The CitiStory

HOW IT ALL BEGAN …

Written by Norm Brodsky, Founder of CitiStorage

It all started with a telephone call from a client of our delivery company, Perfect Courier. She told one of our customer service representatives that she had 27 boxes of documents she’d like us to store for her. We hadn’t had such a request before, but we never say no to a customer. Our rep said, “Someone will get back to you,” and came to me.

“What should I tell her?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Give me the information, and I’ll take care of it.”

At the time-this was 1990-I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a records-storage industry. I looked in the Yellow Pages under “moving and storage,” found a name and a phone number, and called. “Do you store boxes?” I asked the person who answered.

“Sure,” he said. “How many?”

“Twenty-seven transfiles,” I replied. “How much do you charge to pick them up?”

“One hundred fifty dollars,” he said. That was twice as much as Perfect Courier would have charged.

“Where are you? In Russia?” I asked.

“No, we’re in Long Island City,” he said.

“Can you come get them right away?” I asked.

“No, we can’t pick them up until next Thursday,” he said. We could have been there in an hour.

“How much do you charge for storage?” I asked.

“A dollar fifty per box per day,” he said.

This guy must be a box thief, I thought. “I’ll pass,” I said. I proceeded to phone several other moving and storage places and got pretty much the same responses. This sounds like a good business, I thought. I called the client and said we’d take the boxes, charge her $75 to pick them up, and store them for a minimum of $25 per box per month. She was delighted. “We’ll have someone there in an hour,” I said.

“No, no,” she said. “I’m not ready yet. Pick them up tomorrow.”

So we did. Those first 27 boxes sat in our Manhattan offices for two months while we pondered our next move. Eventually we rented a warehouse in Long Island City and started to look for sales. Although we promised great customer service and cutting edge technological support, we found it almost impossible to sign up any customers. People were wary about turning their records over to a start-up. Most were also locked into contracts that required them to pay hefty charges when they removed their boxes from their current records storage company.

I’ve explained elsewhere how we eventually overcame this obstacle. (See Street Smarts, Inc., December 2000, “What Business Are You Really In?”) We had to think creatively and introduce some new practices to the industry. Among other things, we figured out that we needed warehouses with very high ceilings. We found one in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, right on the East River, and moved there in 1994. Later we bought that facility and the surrounding land, on which we built several modern, state-of-the-art warehouses to our own specifications. Along the way, CitiStorage grew from a start-up with 27 boxes to the largest stand alone independent records-storage company in the country, with almost three million boxes and counting.

But I didn’t do that. Our employees did.

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