Jason Palmer, president, Aero Equipment Rental & Sales in Phoenix and Buckeye, Ariz., comes from a long line of rental operators. His grandfather, Thomas “Mitch” Hoxie, was one of the industry’s early and influential pioneers, who was inducted posthumously in 2009 to the Rental Hall of Fame, the highest honor given by the American Rental Association (ARA). While honoring that legacy, Palmer is carving his own path in the industry that his grandfather was so instrumental in creating.
“I am the third generation in a rental family,” Palmer says. “2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the Aero name to be involved in rental in Arizona, starting with my grandpa in 1947. He began the first rental business in Tucson, named Arizona Equipment Rental Co., which was later shortened to Aero Rental. I remember hearing all the stories about my grandpa, but to me he was just Grandpa and a good guy. I know he was a trailblazer and was one of the first rental operators to join ARA, then called the American Associated Rental Operators (AARO).”
After his grandfather’s passing in 1984, the company was run by Mitch’s son, Tom. “He passed in 2000. Then my Aunt Pam took over as president from 2000 to 2010. My Uncle Greg worked in the company the whole time, too. My dad, Vern Palmer, worked for the company, too, while my mom, Sandy, Mitch’s other daughter, was more of a silent partner,” Palmer says.
Even with the rich lineage, Palmer wasn’t sure the rental industry was for him. “After high school, I came up to Phoenix from Tucson and worked for Aero Rental, washing equipment and doing basic service. I did that while I was in college at Grand Canyon University, studying for a degree in business management with an emphasis in marketing,” Palmer says. “I loved sports and was involved with doing some sports promotion for the Diamondbacks and the Suns, but then when I graduated in 1999, my dad, who was the general manager at the time, asked if I wanted to do sales for the company. That is where I went down a path to staying in the rental industry.”
He never turned back. Even when Aero Rental closed its doors in 2010, Palmer and his parents were not ready to exit the rental industry. “My aunt and uncle were getting close to retirement age. Since we had four different families in the ownership of the company, it would be difficult to pass the company on. I was the only one of all the grandkids who stayed in the rental industry. We thought it would be best to close the company and start something new,” Palmer says.
Palmer and his parents opened Aero Equipment Supply in 2011 in Phoenix. “We decided that we would branch off with the blessing of the rest of the family. We would keep Aero for name recognition but form a different company,” he says.
They decided to make a shift from general construction to more of a niche business working with golf courses and landscapers. “At the time we started out, we did a lot of market research and talking with the golf courses. They told us that they didn’t have anyone who they felt connected with. They weren’t getting called on by rental companies, yet they had needs. At the time, there was no one filling that need. We came in and started doing something a little different,” Palmer says.
In 2019, he and his wife, Nicole, purchased the company from his parents and changed the name to Aero Equipment Rental & Sales. “We continued to focus on golf courses and landscapers. We work with the entire state, with Phoenix alone having more than 200 golf courses. With our landscaping, we work with larger and nationwide landscapers and also do a good job of working with smaller landscapers, those who may have just one or two people working for them. And my dad is not ready to retire. He still works for me. At 81 years strong, he shows up every day to work,” Palmer says.
Their inventory mix reflects that niche focus. “A big part of our inventory makeup is tractors — agricultural tractors. We specialize in a lot of the equipment that golf courses use for their seasonal needs. In Arizona, we have a season for aeration, when they are poking holes in the ground to promote root growth. During the summer there are a lot of construction projects going on at golf courses, and we get involved in the normal mix of equipment with trenchers and backhoes and things of that nature. In the fall, we are driven toward changing the grass from Bermuda to Rye for our winter visitors. Our biggest movers are our tractor selections from the agricultural side — John Deere tractors and what not. Our smaller equipment would include our trash pumps, handheld pressure washers and those types of things,” he says.
Now with nearly 10 employees, Palmer operates out of two locations. His main site is a 5,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Phoenix, which includes a showroom and repair center. He also has a lot of yard space there for equipment. He opened a branch location in Buckeye last year.
“We were looking for a long time to put down roots in the West Valley of Phoenix. Buckeye is one of the top-growing cities in the country. We own about 4 acres where a lot of our specialized equipment is housed. We are in the process of building our shop and doing other improvements. We have been open for a while in Buckeye but are still working on getting it to the way we would like it to be,” he says.
While he has had to deal with a variety of challenges over the years, he says this year seems to have many of them all at once. “There’s equipment and labor shortages as well as transportation issues. They all seem to be stacked on top of each other right now,” he adds.
The best way he has dealt with them is to “change our expectations and adjust our customers’ expectations to the reality of today. Today, people seem to be ready to be upset over something. Whatever we can do to minimize that and not give them false hope is important. We help them understand there are a lot of things we can’t control. We are trying to make them understand what we can and cannot control,” he says.
While his business has a different focus than that of his grandfather and even his aunt and uncles, the continuity is in the love of the industry and what he can do in the industry. “This industry is such a great way to get to know people. It is a constantly changing industry, with all the innovations that have happened over the past several years. For our business, we are dealing with people who are growing grass and doing landscape. To be able to look at the beautiful landscapes and say we were part of that — that gives me great satisfaction because it comes from being part of something bigger than our four walls. We have helped other people and have accomplished more than just making some money on rental. We can see the product in practice,” he says.
For Palmer, it always has been about serving a need while honoring his family’s rich legacy. “As I get older, I reflect on that a lot more. My grandfather was very impressive and very inspiring. Would I like to follow in his footsteps and help people and take on some of the traits? Yes, but to do what he did without a pattern or framework, I don’t think I would be capable of that. For me, being part of something that is so much bigger than what I could do by myself is great. I have two kids. I would like to grow the business into something my kids would be proud to take over and continue with what we have started, if that is what they want to do. For now, we just put our head down and do our thing. I am happy to be where I am at and doing what I am doing,” he says.