America at work
A “Smart” Move From The Corporate World To Entrepreneurship
Free Enterprise Staff | June 5, 2014

What do you do when you’ve spent 30 years in corporate America in the wholesale apparel and accessories business, including a “C” suite position or two, and your job is suddenly not there anymore? If you’re Ned Goepp, you go into the portable moving and storage business.

“I started out as a commission salesperson and rose up through the ranks with three different companies,” says Goepp. “And my last role was president of a large division, both geographically and economically.”

Though at first Goepp figured he would stay in the same industry, he says he was discouraged after a number of promising interviews led nowhere. “My first thought was to stay with what I knew. So I did research and interviewed with other apparel and jewelry companies,” he says, adding that although he often made it to the final round of interviews, he kept “losing out to younger candidates in their 40s.” Not yet ready to retire, Goepp toyed with the idea of either franchising or starting his own business.

“I started with companies I had always admired like Chick-fil-A and Jimmy John’s, but then a friend introduced me to the owner of the Atlanta SmartBox franchise who was looking to sell,” says Goepp.

Even though he had lived most recently in New York City, Goepp had kept his long-time home in suburban Atlanta, where the SmartBox franchise was located. Though the business was having some challenges, that actually made it appealing, says Goepp. “It had a three-year declining sales trend, lacked branding and messaging, and we could make an asset allocation of the business for pennies on the dollar,” he explains. Having turned around those kinds challenges before in the corporate world, he decided to do it for himself.

But first, he needed to dive into the ins and outs of what the portable moving and storage business is all about. “I had to learn the logistics side of the business to begin with,” recalls Goepp. “And how to operate a forklift!”

As the SmartBox slogan notes, “If you’ve got the stuff, we’ve got solutions.” And everybody has stuff. SmartBox containers are used by do-it-yourself individuals and business owners who mainly want to either store items or move locally. The portable “pods” can stay at a home or a business, for the short-term or long-term, says Goepp, and they can also be stored at SmartBox warehouses. “Our customers almost always pack their own containers,” Goepp explains. “Our truck drops off the box, then we pick it up and either bring it back to our warehouse or move it wherever it needs to be. Once it’s packed, the customer doesn’t have to touch it again.”

A Change in Attitude

Coming from a position in which he was responsible for hundreds of people, Goepp enjoys that he now knows every employee’s name. “It’s a family run business with one employee,” he says. While Goepp handles the sales, marketing, and operations, his wife, Kathy, handles the books and the back office. “And we have James, our truck driver and warehouseman, who is the face to the customer. We will probably add another associate this year and an office manager next year.”

After learning the ropes and getting his feet wet, growth has been steady. “We grew by over 50% in the first year (2013), and the first quarter of 2014 saw a 100% increase over a similar period the year before,” says Goepp. “Our goal is to be over $500,000 by the end of this year, and approaching $1 million by the end of 2016.”

Goepp says that he didn’t encounter any big surprises during the start-up phase. “One of the biggest things we had to wrap our heads around was the total independence,” he explains. “There’s no vast corporation backing us up. We know our success rises and falls on what we do and how we treat our customers.”

Asked if there was anything he missed about the corporate world, Goepp had a ready answer, “Yes, I miss the big fat paycheck.”

But the trade-off has been the ability to know that all the hard work he puts into the business will accrue dividends just to him and his family. “I think I’ve worn a tie twice in the last 18 months,” Goepp says with a smile. “And I don’t have to check with Human Resources if I want to take a day off.”

Goepp’s story is by no means unique in the current economic client. And he does have some advice to others who may be forced into a change or looking on their own. “First of all, don’t take on too much debt and saddle the business and yourself with that obligation and liability,” he says. “It’s best to be looking before something big happens. Be courageous. Do something you want to do. Most of all – don’t worry about the money – you can learn to live on less. Take stock of the friends and family around you and don’t be afraid to seek their counsel and advice. You are not defined by your job, and it can’t define you.”

Going from ladies’ cocktail wear and ornamental earrings to large storage containers and cardboard boxes may not seem like the most logical career path. But Ned Goepp does see one possible correlation. “I don’t know for sure, but I’d have to guess that some of those containers we have in our warehouse right now have quite a few dresses, scarves, necklaces and bracelets somewhere inside them,” he says.

For Goepp, that makes owning and operating SmartBox a very intelligent business move indeed.