Franchisee Matthew Stapleford on Why He Bought Go Mini’s

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Melissa Castoro

After a nonlinear path from college to entrepreneurship, Stapleford discovered a new avenue for success in the franchise world.

For Matthew Stapleford, becoming a franchisee was par for the course in an ambitious journey that has taken him down several winding paths throughout his career.

“I’m one of those people that took a non-traditional path through college. I was just kind of trying to figure out what the right fit was. I spent some time at a few different schools, took a year off to actually help my mom start a business, went back to school, graduated and went into corporate America,” Stapleford says.

Not content to remain in place for long, Stapleford founded his own real estate rental company in northwestern Pennsylvania in 2013 while still in the process of pursuing an undergraduate degree. It was a move that offered a glimpse into Stapleford’s future as his focus began to shift further toward entrepreneurship, even after taking on a role in corporate healthcare consulting after graduating in 2016 with a degree in mathematics and finance.

“I always just kind of had an itch to do my own thing. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial house. My parents are self-employed, so I grew up in that environment. I’ve seen the hard work that goes into starting and building and running a business. I’m no stranger to working after hours on the weekends,” Stapleford says.

Last spring, that innate entrepreneurial drive grew into full-fledged business ownership when Stapleford came across a portable storage container company called Go Mini’s offering franchise opportunities in 39 states – including Pennsylvania.

Adding value to an existing business

The opportunity to add container storage to Stapleford’s existing real estate ventures, which had expanded over time to include a self-storage facility, seemed like the natural next step in the evolution of his business.

“Our self-storage facility had some vacant land that we were looking to put to use. We kicked around a lot of different ideas trying to figure out what was a good fit, and we came across portable storage. It’s kind of a natural fit with the brick-and-mortar storage – you can capture people that are moving out of the storage facility, you can help them move from the storage facility into a new home, or whatever it might be. So I started looking into different franchises and found Go Mini’s,” Stapleford recalls.

Despite that initial discovery, though, Stapleford temporarily shelved the idea of buying a franchise as he continued working at his corporate job while maintaining the rental and storage business on the side.

“About a year later, I reached back out to Go Mini’s and they responded, I think within a couple of days. I liked how responsive they were. I started talking with them, reading the Franchise Disclosure Document, talking with people in corporate, different franchisees, and just really got a good feel for what corporate was trying to do on a national level,” Stapleford says.

For Stapleford, being able to connect directly with the company’s existing franchisees and learn about their experiences as business owners was a key selling point in his interactions with Go Mini’s.

“I got a good feel from talking to some of the different franchisees – some newer ones, some really well-established ones. I got to talk to people on different ends of the spectrum, and I think if I were to ask to talk to every single franchisee, Go Mini’s would have let me. They’re very transparent,” Stapleford says.

Adding up the opportunities

Despite those good initial impressions, Stapleford knew he needed to assess the financial realities of becoming a franchisee before deciding to buy into Go Mini’s system. 

Drawing on his background in finance and analytics, Stapleford crunched the numbers with a strong focus on determining the feasibility and sustainability of buying a franchise – something he says is important for prospective franchisees to take into account. 

For Stapleford, the numbers added up.

“It just came down to, what’s the territory fee, which, I think for a franchise, is quite reasonable with Go Mini’s. What’s the ongoing royalty – again, for a franchise, I think Go Mini’s has a very reasonable ongoing royalty,” Stapleford says.

In addition to making sure he could afford to buy a franchise and operate it over time, Stapleford’s experience as a business owner also came into play when assessing the potential for competition in his region – something he says wasn’t a problem when it came to Go Mini’s.

“I think the thing that attracted us most to Go Mini’s was there’s no Go Mini’s franchisees in Pennsylvania. So we’re the first, and still the only, Pennsylvania franchisee,” Stapleford says, adding that the company worked with him to determine a territory he was comfortable managing.

“Another big factor for me was, we have a young family. We have two young girls. So I was trying to evaluate if I was in a position to make that leap and start a business with a young family,” Stapleford says, explaining that the potential benefit of being able to build a business to hand down to his children ultimately outweighed the financial risks.

“I’m a risk-taker, obviously. And my thinking was, if I didn’t start the business, I would look back and regret it. But if I started the business and, for some reason things don’t go well, I have plenty of time to get back into corporate America,” Stapleford says.

Jumping in with both feet

Beyond the financial metrics of operating a franchise, Stapleford also faced another difficult choice after deciding to buy into Go Mini’s – deciding whether or not to jump in with both feet.

“I was also debating whether or not to keep my consulting job and run the business on the side, or jump in with both feet and focus my efforts 100% on Go Mini’s, which is what I ended up doing,” Stapleford says.

To feel confident in that decision, Stapleford reached out to the company’s other franchisees, many of whom came from varied business backgrounds that allowed him to weigh the pros and cons of going full-time with the franchise.

“One thing that really helped me was having access to the other franchisees, hearing how they’re running their businesses. A lot of them do focus 100% of their time on the Go Mini’s business. Others have other businesses, like moving. I think just allowing me access to the other franchisees to hear their experiences and how they’re running their business really helped,” Stapleford says.

Ultimately, Stapleford decided that franchising success would be more likely if he focused 100% of his time and efforts on growing the Go Mini’s venture with the assistance of his wife.

“The nice thing about Go Mini’s is you can run a pretty lean business. I think I’m a great example of that, with my wife helping a little bit and then being pretty much a one-man show. But having that level of scale, at least across the western part of the state, means a lot of containers and that’s also a lot of logistics,” Stapleford says, noting that having the experience of running everything himself will be helpful for training employees in the future.

“When we’re at the point of hiring drivers, and I’ve been doing the deliveries and the pickups, I’ll know all the tips and tricks and effectively know how to train somebody,” Stapleford says.

Tackling the obstacles head-on

As a seasoned entrepreneur with nearly a decade of experience running a business, the experience of opening a franchise still wasn’t always easy for Stapleford, who overcame critical obstacles before opening his Go Mini’s franchise.

“We had a couple moments where we really had to pivot before we opened for business,” Stapleford says.

One of those moments included the realization that the vacant land he’d planned to use for the Go Mini’s venture would cost too much to develop – leaving Stapleford in the difficult position of deciding whether to give up on his plan or find new land to operate on.

“We were planning to run the Go Mini’s business from the same land as our storage facility. I started looking into the costs to prep that land and make it ready to go, and it was gonna be outrageous. We had to pivot. I was panicking – we were getting ready to sign our loan and we had to convince the bank to pivot. We were able to find another piece of property that we’re now running the business out of,” Stapleford says.

Another major challenge came when parts shortages for the vehicle Stapleford needed to transport storage containers created an extensive setback.

“We signed the paperwork on our truck, and then the microchip shortage happened. We signed the papers in January of last year and we were supposed to get our truck in May of last year. It was getting closer to May and the dealer told me they had no timeline for when our truck was gonna come. So, we’ve got containers coming in but we have no way to move them around,” Stapleford says. 

Although Stapleford was able to find a truck to get the company started, he says the new truck still hasn’t been delivered. Despite those issues, Stapleford remains confident that his flexibility and willingness to pivot during difficult times will ultimately lead to success.

“I think you just have to be resourceful. If you come across a hurdle, you can’t just give up. It’s easy to give up, but I think the franchisees and the business owners that succeed find a way to come up with a solution no matter what challenge they come across,” Stapleford says.

Finding the right support

For Stapleford, the challenges of opening a business in the container storage industry would have been difficult to manage without help even as an experienced business owner. Because of that, he’s grateful for the advantages that come with owning and operating a franchise.

“If I would have tried to start a portable storage business all on my own, it would have been very overwhelming. Go Mini’s has things figured out that I don’t have to go out and figure out,” Stapleford says, noting that the company provides franchisees with important resources and advantages for opening and running a business successfully.

Beyond providing key resources like technology and connections for purchasing containers, Stapleford says Go Mini’s also works to provide franchisees with networking opportunities that encourage business development – something he’s grateful for.

“We had our first annual conference with Go Mini’s back in November and I got to sit at a table with three of the biggest Go Mini’s franchisees. So I got to ask them, ‘What’s your secret? How do you do it?’ So, again, if I would have started this business on my own, I wouldn’t have had access to those same people that I have being a franchise,” Stapleford says.

Focusing on the future

Although Stapleford is content running his Go Mini’s business on his own for now with help from his wife, he says scaling is part of his plan for the future as the company’s sole Pennsylvania franchisee.

“We have a lot of room to grow. And that’s the long-term goal – we’re not really inhibited by another territory that butts up against ours,” Stapleford says.

Although he remains uncertain about taking over territories across the state, Stapleford says he’d like to expand across western Pennsylvania and be “top of mind” for customers in need of portable storage solutions when moving or initiating home renovations.

While he admits there are still some skills he’d like to develop as a franchisee, including learning how to hire employees as he grows, Stapleford doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the idea of growth – even on a personal level as a business owner.

“My generation was kind of raised to go to school, get a job, take the ‘safe route.’ But you know, I don’t think there really is a safe route in corporate America either. I like having control over my own destiny, so I think it’s worth considering the risk of taking that leap,” Stapleford says.

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