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Texas’ Dot’s Rentals & Sales: A place where women have always led the way

By Connie Lannan

March 25, 2024

The three generations of women who are leading the charge at Dot's Rentals & Sales are (left to right) Dorothy “Dot” Williford, DeMita Torrans and Claire Torrans-Field

The three generations of women who are leading the charge at Dot’s Rentals & Sales are (left to right) Dorothy “Dot” Williford, DeMita Torrans and Claire Torrans-Field

Dorothy “Dot” Williford, owner, Dot’s Rentals & Sales, is considered a legend in her time to the folks in Texarkana, Texas.

Why? Well, this rental store owner, who just turned 91 on March 8, 2024, has defied so many odds. Williford started her woman-owned rental business at the age of 55 with only $500 in the bank and has grown that business to $6.5 million per year in rental revenue by serving both the equipment and event rental needs of the entire region. She continues to work full time and is cementing her company’s legacy as a woman-owned-and-operated, customer service-focused business with the addition of her daughter, DeMita Torrans, and her granddaughter, Claire Torrans-Field.

The business is thriving. The beginnings, however, were humble.

“I had worked in my brother’s rental operation in Texarkana and ran the business for almost 30 years. My brother passed in 1976, but I remained at the store several more years. My husband kept telling me that I could put in a store of my own, but I didn’t have any money.  My husband put $500 in the bank for me, found a building and paid the first month’s rent. That was the extent of his involvement. I told him I would run my business, not him,” she says.

While that was quite a bold move, for those who know Williford, it fit her character to a “T.” Besides, she knew rental.

“I had been on the counter of my brother’s rental business for all those years, dealing with these customers. I knew every vendor from whom I could get equipment. We started with a P.K. Lindsay air compressor. We had some rollaway beds, highchairs, typewriters and TVs. Previous customers called me and said if I could get this piece of equipment they would rent it from me. I got equipment as fast as I could, but I couldn’t afford much inventory. In those days, everything I bought was on credit, but business just kept growing little by little,” Williford says.

Building her own rental store hasn’t always been easy. “Six months after starting my business, my husband died,” Williford says. But that didn’t stop her, nor did any resistance from any customer who was suspect of working with a woman-owned rental operation.

It’s always been full speed ahead, according to Torrans, who joined the business in 1990 after moving back to Texarkana from Austin. “Mom didn’t see herself as a trailblazer. She was just trying to make her payments every month. The lack of money was a great motivator, especially when you had people relying on us to provide them a valid check each week. Besides, there was no plan B. We had no contingency plan if we didn’t succeed. We had to keep going. As Mom and I always said, ‘We are two women just trying to make it in a man’s world,’” Torrans says with a laugh.

As a woman-owned-and-operated business, they didn’t hire only women. “We hired the best people we could find to do any particular job at the rental store,” Torrans says. “My sister-in-law, Denisa Schultz, works for us now. My sister, Dee Freeman, helps us every weekend, and my aunt, Betty Pierce, who passed away last year, worked for us for many, many years. A very nice lady, Debbie Wright, who Dot worked with previously and our mechanic, Owen Pipes, who also worked at the previous store, came to work for us. It has never been a conscious decision that we need to hire just women.”

Ironically, some male customers, especially if they came from out of town, kept looking for a man behind the counter. Williford remembers one particular incident.

“One day a man came in and said that this is the only rental store he had ever patronized that had only women behind the counter. Why is this? My daughter replied that we have been trying to find a man to work behind our counter. If we ever find one who can keep up with us, we’ll hire him,” she says with a laugh. Gary Moore, who has been with the company for decades, is behind the counter now, but all their 27 employees are well-versed on all the equipment and can answer almost any question, she adds.

Some of the team: (left to right) Claire Torrans-Field, DeMita Torrans, Megan Clements, Gary Moore, Dot Williford and Denisa Schultz

Some of the team: (left to right) Claire Torrans-Field, DeMita Torrans, Megan Clements, Gary Moore, Dot Williford and Denisa Schultz

The business grew even more after Torrans arrived — so much that they needed more space. In 1991, they moved to a new location, the one they occupy today.

That move prompted their expansion into the event side, an area of the business they hope to grow even more with the addition of Williford’s granddaughter, who joined the business full time in 2023.

While Torrans-Field always thought she might join the family business one day, she didn’t think it would come as quickly as it did. Previously she was doing corporate and agency work for Walmart in Bentonville, Ark. Her mother and grandmother called to see if she could assist the rental store on a contractual basis. She had been helping in that capacity for years with various special projects. By March 2023, the contract work had increased to such an extent that all of them knew it was time for Torrans-Field to join the family business full time.

“My focus at the rental store is more toward party and event rentals. However, I also assist with the marketing, logistics, organizational training and management of business operations. My degree and previous jobs allow me to bring a wealth of marketing experience to the rental store,” says Torrans-Field, who made the transition in about 30 days and started at the rental operation last September.

Having someone from a younger generation join the team has been a transition, but one they have all embraced and from which they have prospered, she notes.

“It is interesting that we all have different strengths that we bring to the business, but at the end of the day we all have the same goal. We all have very different personalities. Dot and I are very strong-willed.  Mom is the middleman between the two of us. On a rare occasion we might not all agree on a particular topic, but we don’t let an issue last long. We resolve it quickly and then we tell each other that we love each other. We go home at the end of the day and come back in the morning with fresh minds. It is a joy going into work every day,” Torrans-Field says.

Dot's Rentals & Sales has been in this location since 1991.

Dot’s Rentals & Sales has been in this location since 1991.

Torrans agrees. “We all think similarly as far as business is concerned. We share the same business ethic, work ethic, customer service expectations and respect for our employees and customers,” she says.

All three agree that working in a business they love offers each so much satisfaction.

“I get so much joy getting up in the morning, getting in my car and driving to work. I say, ‘Thank God.’ I am having the best times that I have ever had in life. Everything is great,” Williford says.

“The employees we have been able to bring together over the years are our greatest accomplishment and our greatest asset. We feel a great responsibility toward our employees. It is our priority to ensure that we take care of the business and make it as stable as possible so that our employees never have to worry about their job or paycheck,” Torrans says.

Torrans-Field agrees, adding, “The overall culture at the store is exhilarating. It’s fun. Our customers and employees are a joy to work with. It really isn’t work for me. Previously, I’ve worked at several jobs and loved them, but this is the first time I don’t feel like what I’m doing is actually work. It is something that fires me up. It is super-satisfying to do what you love with people you love. We love every single person here at the rental store. It is such a joy to see all our employees work in tandem and then see our satisfied customers all over town.”

The icing on the cake is having the chance to work together.

“Getting to work alongside Mom and Dot is the opportunity of a lifetime. I didn’t think this day would ever come. The three of us together is tremendously motivating to me as I get to work with them, learn from them and vice versa. Mom and Dot have that healthy mindset and business-forward thinking. I wear my Dot’s Rentals shirts proudly because I am so proud of Dot and the business she created. I have people in the community tell me these interesting stories about Dot, my grandparents, etc. It is very fulfilling and satisfying because it is more than just a rental business. It is a brand, it is a store, it’s a family.”

Dot's Rentals & Sales logoIt’s a family business that is firmly set for future growth and they continue to fortify that foundation.

“Ultimately, I would like to branch out and have another store or two,” Torrans says. “Our main focus right now is to make Dot’s Rentals the best rental store that it can possibly be. I feel like our store in Texarkana is our base, and I don’t think you can branch out until that base is exceedingly strong. That is what my daughter brings to the table. Claire has added more structure and organization to our operation, which is positioning us for growth.”

It continues to be a nonstop effort not only for Dot’s Rentals & Sales, but also for its founder and family matriarch.

“I arrived at work yesterday morning at 5:45 a.m. and I left at 5:45 p.m. I sat down at lunch time to eat a salad around 1 p.m. I do it every day except Thursday. That is my day off,” Williford says, adding that she has no plans to slow down.

It’s a drive and work ethic that not only inspires her daughter and granddaughter but also the entire team at Dot’s Rentals. It’s also a legacy Torrans and Torrans-Field are proud to continue and push forward into the future.