Doug and Stephanie Schoch never thought they’d end up in the equipment and party supply rental business, but life has a way of making some unexpected turns. In March of 2012, the couple started Dexter Rent-All in a 3,500 square foot building they leased at 8080 Grand St. in Dexter. The business was doing well in Dexter, but last spring, a huge opportunity came knocking.
When longtime Ann Arbor business A-1 Rental went up for sale last year, the Schochs knew they had to make a move. After securing a loan, they purchased the A-1 Rental building and its entire inventory from the children of the original owners for $2 million. By May, the Schochs had moved their entire business over to A-1 Rental from the former Dexter Rent-All location, which is now for sale.
The Schochs said they initially planned on operating both stores, but ultimately decided to consolidate everything into the Ann Arbor A-1 Rental location due to its size and long established standing in Washtenaw County.
“We first started the Dexter store three years ago kind of as a small business adventure, hoping that someday we might be able to grow it and build it to a point where I might be able to leave my other career,” Doug said. “But, when A-1 came along and the opportunity to buy here arose, it was something that was quite intriguing to us. We were very excited that everything worked out well. It was a big investment for us. Chelsea State Bank was our finance institution and they were great to work with.”
A-1 Rental has been in operation since May of 1957, when Adrian and Lydia Onderdonk formed the business, eventually passing it down to their children. The founders passed away in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Doug said the three Onderdonk children kindly stayed on for a few extra months following the sale to help ease the transition for the Schochs as they settled into their new digs.
The Schochs more than quadrupled the square footage of their business in the less than 9 mile move from Dexter Rent-All to A-1 Rental, located at 2285 W. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor. When the Onderdonks expanded the business over the decades, the small 1950s office eventually grew into 16,000 square feet of space containing equipment and banquet showrooms, offices and storage. The Schochs are currently renovating some of the rooms to provide a better display of equipment for rent. The workshop in their new space has also allowed the Schochs to start a small engine repair aspect of the business.
Stephanie said the Dexter store focused heavily on delivering items that were requested over the phone with few customers coming into the store itself. The larger Ann Arbor location has given the business a large increase in foot traffic and better visibility from the road.
The business rents everything from heavy-duty equipment like Bobcats, mini excavators, tree chippers and log splitters, to banquet items such as tables, chairs, heaters, flatware, glassware, linens and fancy table centerpieces for special occasions. Doug said he thinks concrete cutting saws, jackhammers and banquet tables for parties are the most popular rentals. Tents and party canopies are also available to rent — some are as large as 80-by-40 feet.
Doug said he never expected to end up owning a large-scale rental business in his career.
“Well, what’s interesting is that I moved out of the automotive industry,” Doug said. “I had been in the auto industry for about the last 15 years, and the idea of owning my own business and being my own boss really was much more appealing to me than working for corporate America. For me, that’s the most exciting part — that change in my career to being an entrepreneur.”
Stephanie said Doug had also once thought about starting a small business like Dexter Rent-All down the road once he retired from the auto industry.
The Schochs are still tied into the Dexter community, even though the physical location of their business has moved out of the city limits. Stephanie is part of the Dunlavy family in Dexter. The couple also have two children attending Dexter Community Schools.
“We’re a little bit connected to Dexter, so it’s a little bit bittersweet to close the Dexter store down,” Stephanie said.
“It was based purely on a business decision,” Doug said. “It was difficult for us to leave Dexter, but the idea of operating out of one location was, I think for us, a wise decision. We want to be active in the community in Dexter, and we’re looking forward to servicing all of the rental needs for all of the people in the community.”
A-1 Rental currently employs around 12 people on a year-round basis and hires additional people during busy seasons. The store’s winter hours through March are Monday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday’s from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The business can be reached at (734) 663-0060.