Thinking Portable

Top 5 Tips for Family Run, Local Portable Storage Companies

Over the years I have worked with many family businesses in the Portable Storage space and one thing is for sure, these are the nicest clients I have ever worked with. Sometimes too nice, but we’ll get to that.  These companies are set in their ways and have formed habits that often are hurting them.  The impetus behind starting your own business is to be your own boss, and make your own decisions including when you’ll go on vacation!   And you want to be the best local option for your industry and provide the  BEST customer service. After all, you live in the town and run a business there- which comes with its pros and cons.  You’re always going to do right by your clients..even if it means offering the lowest rates or waving fees.


But…sometimes, this kindness hurts your family and your business.  You are often a husband/wife, father/son, mother/daughter combo which comes with its challenges.  Are you going to “manage” your family member the way you would an employee who you don’t have a personal history with? Likely not.  Are you comfortable telling Mrs. Jones down the road that you had a rate increase?  If you’ve been doing it the way your dad, mom, or your grandparent was doing it, likely everything is a handshake and written down “somewhere”. You have no idea where many of your containers are, not to mention their Box #s.   Because of all the manual work that goes along with running a business, you likely don’t have time to offer any added options (think accessories or insurance) not to mention, keep track of collections. It’s time to make changes.


There is a way to be that “family business” but not give away the farm aka: your retirement. Below are a few pointers you can implement to make your business more profitable, and save you time, all while providing the best price and customer services of any business around you.


#5  Hire an outside employee

Managing your family member(s) is not easy and emotion gets in the way.  This hinders your ability to delegate properly and set proper goals to grow your business.   The good news about portable storage is that your overhead is minor compared to other businesses. You really need one solid employee to manage the day-to-day (aka: everything!) and a Driver.  Your job should be to make the phones ring, manage your employees with weekly meetings (setting goals, etc)- and throw spaghetti on the wall (try new things!) in an effort to increase your revenue/profit.  Many feel like they’ll lose control by hiring someone but think of it as gaining freedom.  According to the HR Daily Advisor, “An external candidate may provide a fresh perspective, which can be beneficial for the team and for the organization—it can help to get out of old habits.”¹


#4  Stop giving away the Farm & Be Responsive

One of the most frustrating things we see is when companies are charging dirt low monthly rates and transportation fees- when they don’t have to.  They just are because they always have or they think they have to.  Your rates should be set based on competitive analysis along with what the market will bear.   If you have a customer who has been paying $125 for a 40’ container for 5 years, it’s time for a rate increase (does your contract mention a rate increase?).  Come up with a weekly process (for your new employee)- to create a template to pull rates of all the local competitors.  The goal is to ensure your overall cost is slightly lower (or slightly higher- many do this) than your #1 competitor.  You will win the deal for these reasons: 1) Your response time is quick*; 2) Your rates are competitive; 3) You are Honest and Local.

Most say if your lead response time is within 5 minutes, you will close the deal.  According to the Harvest Business Review, “Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.”²


#3  Set your Billing Policies

In today’s day and age, it is a given that you pay for a service when it happens. For services such as portable storage or other rental scenarios (trucks, machinery, housing, etc), securing your reservation with a credit card is the NORM, not the exception.  And paying the Delivery and first month’s rent upfront is standard.  Build your policies based on standards, not on exceptions. As a mom-and-pop business, when the exceptions arise, treat them differently if need be. But always have your standard policies, otherwise, you’ll spend the time you do not have chasing money…  To reserve a container,  require a credit card to be on file.  The card will not be charged until the day prior to the Delivery (after all you are renting them a $3500- $5000 asset). Have a cancellation and reschedule policy- which eases their mind.   The card on file will be charged each month for their ongoing rent. The customer should manage their money, you should not.  If they need to refill their bank account before the charge goes through, that is on them to do, not you to remind them. Whether you’re in Nebraska, Florida, Washington state or Texas… a Farmer, a Student, a Nurse or a Business Men/Women, Millennials or Elderly.. mostly all have credit cards.  Are there Red Flags? Yes. Identify them and have a plan. This does not mean you won’t make the exception of accepting cash, ACH or a physical check.   Make the exception! But it’s just that. An exception. And you must know that consequences are often paired with exceptions. These are usually the ones you spend the most time on.   But if the majority of your customers are following your policy, your company’s health will improve.  Policies save time and money.  Everyone follows them and if an exception comes up- discuss it and address it. If you want to stand out, offer a Pre-Pay discount, Prorating, and/or Daily or Weekly Rentals! It’s a service to your clients and to you (for many reasons for another blog).    

If you have a large volume of repeat business from a Corporate customer who requests to be invoiced, set your terms and policies (late fees, etc)- and follow them. Have an annual contract. Policies are in place to protect you.  Do not pick up an empty container if there is a past due balance.  Your Lease Agreement should cover all of your policies. 


#2  Try New Things

Once you have your policies in place and have hired a new employee to do the heavy lifting, you can come out of the Hull and steer the ship in order to grow the business. Challenge yourself to come up with one new offering every quarter to add to your Service offerings. Try it!  What can it hurt?  But have a plan and a policy with every decision you make.  Contents Insurance or a Container Damage Waiver are two key offerings that come to mind. Not only do they provide peace of mind to you and the client, but they are highly profitable offerings that every customer needs. The customer is buying a policy that costs roughly $6-$10/month to the insurance vendor.  You are investing time to manage the relationship with the vendor, handle reporting, etc- so it’s standard to upcharge by 30-50%.  Then there are all of the necessities your Renter would need such as; Locks, Moving Supplies, Dolly or Ramp Rentals.  Or what about a discounted rental package that includes all of the things they’ll need if they are moving?   What about shelving or electricity or vents for your Construction customers? DriPacs, Moving Blankets, Ratchet Straps, Plastic Totes. Come up with creative ways to market these add-ons! Now running your business has become a bit more creative and rewarding again! 


#1  Automate your Business

Likely you are using Excel and QuickBooks to run your business and manage your inventory.  You’re likely spending an extra 5-10 hours a week doing manual data entry/billing that otherwise can be managed by Software.  There are many software options out there for Portable Storage Software. Set up Demos with each one to understand the differences and how it can help you.   It may seem daunting as change is HARD.  But change is also what can bring you to another level in your business. According to a Forbes article How Automation Will Trigger A Small-Business Renaissance, “A small business’s biggest advantage is providing a unique customer experience that larger competitors can’t replicate, but business owners and operators wear many hats and have limited time to deliver on that potential. Software automation promises to give small-business owners more time for the inherently human aspects of running their businesses, which magnifies and multiplies their advantage.”³ It’s also quite common that at the same time you hire an employee to help manage the day-to-day is when you choose to automate the business.  Usually, your hire is more technical than you are- so it helps to have someone lead that charge. But always learn the software yourself!  Once you get over the hump of the transition, the skies will clear and allow you to continue to manage, build and take a break!


Bottom line:  Your family started this business to have freedom and make a living, all while offering a stellar product to your neighbors.   It was once fun!   It’s time to tap into that creative business mind again. When you don’t lie awake worrying about the little stuff, but instead, you are churning up new avenues of growth- whether it’s new sales channels,  new products to add to the portfolio, events or charities to be a part of or marketing ideas- you are at least investing your time growing the business and steering the ship in the right direction, not picking up the nitty gritty pieces.  Per the 1971 Sitcom, The Brady Bunch, “When it’s Time to Change, you’ve got to Rearrange.” 


Cathy Putnam

Stella Software

August 2, 2022



  1. HR Daily Advisor:
  2. Harvard Business Review:
  3. Forbes: