The Pod People

Business picks up for a mini-storage startup that brings portable space to your driveway

Peter Warhurst didn't set out to devise a hot new concept in mini- storage. Really, all the retired entrepreneur and former Largo (Fla.) paramedic wanted was a low-key alternative to golf a few days a week.

When Warhurst and his partners launched PODS Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., in January, 1998, they had no idea how much demand they would unleash. "I didn't plan on working this hard, that's for sure," says Warhurst, 46, who in the 1980s co-founded a company that made software for routing 911 calls. In 1993 he sold the $10 million business to Bell Atlantic Corp.

PODS is short for Portable On Demand Storage, a pickup and delivery service that uses a patented aluminum container, or "POD," that is big enough to hold the contents of a 1,500-square-foot house. Once filled, the POD is trucked off to a warehouse or kept onsite. Homeowners typically use PODs during renovations and moves; small businesses rent them for storing records and excess inventory.

In less than two years, the partners have built sales to about $2 million, with 70 employees and 14 locations in Florida, half of them franchised. To date, they've rented some 1,750 PODs and each month built 120 new ones. The company's core operations in the Tampa Bay area are profitable.

It started inadvertently. When Warhurst and partner Roy Courtney launched a mini-storage business in 1996, they couldn't find affordable frontage for expansion. So they conceived of a pickup-and-delivery service using warehouses on cheaper land. While some competitors employed wooden crates, Warhurst and Courtney wanted a bigger, more weather-resistant box. They recruited two partners, David Revelia and Bill Ash, and the POD was born.

Not everyone loves having a POD on the block, though. Some cities now require a construction permit to keep a POD for extended periods. Even so, Warhurst has big plans: a company-owned warehouse in Atlanta next year and four more franchises elsewhere in the Southeast.

So far, his family isn't complaining about his long hours. "They knew I needed something," he says. He figures he'll do this for five years or so, then retire again. Maybe.

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