It’s a testament to the wonderfully strange and unexpected world of self-storage that there are so many interesting people within the industry. In our first edition of the Storage Celebrity Lifestyles series, we went in depth with the delightful Anne Ballard, who showed us her many hats and gave us her outlook on the world of storage and beyond. In this month’s Storage Celebrity Lifestyles, we were lucky enough to speak in-depth with Tron Jordheim, CMO at StorageMart, Director of PhoneSmart and true Renaissance Man. In addition to being an inspiration to the self-storage industry, Tron is also a nationally recognized business speaker and lifelong entrepreneur. If you’ve never heard of Tron Jordheim before, get ready to be amazed: he truly lives up to his name.
Q: What is your life story?
I’m kind of a mixed up character: I grew up partly in the woods of Northern Wisconsin and partly in the streets of New York, and those are the places where I take everything from. As a kid, I was climbing pine trees in the woods and climbing roofs and fences in the city. I’m kind of a country boy from the city and a city boy from the country. That gives me an interesting perspective on things.
Q: How did you start your first business?
I’ve also always been in the sales and marketing game. I started my first business–a window cleaning business–when I was in the sixth grade with a roll of paper towels and a can of window cleaner.
I had lots of friends who were sacking groceries and driving delivery bikes. They seemed like they were working very hard for very little money, and I thought there must be a better way. I noticed there were window cleaning crews on all the office and retail side-streets and main streets, and I thought I could do that. So I started a window washing route and ended up making more money than my friends did.
Q: How did you go from that to protection dog training?
I started a dog training business for a number of years importing German Shepherds from Germany and training them for personal protection. I studied with all kinds of people and I had an affinity for it: as a kid we had lots of dogs and my dad would sometimes have my brother and myself go into the woods and send the dog out to find us. After watching Rin Tin Tin, I was sold–I had to work with German Shepherds.
Q: And at one point, you were a security guard for President Carter?
One of the things I did early on when I started working with protection dogs was working as a canine security officer. We guarded construction sites and did community patrols with our dogs. During the Democratic National Convention in New York, I was brought on with a bunch of other folks to work the convention. I happened to work the suite where Jimmy Carter was staying, clearing and checking everyone coming through. Of course I didn’t really know who he was at the time–I even stopped his wife and wouldn’t let her in. One of the Georgia state police had to introduce her to me.
President Carter was a really gracious guy; he spent a little personal time with everyone, he stopped and visited with us on his way in and out. Even though he had to spend time with lots of important people while they were working their deals, he would always take the time to stop and say hello.
Q: How did you get involved with bottled water?
I got involved in the bottled water business and had a lot of fun with that. My first experience in the business was working for a company called Great Bear (an old, well-established firm in New York). I ran the Upper West Side of the Manhattan sales territory for them and made about 50 to 60 cold calls a day for them to set up new bottled water accounts–ultimately a fun way to perfect your sales and marketing skills.
Q: What’s the story behind “Tronning?”
When I was in the bottled water business, I taught a particular style of doing a free trial of the bottled water–there was a very particular, specific way that we did it. Some people called it “Tronning.” They didn’t go out selling, they went out Tronning. I was no longer a noun, but also a verb.
Names say a lot about people and I think it’s a little odd that my dad gave me a very Norwegian name when I was going to grow up in the States, and no one could pronounce it right. Contrary to popular belief, my parents did not see the movie and decide they had to name me Tron. A lot of people think they saw the movie or they were making out in the balcony during the movie, but that’s not the case. It is true that I do fight for the user, though.
When the movie came out, I thought, “This is awesome–I have my name on marquees!” It’s very fun. And Tron II was great–I was impressed. It made me proud.
Q: How did you get involved with the storage industry?
I was looking for some new opportunities after the bottled water business. I knew of the folks who started Storage Trust in Columbia, and they were looking to start a call center. I had built a lot of water business over the phone, so I thought, why not?
I helped them start PhoneSmart and it wasn’t that long ago that we broke our one-millionth lead reservation for our self-storage clients. It’s great to be able to show everyone how you can sell storage units over the phone. In the meantime, I’ve taken over responsibility for StorageMart’s marketing. As the internet and mobile use have taken off, we’ve been coming along for the ride and figuring out how to have fun with that, and that’s been a blast.
Q: And you’re part of the National Speakers Association?
I’ve been a member of the National Speakers Association for a number of years. I’ve spoken to groups at trade shows, presented seminars and so on. I thought that would be a good group of people to get to know–a lot of those folks are just fantastic at creating presentations and getting their message out to people. It’s really fun to see their skills and how they put together their seminars and their speeches–it’s helped me learn to get the point across better.
Q: Where did PhoneSmart get the Hawaiian theme from?
One of the things we did to promote PhoneSmart was to create our PhoneSmart Hawaii Un-Conference. There are a lot of great conferences out there, and we thought we should have an un-conference; instead of a structured format, we would get movers and shakers in the industry together to talk without such a formal agenda. This was just when everything was hitting the fan in 2008, so we thought that the best thing to do to relieve anxiety would be to go to Hawaii for a week.
So we got about 40 people together for a week in Hawaii and it was fabulous! We had such great conversations and figured out great things for everyone to do with their business. In order to promote that, we got completely decked out with everything Hawaii. That was a lot of fun, so much so that we decided to do it one more time again in 2011, this time with 50 people. It was a very special time and everyone got a lot out of it.
Q: Where do you see yourself going from here? Where would you like to go?
The storage business has always been good to me, and PhoneSmart is going to continue growing and there will be more opportunities. I see myself doing more and more to help all of the storage owners and storage people do what they need to do. It’s going to keep being fun.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Sitting under a palm tree with my family, listening to the waves.
Q: What do you most dislike?
Bigots. I have very little use for them.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
I just finished reading a mystery novel by John le Carré; I always enjoy his stuff. William Shakespeare: I can still pick up some Shakespeare and have fun with that. I also love Jonathan Swift’s satire.
Q: What event in history do you most admire?
The war of independence between Sweden and Norway. The Swedes and Norwegians decided at the last minute that it would be better not to kill each other and just made a deal instead.
Q: Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?
My four grandparents are heroes and heroines. When you look at some of the things they went through just to get by, they were some tough and inventive folks.
One of my favorite heroes, so to speak, was Roberto Clemente, who’s got an anniversary coming up. He was a great sports figure and a lot of fun.
One of my heroines is Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. She was something else. She was tough and smart, and knew how to deal with people.
Q: What is your general outlook on life?
You have to live a little. We all try to bust it out everyday, but hey–you gotta live a little. Everyone you interact with is dealing with their own stuff, you’ve got to cut people a little slack.