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Member profile: Owner of Texas’ Only 1 Rentals attributes success to faith and pursuit of growth

By Connie Lannan

February 7, 2023

Team at Only 1 Rentals

Team at Only 1 Rentals

Only 1 Rentals, Navasota, Texas, has come a long way in just 11 years. Starting with just four trailers to rent, Dillion Hughes, owner, and immediate past president of the Texas Rental Association (TRA), was still in college when he began his venture into equipment rental. Today, with nine employees, his company has grown way beyond what he ever thought it would, allowing him to offer both his contractor and homeowner customers a wide variety of equipment to fill their needs.

For Hughes, reaching this point is both satisfying and humbling. “To see the path that God has put us on and to recognize that — how He is using this rental company for a ministry so to speak. I feel that I am basically a manager of His business. We don’t do it for the title or accolades, but we do it to better serve our customers, take care of our people who work here and help everyone grow as individuals. God put us in the rental business, and to see the things that He has done, such as pulling us through, whether it be purchasing equipment, providing new customers, getting us through COVID, putting us into this specialty market, etc.,” he says.

Hughes, whose family owned a construction business, moved into rental for the simple reason that there was a need to fulfill.

“We were in the country and people always wanted to borrow trailers. I thought we might as well start renting them. Six or seven months into it, I started getting calls for smaller equipment like mini excavators, and then we got into the roll-off dumpsters within about a year-and-a-half for the oil field for trash. Now we run everything from trailers to the dumpsters, electric sewer snakes, scissor lifts, forklifts, manlifts and up to 110,000-lb. excavators with demolition shears on them. Now our equipment is so big it doesn’t fit in our shop. We could use a bigger shop for sure,” he says.

At first, he was the only one staffing the operation while finishing his college courses. “I was going to school Tuesday and Thursday and in the shop Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If a customer called on a Tuesday or Thursday, I told them the equipment wouldn’t be available until the following day as I didn’t want them to know that I was still in class,” Hughes says.

Only 1 Rentals logoAfter the second year, Hughes was able to receive a little help when his little brother opted for a co-op program to work in the rental business in the afternoons. “When that happened, we could rent stuff out after lunch on the days when I was in class. He has been with me ever since. I am beyond thankful that we have been able to work together and have no idea what the business would look like today had he not gotten involved. I literally look up to him daily,” Hughes says.

Like all rental operations, Hughes, who was named one of the “12 to watch under 40” in the September 2018 issue of Rental Management, received the President’s Image Award in 2019 and was selected to receive ARA’s Rising Star award at The ARA Show™ in Orlando this month, has faced a variety of challenges over the years.

“As we have grown and gotten bigger, our customer base has grown. Just staying on top of our customers and our A/R bills/aging has probably been our biggest challenge. While we have developed longtime and repeat customers, our area is growing so fast — so many people are moving here — that it can be tricky to make sure people know we are here. Even though we are on the main highway, we still have customers, including those who live here, not know we are here. We are trying to stay on top of the marketing — staying ahead of the curve of all these new people coming in. It used to be a small town where everybody knew everybody. Now there are names and area codes coming in we have never heard of or seen before,” he says.

When the pandemic hit, Hughes remembers that on day three after the world shut down, “the phone hardly rang since that Monday. Wednesday was turning into the same song, third verse. I grabbed my brother, mom and dad, who happened to all be here, and simply prayed that if it was time for this rental chapter to end and for me to potentially experience bankruptcy before turning 30, then let me be at peace with that because as long as it was his will being done then that’s all I could humbly ask for. That was truly the first time I fully gave a situation to God not knowing what to expect. And we’ve had to hold on to the reins ever since,” he says.

Dillon Hughes, left, and his brother, Lucas

Dillon Hughes, left, and his brother, Lucas

Those scary days at the beginning of the pandemic did turn around for Hughes. “We ended up buying more equipment in 2020 than we did in 2018 and 2019 combined. Demand was really high,” he says.

Like others, he has had to deal with delays because of supply chain issues. “The specialty attachments, such as demolition shears, are 18 months out. It is a new market we are getting into. Because it is a specialty market, it has taken a little more time and a lot more patience as they do not turn near as much as the smaller, more familiar equipment lines. Sometimes they can sit for six months. That is taking a lot of patience,” Hughes says.

However, he adds that “we have been beyond blessed with our labor, workforce, my wife and now two children, and the support of our immediate family. We had two new guys come in August to run the counter and the maintenance. Both had been in rental for 20 years and had worked together on and off during that time. I have known both for 10 years. They unexpectedly got hired on the same day here. While I was nervous about hiring just one of them, the other hire happened just 30 minutes later while trying to troubleshoot a compressor. It was divine intervention. Our other staff have been with us for quite a while. We haven’t had any turnover, which is great,” Hughes says.

Attending to customers’ needs in a timely fashion has been a strength of the operation. “We are quick to get equipment delivered and quick to meet their needs. We treat everyone with dignity and respect and take ownership of the good and the bad. If we make mistakes, we are quick to acknowledge that. Our mission is quite simple — to provide top-tier rentals for our business partners’ needs and/or problems while glorifying God along the way. We are very customer- and family-driven. Our customers know we care,” he says.

As far as what the future holds, Hughes admits he “has no idea. If you asked me that two years ago, I would have never anticipated that we would have equipment that is too big to fit inside our shop. I am just as curious as you are. Hopefully we will continue to grow because, if we are not growing, we are dying,” he says.

Involvement in ARA is vital for Hughes and his operation

Dillon Hughes

Dillon Hughes

Dillon Hughes, owner, Only 1 Rentals, Navasota, Texas, still remembers vividly his introduction to the American Rental Association (ARA).

“I learned about ARA in 2012 from a store manager from Volvo Rents when it was a franchise. He gave me tremendous guidance and direction. I would call it showing me the bumpers on my bowling lane. He showed me the do’s and don’ts. He said to join ARA as there was valuable knowledge there,” Hughes says.

While attending The ARA Show™ in Las Vegas in 2013, he met Willie Strange, then ARA Region Four director. “Willie talked with me about being on the Texas Rental Association (TRA) board that year, but I had just started in the business and the board wanted to make sure I was going to be in business for a while and not just close up after being in business for such a short time,” he says with a laugh. “I joined the TRA board in 2014 and have been there ever since.”

Hughes has served in every role on the board. “I went from serving my full-time board of director position to secretary/treasurer, then vice president, then president from 2021-2022 and now immediate past president. When they made the announcement at our TRA Roundup in July that I was the youngest president to serve in TRA, I was surprised as I didn’t realize that,” he says.

Why has he stayed so involved in his state chapter all these years? “It all goes back to the networking, the varied resources offered by ARA national and our state chapter, the ARA Professional Driver Education Program, ARA Insurance, the library of knowledge and all that is offered via the website. It is so much,” he says.

That is why he encourages other rental operators to become involved in their state ARA chapter. “Just to stay connected with what is new with ARA, what is coming out, how they are helping us, the networking with other rental operators and the ability to share, including the theft alerts, can offer so much help,” Hughes says, noting it is well worth one’s time to get involved.