Storage On Demand
American Mobile Leasing LLC is a success story that can’t be contained
In a business catering to the breakneck pace of construction in the central Ohio area, Jimmy Johnson, Co-Owner of American Mobile Leasing LLC (AML), is used to being light on his feet. But this summer, when the company won two contracts from retail giant Target for remodels of local stores, he and others at AML had their work cut out for them.
“That was two projects starting on the same date,” Jimmy says. “We had to deliver more than 140 storage units total to two job sites. We delivered them within 10 business days. The general contractors needed them for storage and office space, while the stores needed them for merchandise and fixture storage while the remodels were happening.”
AML’s business is renting storage containers for a variety of uses to customers throughout central Ohio. It’s a new venture for Jimmy and his entrepreneurial family, and it’s one they do well.
The family business used to be self-storage facilities, started and run by Jimmy’s father, James. After Jimmy graduated from high school in 1998, he jumped into the business with his father full time. His sister, Jayme Gates, joined the company in 2003, and eventually, the family business grew to include about half a million square feet of storage space. A few years ago, in 2016, Jimmy saw a better opportunity, sold the self-storage business to a competitor and plunged into the storage container business.
“I saw a huge market for container rentals in the area,” Jimmy says. “I’d been talking about making a move into this industry for a couple of years. I had a friend in the industry, and when he got out, I got in. I partnered on it with my father and sister, who invested in the firm, with me as the active owner of the company. Now, my day-to-day operations include buying and leasing containers, as well as dispatching, deliveries and prep work to the containers. My wife, Melissa, oversees all office activities, including human resources, bookkeeping and inventory. We have 10 people on the team, including drivers, office staff and shop laborers, and we’re buying new and used units daily to grow our fleet.”
A Ready Market
Jimmy soon discovered that he was right about the market. He began his business with a fleet of 50 storage containers, and quickly had more business than he could accommodate without growing.
“We brought in our initial fleet of containers, painted them and bought lockboxes for each,” Jimmy says. “I bought a semi to deliver them and found a driver. In the beginning, I was out painting containers and making deliveries myself. We were trying to learn the ropes as we went. We grew from those first 50 units in June 2016 and went from there. By the end of that year, we had 100 units. We’ve just grown tremendously since then.”
In the five years since opening the doors of AML, the company’s fleet has expanded to more than 1,300 storage containers along with seven delivery trucks and drivers to accommodate the average daily schedule of 25 pickups and deliveries. The company’s location in Lancaster, Ohio, about 35 minutes southeast of Columbus, gives AML a prime staging center to offer fast, dependable and professional delivery to all areas of Ohio and even into surrounding states.
“We have top-notch drivers, trucks and trailers,” Jimmy says. “It makes the deliveries a lot easier. Our service and how we take care of our customers have driven us to where we are now and helped us grow year by year. Every year since we started, the business has grown by 30 to 35%.”
More Than Storage
Though storage makes up the backbone of the business, AML also does a brisk trade in portable offices—containers that have been converted to serve as office space. These containers are outfitted with heating and cooling systems, office furniture, LED lighting, windows and finished interiors. They also sit flat on the ground, eliminating the need for steps to enter or exit.
“We build out our office units right here on-site and we can outfit them almost any way the customer needs them,” Jimmy says.
AML’s primary customer base is in the construction industry, which uses the trailers on job sites for a variety of purposes, ranging from storage of building materials and furnishings to using the on-site offices for general contractors. The recent explosion of tech growth in the area, including regional headquarters for titans like Facebook and Google, has brought in more business from general contractors and subcontractors that need office and storage space while they work on these huge projects. When ground broke for a new soccer stadium—the Columbus Crew’s Lower.com Field—in 2019, AML supplied storage and office space containers for the general contractor.
One of the biggest commercial uses is for storage of seasonal and overstock retail merchandise as well as for layaway purchases. For the retailers, it is more convenient to have the merchandise on their property rather than using an off-site warehouse. Among AML’s retail clients are many big chains like Kohl’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Lowe’s.
“All of the units are essentially big steel boxes of varying sizes from 20 feet long, which is the most common size, to 40 feet long,” Jimmy says. “Some have doors on both ends, some just on one end. One of the added benefits of AML’s containers is they have an extra lockbox mechanism. It’s not just a padlock. We install a special lockbox on the unit that covers the lock so intruders or thieves can’t get in to get the lock off. All of our containers also have wooden floors and are cargo-worthy with no holes in the roofs and no leaks. Additionally, the containers are placed right on the ground with no steps or lifting required to get items inside the units. This is a big plus over trailers.”
“Our service and how we take care of our customers have driven us to where we are now and helped us grow year by year. Every year since we started, the business has grown by 30 to 35%.” Jimmy Johnson, Co-Owner, American Mobile Leasing LLC
Passing the Test
A business built to accommodate the booming construction sector of central Ohio faced an uncertain path forward when that industry dimmed under the looming cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. As construction shuddered to an emergency-brake halt, AML found demand for its storage containers coming from new sources. Multiple containers were repurposed as COVID-19 testing facilities throughout Ohio and surrounding states. Schools and businesses operating under changed conditions and strict health requirements regarding social distancing found themselves needing extra space for storage.
“We were really yes and no on impact from COVID,” Jimmy says. “Our construction side slowed down, but our medical side picked up as we built testing centers to suit. We also picked up a lot of schools, providing storage. We stayed open and looked for things to get us through it. We were able to make up the loss of traditional business with new opportunities.”
AML has made its reputation with a focus on the bustling central Ohio corridor, but has also been branching out to nearby markets in Ohio and neighboring states. The company’s next big push will be into the Cincinnati and Dayton markets. AML currently has a temporary office and drop yard/staging area in proximity to Dayton, simply as a matter of convenience, but has not yet expanded it into a full satellite location.
“We’re looking to have two or three more locations in the next five years,” Jimmy says. “We are growing as fast as we can and are looking for new opportunities by targeting larger construction companies and direct customers; it all depends on the economy. Adding more locations should help us get longer-term, larger contracts for businesses.”
A Bright Future
Jimmy is quick to credit the contacts and opportunities available through The Blue Book Network® for assisting in his success in growing AML so quickly. In AML’s early days, an open house hosted in conjunction with The Blue Book Network brought in contractors and general contractors to learn about the company and lay the foundations of ongoing and fruitful business relationships.
“The Blue Book Network has helped us open doors and pick up new customers,” Jimmy says. “They’re great for helping us keep up with projects and due dates. Our partnership with them has helped us out tremendously.”
Despite its growth, AML remains very much the family business it was when it began. It’s an important element of the company’s success and a key piece of the culture, notes Jimmy. He adds that his family is devoted to the business and serving customers, a devotion that he says sets AML apart. AML offers around-the-clock service, and Jimmy takes pride in the fact that the phone is always answered.
“We are a 24-hour operation; I don’t miss a phone call,” Jimmy says. “When someone calls in, a member of our team picks up the phone. That’s a benefit that customers appreciate, dealing directly with someone on-site rather than going through a dispatcher in a call center several states away. It all goes back to the company’s business philosophy of focusing on putting customers’ needs first.”
“My door is always open,” he says. “Everyone has my cellphone number. I’m always available for my employees and my customers. They all know that and everyone appreciates that. It’s part of our culture. I’m not just sitting in an office. If I have to go out and help in the yard, I’ll do it. That’s who we are.”