Cannon Storage Systems

Vern Cannon has his own way of doing business, and it works. Cannon Storage Systems, a national turnkey building supplier and construction-service company, has had a steady stream of business since it opened its doors 22 years ago. As Cannon's methods are passed to his children, the company enjoys continued growth and success.

It was 1979. Cannon, a commercial contractor at the time, was asked by a customer to construct a self-storage facility. Back then there were no guidelines--no industry trade magazines or tradeshows--and the Self Storage Association was in its infancy. Cannon performed his first survey on labor for a self-storage project and finished the job. Gauging the company's success in a burgeoning industry was easy. "The calls never quit coming in," Cannon says.

A Cut Above

What sets Lawton, Okla.-based Cannon Storage Systems apart is its commitment to quality and customer service. "We're perfectionists," Cannon says. "I realize you can't reach perfection, but you can strive for it. Everyone working for me knows that." The company is also willing to travel, and that factor helped in the early days when few companies did.

Eighty percent of Cannon's new customers come through word of mouth, he says. With a number like that, there must be plenty of satisfied facility developers out there. Nancy Hollingsworth is one. "Originally, we went with Cannon on the recommendation of someone else for whom he had built," she says. "Then we added on twice and used him again." Hollingsworth, who has facilities in Texas, says Cannon makes time to fit existing customers in his schedule for add-ons and new phases. "He had a good product at the better price," she says. "They're real nice and they did a good job."

Cannon says his company has never lost a customer to another. "We've completed every job since 1979 ahead of time and on budget," Cannon says. A track record like that speaks for itself. "I think that is one of the keys--that when customers call our office, we can turnkey their projects for them. We can design the site, design the buildings, design the heat and air," he continues. "Most of the developers who call us like one-stop shopping. They don't have to look for other crews. We not only sell them the material, we put all our own material up."

The company also takes a no-nonsense approach in its dealings. "What we tell you is what you're going to get," says Cannon's daughter, Starr, who moved from the company's headquarters to open and manage a brand-new field office in Arlington, Texas. "We don't sugar-coat it. We tell you if we think your project's going to work or if it's not."

Cannon Storage Systems is also selective about its business associates. "We don't do every job that comes our way," Cannon says. "We don't build the cookie-cutter self-storages. We don't build the little metal ones that go up in everybody's backyard. We only build those that are quality projects, where the people are going to be around a long time, because we invest a lot of time and effort into each project."

The Next Generation

Cannon, now 53, is working his way out of day-to-day operations. His children, who grew up around self-storage construction, are being groomed to take over the business. Starr was installing roofs and partitions when she was 15. Tom Garbutt, Cannon's eldest son, oversees the company's nationwide construction. "Tommy started at 13 screwing buildings together," Cannon says.

"I kept the business small while Starr and Tommy were young," he continues. "As they've gotten older and come into the business, the business grows by about 25 percent a year. That's due in direct relationship to their abilities. Over the past several years, they've done quite a bit. More or less, I'm the guy who sits over their shoulders."

The decision to expand came with Starr's continuing on-the-job education. "We waited for the right time," Starr says. "I needed to learn more about the business. I had been a teenager when I first started really working for Dad. Once I'd been in the office and learned as much as I could, that's when we decided to do it." Starr also sees the company growing as her younger brother, David, works his way into the business. "I've tried to do my best through the past three-and-a-half years to learn, because Dad started with nothing and built it up," she says. "I just want to make sure I continue to help it grow."

Longevity sits in the employee ranks as well. There are people working with Cannon today who were superintendents when his idea for self-storage construction came to life in '79. "Most of the people who run my crews have been with me for more than 20 years," Cannon says. "More than 60 percent of the people who are still working for me have been here for 10 years, which is very rare."

Self-storage has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, and Cannon has been there to see it through the good times and bad. Cannon says the public's perception of the industry has improved, allowing it to grow to the billion-dollar industry it is. Cannon Storage Systems has also evolved from a one-man operation to that of nearly 40 employees working throughout the country. But for all the money to be made erecting piers, headers and standing-seam roofs, it's still a people business. Just ask Vern Cannon.

"Our success is due to the people who work in the field," Cannon says. "We're very good here in the office, but it's the people in the field who satisfy the customers and work during the rain, snow and wind. That is where the money's made. That's where your reputation's made."

For more information, call the corporate office at 888.500.3299; fax 580.248.6091; visit The Arlington, Texas, office can be reached at 817.784.6611.

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