Business-records management has traditionally been provided in large cities, but over the past decade more entrepreneurs are offering the service in much smaller towns. Just how can self-storage operators in small cities tap into this profitable venture? Let’s take a look at a case study for some hints.
Growth In Abilene
About four years ago, Aaron Laughlin was visiting his father, owner of two storage facilities in Texas, when he came across an Inside Self-Storage magazine. After reading my column, Laughlin asked if his dad had any interest in records storage. Coincidentally, his father had attended a Fileman workshop and was contemplating the new venture. Laughlin’s interest grew.
Today, at 28, he’s the proud owner of Business Records Management, a thriving facility in Abilene, Texas, population 114,807. It’s become the largest commercial-records center in the area and Laughlin recently added a building to house an additional 55,000 boxes.
Laughlin started off storing records within his self-storage facility, but moved them out when the business quickly grew beyond space available. He bought the building next door for records, continuing to use the self-storage office as his base of operation. When he again ran out of room, he built the new 9,200-square-foot facility, which has a high ceiling, office and staging workspace.
He’s now surpassed his competitor in storage size and services, thanks to a mixture of a hard work and desire, spiced with a modicum of capital. Most impressive is the fact that Laughlin has done it all by himself: He’s owner, general manager, salesman, operations manager, courier, customer-service clerk, retrieval and re-file warehouseman, billing clerk, accountant and the janitor. These days, he employs a part-time college student to shoulder some of the responsibility.
Many industry observers believe most accounts are small, but several of BRM’s accounts reach into the thousands of boxes. Although business is booming, Laughlin hasn’t yet reached his goal of more than 100,000 boxes. My bet is he’ll reach and exceed that benchmark within a few years.
I asked Laughlin to reflect on his success, shedding light on what he’s done right and would perhaps have done differently. He immediately responded that sales education was his best asset. “It was the training that gave me the structure and the confidence to get out there and sell,” he says.
Laughlin has taken every opportunity to sell records management in traditional and non-traditional selling methods. His first closed deal was with the mortgage company that financed his home in Abilene. His second was the attorney who did the closing. Two articles have been written about him in the local newspaper and he’s an active member of the local chamber of commerce, hosting a business-to-business networking event in April 2006.
Laughlin is relentless; he goes to every extreme to be the best records center in his region and it has paid off. In sales, self-assurance is important, and I’ve noticed he has an impressive level of confidence—maybe because he’s still a young man and nobody ever told him he couldn’t excel.
Nearly everyone investigating records-storage startups wants to know the success rate. My answer is always the same, “It depends on how you measure success.” Some new startups have millions in capital and great resources available through their other businesses. Others do it on a shoestring and have only their wits and hard work to back them up. Expectations are personal to each of us. Success must be measured within a context of three ingredients: desire, capital and hard work. As my dad used to say, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
If you asked Aaron Laughlin whether his last four years have been easy, he’d likely say they’ve been rewarding but not easy. By the way, because he has the biggest and fastest-growing business in the area, he’s been asked to sell more than once. Selling a commercial-records business is simple since you sell the contracts that represent annuity revenue of long-term storage. Therefore, you always have an exit strategy If you’d like to find out more about Laughlin, log onto www.brmabilene.com, which features a three-minute movie he recently produced. I know you’ll be as impressed as I am.
Cary F. McGovern is the principal of FileMan Records Management, which offers full-service assistance for commercial records-storage startups and sales training in commercial records-management operations. For help with feasibility determination, operational implementation or marketing support, call 877.FILEMAN; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.fileman.com.