In 2004, Michael T. McAlhany founded UNITS Moving and Portable Storage Inc., and with it the most durable and spacious mobile storage containers in the industry. He took advantage of a new venture that would enable customers to move or store their property in a much more efficient and less stressful manner; not to mention the ability to stack containers would eliminate the need to expand a warehouse outward.

We recently interviewed Rick J. Topp, owner of UNITS Moving and Portable Storage of San Francisco-East Bay. We learned some challenges he faced when starting his UNITS franchise, what he would do differently if he had the chance to do it all over, and lastly, we learned that his secret to success is also what he feels has become a lost art.

What is the idea behind the UNITS Moving and Portable Storage franchise?

Provide a superior way for people to move and store their belongings by bringing a portable storage UNIT right to their home and storing it until it is then delivered to their new home.

What’s special about the franchise?

It’s in a growing industry with an opportunity for local customer connections.

How does it compare to its competition?

The portable storage industry is competitive. UNITS‘ niche is our ability to answer phones locally and sincerely connect with our neighbors. We truly are local owners who care. Beside service, we also have state-of-the-art containers and delivery systems.

What’s your background?

The early part of my career was spent in retail as a Department Manager, Operations Manager, Store Manager, Regional Manager and Internal Consultant before jumping into the tech world where I spent time as a Project Manager, then Vice President of Sales and Mergers/Acquisitions. I was lucky enough to spend significant time in both revenue generation roles and expense control/operations roles. That really helped in feeling comfortable running ‘the whole’ of a small business.

Why did you choose the UNITS franchise?

1) My wife and I wanted a fairly straightforward business without a lot of complication that we could turn over to a General Manager at some point when we were ready to retire. 2) We wanted a business that could provide a nice income stream to supplement our retirement savings. 3) We wanted a business model that was part of a growth industry. 4) We wanted a business that had some significant barriers to entry.

Where did you research or get advice about starting a franchise?

We did some research on the Internet but also used a franchise broker. He helped us with our goals and narrowed the choices for us. It was very helpful.

What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your franchise?

Significant capital investment, had never owned a business, establishing our brand in the local market.

How much did you spend before your doors were officially opened?

About $200,000.

What would you do differently if you had to do it all over?  

Managed our financial statements more proactively to ensure we were in a better position to receive capital financing. I would have better understood the ratios and equations the loan underwriters use to approve capital financing to better position us to get the funding needed for growth.

What is your secret to success?  

I guess we all must define success before we can answer that, but for us success has meant that our business is outperforming our expectations. Focus on providing exceptional customer service and success will follow.

Where do you see your business in five years?

Still fully committed to serving our customers needs allowing us to continue growing at our current trajectory.

What is one trend that really excites you?

1) The average homeowner is beginning to understand the industry we are in vs. their traditional moving options, and 2) Our market reputation as a company with superior customer care. This one is a little counter-intuitive, but I get excited that most companies in their quest to leverage technology and improve efficiency continue to provide worse and worse personal service, which allows us to fill that void.

What qualities should potential franchisees possess?

To be successful in our business, a franchisee has to have a longer ROI perspective. This is not a quick-to-profit proposition, although it can be extremely profitable once debt can be paid down. The franchisee should also have some deep pockets as this is a capital-intensive investment early on. And, as with any franchise organization, it’s great when someone is a team player and willing to participate in making everyone in the system better.

Can you describe a typical day in the life of a franchisee?

A franchisee has to wear many hats, like any small business owner. Therefore, there is no such thing as a typical day. However, if I am not working on a more strategic project, I will spend the day answering phones, talking with customers, helping our drivers load/unload containers, do some accounting entries and work on the next day’s delivery schedule.

What motivates you to keep going?

The trajectory of our growth is very exciting, along with customers who love the quality of the service that we provide. Oh, and ringing the register.

What is the worst job you have ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job out of college was as the graveyard shift manager at a 24-hour breakfast chain restaurant. I worked 10-hour days, 6 days a week. I learned that looking for a job creates a tremendous amount of stress and one shouldn’t let the pressure of needing money force you into a bad decision.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

1) Yelp: it has helped us grow as it provides a means of comparison on our market differentiator — service. 2) Google Maps: we would be lost without being able to see the condition of our potential deliveries. 3) Google Search: does a really excellent job of presenting our company to potential customers who are in need of our services.

Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?

I have been lucky to have several mentors over time. They are invaluable in helping navigate one’s career. Nothing can replace experience.

What advice do you have for others looking to own a franchise?

Have a very robust due diligence process by which to review all the companies you are considering. Include not only initial investment costs, but proformas, franchisor’s experience, and talk to as many franchise owners as you can. They will give you the straight scoop about the franchisor and the challenges of the business.

Any final words for our readers?
My wife and I have believed for some time that high-quality, old-fashioned customer service has become a lost art. We believed that we could enter almost any business, and as long as it had a viable business model, make it successful by simply treating people right. It sounds simple (and here’s where you expect me to say, ‘but it’s not’), and it is simple. Take your business and map all the customer touchpoints along the way. Then make every one exceptional in some way. If you do this well we believe you can succeed in almost any business.

Where can people get more information on UNITS Moving and Portable Storage franchise opportunities?

Visit the website here.

Where can people find UNITS Moving and Portable Storage on social media?