The Mobile Locker Company – Behind the Business with Molly MacDonald
Every now and then here at Behind the Business, we interview someone with an idea so brilliant and simple that it makes us sit and pause, muttering to ourselves, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Maybe it’s because I’m a runner and I’ve stood shivering at the start line of events wondering what I could’ve done differently to not be so uncomfortable, but Molly MacDonald’s business, The Mobile Locker Company seems to me like an absolute masterstroke.
My guess is we’ll see The Mobile Locker Company achieve much success across North America and beyond. So what exactly is it? We’ll let Molly explain.
Tell us about The Mobile Locker Company. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
The Mobile Locker Co (TMLC) provides secure, convenient storage at competitive and spectator events, like half marathons, mud runs, football games, golf tournaments, concerts, and more. Our customers are either athletes who want to be able to race stress-free or attendees who need a solution for items they can’t bring into the event. In addition, we also offer short-term rentals for businesses needing temporary storage solutions for their employees.
Our two “locker rooms on wheels” are customized box trucks which minimize setup/breakdown time, are space-conscious, have ample storage capacity, and offer event organizers an opportunity to enhance their customer experience without requiring any additional effort on their part. We’ve worked with local events as well as national brands such as Spartan Race, PGA Tour, the CMA Music Festival, and Westin Hotels.
How did you come up with the idea?
To be honest, the origin of the service was a bit self-serving! I am a runner and I was frustrated with my options when it game to gear storage. I wanted a solution that was secure for my keys and wallet, but also convenient, so I didn’t have to part with my layers and freeze as I waited to start! That said, in retrospect, as I started my professional career, I was clearly searching for a way to pave my own path in life. Before focusing on this concept, I was often dreaming up business ideas that never got off the ground – catering, opening a sandwich shop, selling cookies (maybe I was actually just hungry?) I just needed a solid idea, so when I realized this concept could be a viable opportunity, I ran with it. Yes, pun intended!
Looking at my family, I now see they hold the same desire to be their own boss. My mom is an artist, my father works independently on finance reform through clean energy projects, and one of my brothers is working on rehabbing and establishing a property management business in Providence, RI. So maybe it’s an inherited trait!
I went to college for psychology with a minor in marketing. So, yes, I’m learning as I go! But, I am fortunate to have an advisory board of successful, experienced partners who give me guidance whenever it’s needed, and have been teaching me along the way.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate. Why do you love what you do?
I think that, just as one matures as a business owner, your drive matures as well. When I launched, I’ll admit I was really driven by my success – to see what I’d created become a winner so that others are impressed.
Now, my drive is more focused on creating success for others. I want my partners to see a return on their investments, and my team to feel pride in their role and in being a representative of this company. I want my clients to see us as a component of their own success, and my customers to feel appreciated and connected to the company.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
Oh, there have been challenges! I’d say there are three big ones:
- Being a woman, I hate to admit it was, and at some points it still is, difficult to be taken seriously. Our initial focus on road races meant I was trying to make waves in an industry primarily operated by men. My first event organizer to give me a chance was a woman, and the same goes for our first two “big” events. Otherwise, I was often getting ignored or getting a short “no.” I hired an intern and, as a test, had him send out emails with the exact same message as I’d been sending. The outcome? He got so many responses we by accident almost double booked a few dates! Now that the company has a few more premium clients and a bit more experience, it’s becoming less of a problem. However, I do still get “Oh, so does your husband run the business with you?” question fairly often. I calmly reply no, just me! And then make sure to notice and enjoy the flicker of shock in their expression!
- Introducing a new concept! Yes, our service offers an opportunity for the events to offer more without doing more, but it really is mostly focused on the customer. And, to get to the customer, we need the events to book us! So, getting event organizers to see the value in what we provide and understand that we won’t make their day any harder (actually the opposite) is still a challenge. We’ve been fortunate to create great partnerships with organizers who are very customer-centric, but it’s still a challenge to show certain prospective clients that our service is going to make a big difference to their customers.
- Funding has always been a challenge – and now, as we hit our stride, of course we’re looking to expand so it’s a challenge anew! I sometimes envy those bigger start ups who, out of the gate, have a couple more commas on their account balances than I did, and who seem to keep getting more and more investment. But overall, I’m proud of how I’ve done it and I think it’s made me a better business owner. I bootstrapped our launch, accepted moderate investment that’s allowed me to retain control, and worked hard to minimize our debts. I never had the luxury of being able to be okay with seeing a month end in the red, and, even as we expand, I’m working hard to maintain a pace that keeps us showing profit during growth.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
Oh gosh! Other than some crazy weather, probably the wildest thing happened while working an event in Conyers, GA. We’re based in Boston but the trucks go to Florida in the winter, and I was working the event as I was bringing one truck back up to Boston for the season. I’m working and it’s a lull in the day, and I look up to see a former co-worker from Boston! In a pretty rural town in Georgia! It turns out she had moved a few hours away, and saw that my company was going to be there but assumed I wouldn’t be the one working. So it was a great surprise for both of us. It was a crazy coincidence but seeing a familiar face so far away definitely made me smile.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
Now I am! For the first year, and into the second year, I was not giving myself enough of a break. Not only was there a lot of work to be done, but I was totally feeling the cultural pressure of the idea that I needed to be working at least 100 hours a week or else I wasn’t working hard enough. I definitely hit a wall and realized I needed to give myself a bit more structure because time off is so important. Now, I’m sure to take at least one day off a week, but usually I give myself two (or one and a half…). If the days off fall midweek, I enjoy doing some good old “life admin” like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, or getting a good workout in, and on the weekends I love to hang out with my husband and our friends!
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
We view social media as a great tool to connect with our customers, and to show prospective clients who we are. Onsite, we often snap pictures of our renters and post them to our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and encourage them to check the pages for their moment in the sun! It’s a great way to engage and keep the customers with us without pushing more sales on them. Then, clients are able to check out our social presence to see our happy customers!
Managing it can be time-consuming, and I admit I’m not perfect! But what helps is taking advantage of scheduling and doing a lot of posts in bulk, then peppering in more spontaneous content whenever possible.
We knew we were going to include onsite rentals in advance from day one, because it was all about making sure we can make the race day as easy as possible for the renter. I still remember when my first sale came in online, I was driving through a rotary, saw the notification, turned up the radio and screamed in excitement!
How did you find Shopify and why did you decide to try them out?
I was shopping a few options, and Shopify gave me the best, most easily customizable site, streamlined e-commerce platform, and solid reporting/analytical capabilities.
What does this enable you to do as a small business owner?
It gives the company a professional appearance and an affordable price, and provides our customers with a smooth user experience for online rentals. Plus, we can look at where our traffic is coming from, what events gave us the best online sales traffic, and more analysis that enables us to grow and improve.
How are you involved in your community?
I’m on the local board of One Love, an organization that seeks to prevent relationship violence through education at the high school and college level, and I am hoping to help out with my town’s girls lacrosse program this spring after I move out of Boston!
What does supporting local mean to you?
A vibrant local economy gives so much to it’s community, not only in the quality of goods and services provided, but in the opportunities it presents to the workforce. And that all produces happy consumers! It’s a cycle that we need to focus on, so I do my best to give my business to local companies whenever possible!
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Funny as we talk about supporting local, I’m now going to say – time to go national! We believe our model has been proven and are now ready to replicate it in key regions across the country. We’re currently working on at least doubling the number of trucks we have on the road in 2017, and utilizing the wonderful relationships we’ve made with national clients to break into new regions with guaranteed bookings.
I’ll likely take a step back and lean more on my event managers for onsite work and to maintain the trucks, and focus on managing multiple teams at once. Which will be a great thing because it means giving someone else an opportunity to gain valuable experience.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Yes, pages and pages of it! But, assuming on the business side they’ve planned well and all their ducks are in a row, I would say definitely make sure you have a great support system behind you (outside of the business). For me, I am lucky enough to have unwavering support from my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and he is endlessly patient so I had a sounding board any time I needed it. But I also look to my family and girlfriends for advice, to vent, and to just get a break from the stress with!
The other thing is to adopt the “worst case solution” mentality. This helped me through more than a few tough situations. When I’m facing a challenge or problem, I find it seems a lot bigger than it actually is before you create a plan. Once you know how you’ll handle it if the worst case come true, it’s a whole lot easier to focus on finding a workable solution to get you through!