Being a small business owner this year has been more difficult than any other.
From worrying on a personal level about my own family and friends; to concerns as a business owner about the safety of my employees, customers, and vendors.; to the financial ups and downs of a very slow start to the most important part of our year; to making continual operational adjustments to ensure we deliver what our customers want and deserve... it’s been a lot.
I know everyone has a story to tell this year, and I’m grateful that mine, while stressful, has plenty of positive angles. I want to share one of the 2020 storylines for TSI that I’m most proud of because it’s a story of creativity, collaboration, flexibility and problem solving.
Many colleges and universities were on spring break when much of the country started closing down and imposing quarantines, travel restrictions, and self-isolation mandates. This meant that students were home and their belongings were at school – with no sign of if or how they’d be able to retrieve them. I’m a father of two daughters in college so I experienced this firsthand. My girls wanted their stuff, and the schools couldn’t let them back to go get it.
For those students who weren’t able to return to campus to retrieve their belongings, we got it done for them.
Within the first week or two of this situation, my team came together to see if we could provide an answer for all the people (school administrators, students, parents) who desperately needed one. We leveraged personal experiences plus some research and informal conversations to draft a plan that tackled the challenge of room clean outs. We immediately realigned resources to ensure we’d be up for the challenge.
- Our outbound sales team shifted focus 180 degrees and started reaching out to colleges and universities to assess needs and start to get feedback on our solutions.
- Our operations team took that insight and started pulling together vendors that would enable us to deliver unique solutions on-site on campuses. **Spoiler alert** Our core offering became this 2-part solution which was offered at specific schools (each with a minimum of 40+ students needing help):
- Step 1 - Prep & Pack: A professional organizer (from TSI’s network) would schedule and hold a Zoom meeting with each student to ID their items and understand what they wanted to do with them. Then they’d pack up the room and label all boxes and items for step 2.
- Step 2 - Store or Ship: Depending on the student’s choice, a team of movers would follow after step 1 and take all the boxes and other items and either store them locally for delivery when school returned or ship them to the student’s home.
- Our marketing team set up web pages and custom forms for each school so that students could come in and register, make their service selections, and provide payment information.
- We hired several new people (yes, we were able to expand during COVID!) to project manage across the different schools – both on-the-ground for logistics and by phone/email for customer service.
- The finance team set up a billing structure to handle a multitude of billing arrangements and pricing across schools and service options.
Our team of organizers and packers at St. John’s University in NYC.
It was amazing to me to see so many people in my company step up and take on this challenge. Many of the specifics were brand new to us – and developed on the fly – but everyone was committed to making it work. Early mornings, late nights, countless Webex meetings, travel and on-site work during COVID (and heat, hurricanes, even an earthquake)... there was lots of dedication to making this work and I’ve been really energized by seeing that.
- We cleaned out the rooms of more than 3,000 students.
- At an average of 8 boxes per student (and that doesn’t count TVs, microwaves, lamps, mops, bikes, etc), we moved out and either stored or shipped approximately 25,000 boxes.
- We built and managed ~20 unique web pages and registration forms.
- We answered thousands of phone calls and emails.
- We hosted ~2,500 Zoom meetings with students. That equaled about 91,000 Zoom meeting minutes - or 63 days worth of meetings!
Storage units at Duke University
Over the past 4-6 weeks, as we prepped for and executed back-to-school deliveries, it became a whole other adventure. Schools were deciding up until the very last minute if they were allowing students back on campus (and if so, which ones); students then had to decide if they wanted their stuff back or wanted to continue storing it, and so on. We made hard decisions, deadlines, rules, and exceptions. We made it work. As of mid-September, we have entered a lull with all items where they need to be. But we are still storing thousands of boxes and will have more work to do as more students go back to campus for the spring semester.
It’s been stressful but it’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot about myself and where my interests and passions lie. And it feels great to have been super busy and useful – TSI has really been able to provide value at a challenging time in the world and for that I’m grateful.