Father-and-son business team Doug and Eric Isaacson, owners of A Mini Flex Storage in Montgomery, AL, wanted to expand their self-storage facility in 2006. But a zoning obstacle stood in their way.
The Isaacsons had planned to add 129 units at their facility, yet the adjacent 2.5 acres were zoned specifically for business offices, ruling out self-storage. So they brainstormed and, without caving in to frustration, devised a new business strategy. They decided to launch a business incubator to rival a local chamber of commerce version. The incubator opened in 2007.
The only rules of the incubator “would be to make a profit and stay in business,” Doug said.
Those rules applied to incubator renters. And they weren’t really rules, but advice that the Isaacsons hoped would prompt business owners in the incubator to focus on the bottom line. By contrast, some businesses found the local chamber’s incubator rules to be far too rigid.
Almost all of the dozen available offices at the Montgomery New Business Incubator have been occupied since it debuted. The elder Isaacson drew from years of his own business experience to develop an attractive list of benefits for potential incubator occupants. Those benefits include around-the-clock access, free utilities, month-to-month leases, Wi-Fi service, discounted shipping and on-site storage.
When a business drops out of the incubator, the available office space is quickly filled, with existing occupants helping promote the incubator, according to Eric.
“Since the rent is month to month, if a business doesn’t make it, we shake hands and move on,” Doug said.
Doug and Eric Isaacson don’t just take checks each month from incubator clients. Rather, they view themselves as having a stake in the success of the new members of their business family, including a social worker, an architect and a security company.
“Our biggest challenge has been helping companies make it,” Doug said.
Each incubator office measures 200 square feet and costs $350 a month. An office tenant can save $7 on FedEx shipping with A Mini Flex Storage, which also accepts mail and packages for office renters.
“We try to offer a one-stop shop. They can buy boxes, rent a (Penske) truck, rent a unit, and do shipping with Fed Ex and DHL,” Doug said.
“They also can pull up to the front door of their (incubator) office, which is climate-controlled with storage behind them if they want it. We put their name on the door for free. We try to help them with brainstorming and give advice. We are practical.”
The incubator concept has gone so well that the Isaacsons are looking at putting up a second incubator on a nearby 2-acre plot in late 2014 or early 2015. But if that plan doesn’t materialize, they still can focus on keeping the existing incubator—and the self-storage units—full.