Self-Storage Veteran Pays It Forward with Science Camps of America
A guest installment by Michael Richards, executive director of Science Camps of America
When I arrived at work my first day in the self-storage business, the owner called the six of us who worked there together, handed us each $20 worth of scrip and sent us to the carnival for the day, while he stayed to run the business himself. I knew right then that there was something special about this business.
For me, it was the start of a 30-year career in self-storage. From day one (well, day two actually), I wore multiple hats like everyone else in this business. I was hired as an assistant manager to do the bookkeeping and to work with a company that had been contracted to write a software program for the business. Over the next five years, I rented units, ran auctions, built units, drove a forklift, painted, moved customers belongings, wrote software, helped start a truck-rental business, did the books, processed payroll, filed tax returns, cleaned bathrooms and mopped floors. I also managed people, finances and cash flow.
When I look back at it now, it seems incredible that I was able to learn so much so fast. But when I ask myself how I did it, the answer is easy: Mick and Fred.
You see, Mick Culbertson and Fred Hendy were my mentors. I never thought of them that way back then, of course. First they were my bosses, then my friends and eventually my partners. Mick (the owner mentioned at the beginning of this article) was the entrepreneur, the businessman. He made sure I was at his side as he sought opportunities, balanced risk, and talked and negotiated with employees, vendors, bankers and investors. Fred was the engineer; brilliant, and willing to wait for me to figure out the logic of whatever it was we were doing, giving me only the bare minimum I needed to do so. How amazingly patient they both were with me!
They showed great faith in me, too, by helping to provide the financing when the opportunity came to start up Hi-Tech Smart Systems to create self-storage software. What a confidence builder it was to have their support!
Thirty years later, when HI-Tech sold its RentPlus operations to Centershift, I contacted Mick to let him know. Ever the mentor, his response was brief but clear: "Congratulations," he said, "now go do something good."
Wow! With that message reverberating, I have started Science Camps of America, a nonprofit corporation that will operate summer science camps for teens. We will open this summer on the Big Island of Hawaii with two 10-day sessions: "Land and Sea" and "Air and Space." We will get the kids into the field each day to experience science first hand, which I think is the way we really learn.
On a very personal level, part of what excites me about Science Camps is that it is a tribute to both Mick (the entrepreneur) and Fred (the engineer). Through camp, I can “pay it forward” to these young people.
I'll close by asking you to do two things.
First, please help Science Camps of America by going to ScienceCampsAmerica.com and clicking on the “Get Involved” link. There are many ways to help, and anything you are able to do is greatly appreciated.
Second, find someone to mentor. This could be your kids, an employee, the son or daughter of a friend, an intern. School can only lay the groundwork for the real learning that happens once we are out on the job. Our industry, self-storage, is a business where everyone wears a lot of hats and is filled with entrepreneurs with backgrounds in every field imaginable. It is you who can do the real teaching.
Michael Richards started in the self-storage industry in 1980. In 1983, he started Hi-Tech Smart Systems to provide software to storage facilities, releasing MIniStoragePlus in 1985 and RentPlus in 1997. In 2010, RentPlus operations were sold to Centershift Inc. Today, Michael is the founder and executive director of Science Camps of America Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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