At a news conference held last week in Houston to celebrate the selling of its 1,000th Hino truck, Rusty Rush, president & CEO of Rush Enterprises, announced the addition of Rush Truck Centers latest location in El Paso, TX. But as routine as the announcement was, it points to how strong the Rush Truck Centers brand is as it gets ready to mark its 45th anniversary on March 3.

“Fitting that we are here in Houston as it was here where we [three partners and I] established our first dealer location in 1965,” Rush Enterprises chairman Marvin Rush told the media at the event. “Houston was a major cross road for East-West traffic. The truck business was in its infancy [with] many small, fragmented dealers spread around the country. But what set us apart was our vision to build a network of dealerships in the Southern Belt that would not just sell, but also lease and service trucks.”

The company made its first 100-truck sale, of Peterbilts, in 1967. That year also marked the beginning of a leasing company and a finance and insurance business. Son Rusty joined the organization in the 1970s and a goal was eventually set. “By 1992, we established a goal to reach $1 billion in sales and the vision to build a contiguous network of full service dealerships that spanned from coast to coast across the southern U.S.,” Marvin Rush said. “We continued to acquire dealerships in the Southern Belt, becoming the largest Class 8 truck dealer in the country in the years that followed.”

By 1996, the company had gone public, raising millions more in cash to help fuel expansion.

“After going public, we knew diversity would be key to maintaining the profitability during economy and industry cycles,” Marvin Rush said.

Now, Rush Enterprises is not so little, with sales surpassing $1.2 billion a year, more than 50 truck locations, 2,400-plus employees and a myriad of businesses, including their own aftermarket parts line, Rig Tough Truck Parts. In addition, there are leasing, insurance, and finance businesses as well as World Wide Tires and Chrome Country.

But the center of the company has remained Rush Truck Centers. To sustain growth, though, Rush had to diversify. Now, a customer can find almost any make, model or class of truck at one of Rush’s dealerships.

But the selling of trucks has changed, and Rush has had to change still more with the times.

“It was an owner-operator world 40 years ago,” Rusty Rush said to Fleet Owner. “There weren’t the big carriers. The owner-operator has always hung in there, but in the last ten years, that’s changed. It’s all handled through the larger organizations” like a Landstar. He pointed out that so many larger carriers contract with owner-operators these days that the owner-operator isn’t always buying the truck himself, instead he’s leasing it through the organization.

Despite that, Rush Truck Centers has worked to offer more services. That includes adding after-hours service hours at some locations to better serve the backbone of the business: the small, local businesses that rely on trucks to carry out their primary business, such as landscaping or delivery.

“The sale is driven by service more than it ever was,” Rusty Rush said. “The medium-duty business facilitates itself for after-hours service hours.”

But even truck service is changing. Rusty Rush said that Rush Truck Centers offers a truck-ready program where a customer can walk in and buy a truck with a body already attached, rather than spec’ing a vehicle that will then take six weeks to deliver. That helps local businesses get assets working for them quicker, he said.

And you can no longer rely on customers coming to you, Rusty Rush added. “You have to be a part of a lot of associations [ike restaurant associations and business groups],” he said.

“We’re going to be called on to provide new types of solutions,” Rusty Rush noted, adding that Rush has “invested a lot of money in mobile services in recent years.”

If that is the future the Rushes see for their business, it’s tough to argue with them. After all, they’ve been pretty right for 45 years now.