn’t want to go back to Nigeria. I had learned valuable lessons of self-reliance, business savviness, trading and gained more confidence in my abilities, but I didn’t want to return to Nigeria as it could be a little rough to do business there. Then my father passed away. That created a huge internal shock in our family. I knew I had to try something different. I didn’t want to look back on my life and say I just did one thing and never tried something else,” he says.

He did his research and ended up leaving the heavy equipment world for the food industry. “Being Lebanese, I know how much we love food. I kept hearing that no one could get authentic Lebanese pita bread here in the States, so I bought all the equipment from Lebanon, rented a warehouse in New Jersey and created authentic, organic pita bread. I was able to make it into Whole Foods and Fresh Direct. Then COVID hit and my business quadrupled. After 10 years, I thought it was the right time to sell the business. I trained the new owner for six months on how to run the equipment and moved my wife and daughter, who was born during the pandemic, to Chicago,” Khoury says.

A USA RentalsChicago, he thought, was a good place to raise a family and finally pursue a dream that was sparked all those years ago in Africa — starting an equipment rental operation.

So, in 2022, he made his dream a reality by establishing A USA Rentals in the suburb of West Chicago.

“I started with one mini excavator and one skid steer and now have about 20 new pieces of equipment,” he says. “I have found people who could help me out, from manufacturers to other rental operators. I learned about ARA [the American Rental Association] from the Facebook group and joined. The first week I rented equipment and then got an office. I am now renting space out of a truck repair shop and am using all the skills I learned in my other businesses and am developing a good reputation serving local contractors and contractors from all over Chicago.”

He is committed to making the rental transaction as seamless as possible, connecting with his customers online.

“My business concept is to do everything online. Having a big office and a lot of people keeps a business high in expenses and will be too expensive for the new guys to rent a machine. I am the place for small to medium guys who are just starting out, those who are up-and-coming like me. My goal is to make it as seamless as possible. You don’t have to come and drive to see me face-to-face,” Khoury says.

The concept is taking off. “I have customers who thank me for such a seamless rental. I am seeing recommendations and repeat customers. Eighty-five percent of them are coming back. Having return customers shows that I am doing something right. There is potential. That gives me the opportunity to buy bigger machines and take bigger risks.”

With one year under his belt, Khoury says, “I feel like I have arrived. I am helping a lot of people, making their lives easier and making connections with other rental operators and manufacturers. I also have learned a lot and continue to find ways to keep walking forward with balance — like the tattoo I have on my arm of a guy walking on a tightrope. As a new business owner, I chose to continue to be bold and courageous because if you have the right equipment, customer service and the right place, people will come to you.”

As he gains his footing in the Chicago market, he’s also looking at the future. “My goal is to look for strategic partners who can help me expand the business to several locations in Illinois and beyond. That is where A USA Rentals is headed,” Khoury says.