Pete Warhurst tried to retire after he sold PODS, the Clearwater company he founded that provides portable on-demand storage.
But when Warhurst came up with an idea for what he said is a more affordable and convenient moving and storage option, he knew he had get back in the game.
“I could not let it go. I knew it was going to be a home run,” said Warhurst, in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst in the Largo office of his new company, Red Rover.
Red Rover offers customers a portable storage unit on a truck that the customer picks up and drives for free. The customer loads the storage unit, which is kept at Red Rover’s climate-controlled storage facility for a monthly fee until the customer is ready to retrieve their goods. The concept is contactless, with trucks booked online and communication between the customer and Red Rover taking place through telephone and text. The trucks are outfitted with technology innovations, including a patent-pending ramp system, and are sanitized between uses.
The company describes the concept as “fetchable storage.”
“That’s a mistake we made at PODS. We never trademarked portable storage so there’s hundreds of portable storage companies. We trademarked fetchable storage,” Warhurst said.
Entrepreneur of the Year
Warhurst is a serial entrepreneur and a recipient of Florida’s Year Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2000. He has founded and sold two companies in multi-million dollar deals.
He was a firefighter and paramedic in Largo when he co-founded police, fire and EMS dispatch software company EAI Systems, which was sold to Bell Atlantic in 1992. He was 40 years old at the time and could have lived comfortably in retirement, but five years later, he got interested in the self-storage industry. That led to him founding PODS. By the time PODS sold for $430 million to a private equity firm in 2007, it had $215 million in annual revenue and was one of the most recognized names in the industry, with operations throughout the U.S., Australia and Canada.
Warhurst was working on another venture, a car wash business, when he came up with the idea for Red Rover. He said he tried to pitch the concept to the CEO of PODS as well as a PODS board member, but they weren’t interested. Warhurst then made a multi-million offer to buy a PODS competitor, PACK-RAT, but he didn’t get the deal.
So he launched Red Rover. Warhurst is CEO, and several people he worked with at PODS have joined him in executive roles. George Spowort is Red Rover’s chief marketing officer, Rob Allison is chief operations officer. Tom Calcaterra is chief financial officer. Ann Lehman, who was interim president at PODS, is Red Rover’s senior vice president of enterprise development. Martin McKerrell, who Warhurst knew from his first company, is Red Rover’s chief information officer.
Allison was the only one still working at PODS at the time Red Rover was formed. Combined, they have about 140 years of industry knowledge, Warhurst said. They’ve invested in Red Rover as well.
“All of them have written checks, and all of them have taken pay cuts or worked for free to get us off the ground. If that isn’t conviction and confirmation that we’re on to something here, I don’t know what is,” Warhurst said.
Plan to go national
Red Rover solves several problems in the moving and storage industry, Warhurst said.
For the business, margins are higher because there’s less overhead. The business model, including the online reservations, requires fewer employees.
It’s also cheaper and more convenient for consumers, Warhurst said. Customers only pay for storage, not for the truck they use to move their goods. Because the customer picks up and drives the truck, they don’t have to wait for a driver to show up.
“We’ve cut our overhead. We’ve eliminated customer complaints. We’ve empowered the consumer to do it at their convenience, on their timetable. And while we’ve done that, we’ve also saved them $200 or $300,” Warhurst said.
There are three truck sizes — eight-foot long, 16-foot long, and 24-foot long — all made simple to drive, with backup cameras and lane departure warnings. There are two size containers, an eight-foot container and a 16-foot one, that can work in five different configurations in the trucks. Each truck comes with a 250-pound ramp that can be moved automatically to a side door or back door opening for loading and unloading.
“We designed a patent pending ramp system that is completely automated. You can download the app on your phone and control the ramp remotely,” Warhurst said.
Red Rover’s headquarters and storage facility are located near the Florida State Fairgrounds Tampa, with a self-service lot for truck and container pick-up near Tampa International Airport. The Largo facility also is a self-service lot, as well as a training center and container assembly site.
Red Rover is only serving the Tampa Bay market now, but Warhurst has a three-stage plan to take the company national.
“To go nationwide it’s probably a $100 million to $150 million investment in a combination of debt and equity. Our pockets aren’t that deep. So we’re actively raising money,” Warhurst said.
He’s talking to the same investment banker that helped him raise the first outside funding for PODS.
For now, the Tampa-St. Petersburg market is the company’s learning lab. Rates start at $159 a month for the smallest container and go up from there. The rates will vary in other cities.