Capco Steel Inc.
Constructing life-long relationships
By Kimberly Hundley
If self-storage builder Capco Steel Inc. were an individual, it would be old enough to vote, marry, serve its country and buy beer in Canada. The San Antonio-based construction company is 19 years old, a veritable elder statesman in the realm of self-storage history. When founder and CEO Charles Plunkett talks about his business, he even sounds a bit like a seasoned senator at the podium—with one exception. Plunkett means every word.
“We are one of the oldest companies in the industry, and we are known as one of the highest-quality companies,” he says. “The level of repeat business and referrals we get from our customers is extremely high. A lot of people use the word loosely, but I believe we really demonstrate ‘quality’ in the work we do. To us, quality of craftsmanship is not another slogan, it’s what distinguishes us.”
In fact, Plunkett struck out on his own nearly two decades ago because of ethical conflicts with his employer, a manufacturer/installer of steel stairs and framing systems. Confidant in his belief that good morals make for good business, his ambition was to earn a fair dollar in exchange for top-notch service.
“So, at the age of 25, I left and founded Capco Steel,” Plunkett says. “I basically had nothing to start with but an idea I could do it for myself.” A mini-storage developer gave the young entrepreneur a chance to build one project, then another and another. The rest is Capco history.
Today, most people in the storage industry know the name Capco Steel and its reputation for award-winning work. The company took home the “Facility of the Year Award” five of the last nine years and has completed hundreds of developments throughout 42 states. Projects include construction of single- and multistory facilities, conversions, mini offices, boat/RV shops, and basic design services.
As the self-storage product advanced, Capco evolved with the industry. “We started out building single-story installations that weren’t terribly complicated; and now we’re building facilities up to five stories high, some of which are extremely architecturally complex,” Plunkett says. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his commitment to building relationships along with facilities. The company is in it for the long run, and Capco’s extensive experience translates to diamond-studded value for clients.
“We often get involved very early in the stages of our customers’ developments. We have a wealth of knowledge in self-storage. We don’t just know about steel buildings; we can help people navigate a myriad of issues, such as special-use permits, zoning and pre-evaluations of sites based on constructability,” Plunkett explains. “We become a central part of the development team and help clients avoid mistakes. We’re not about ‘Let’s close this deal today.’ We look at each project as the potential for a long-term relationship.”
Owners may send Capco a property survey with goals for a new facility. Company staff will work an initial site plan, and help with laying out buildings on the property, planning for turning radiuses and traffic flow. “Then we’ll work with a designer to refine that plan to meet the objectives,” Plunkett says. “It’s not uncommon for us to encounter a civil engineer who is working for the owner but isn’t experienced in self-storage. The engineer may not understand the elevation of the driveway is directly related to the intended use of the buildings. We work with him on how to do that.”
The Cost of Ignorance
Owners may get more information than they bargained for when working with Capco Steel. Plunkett strongly believes it’s important for owners to understand what their suppliers are supplying—he’s seen too many get burned by unscrupulous companies with murky bids. “With us, there is no room for misinterpretation. We bid a project according to specifications and plans down to the letter of the law. We write out in clear language exactly what they are getting.”
Educating potential customers on the company’s value has been key in guiding it beyond the wave of rival upstarts to its enduring success. Cheapest doesn’t mean best, after all. Or, as Plunkett likes to say, “If you think education is expensive, just try ignorance.”
For most owners, the longevity and reputation Capco offers is highly attractive. They know their builder will still be around in 10 years to be accountable. Another Capco perk is its integrated, centralized structure. The salesperson you talk to the first day remains involved with production, crew coordination, etc. Customers aren’t handed off to someone else. “Everyone knows what’s going on with the project,” Plunkett says. “I think that gives us a high degree of control over what is happening in the field.”
Over the last few years, numerous construction companies have plunged into the self-storage marketplace, and Capco has responded with streamlined efforts and reduced margins to remain competitive. Still, the company wants to get as good as it gives: quality.
“I don’t believe there is a project in the self-storage industry we aren’t capable of building; but we don’t want to build everyone’s project,” Plunkett says. “We want to work with quality customers. They don’t have to be big; they just have to be committed to a fair and equitable relationship with us. We provide a top-quality service for them, and in return they’re happy to pay us a reasonable amount.”