Wisconsin Bank and Trust Interview
Let’s Talk Achieving – Champion Storage & Rental
Jerry and Diane Fletcher founded Champion Storage & Rental in 1997. And in the nearly 20 years since, the company has experienced success at a truly impressive rate, earning itself a winning reputation as one of the leading providers of storage and rental services in the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin area.
In the context of regional self-storage, Champion’s offerings are some of the most comprehensive you’ll find, spanning a range from indoor, outdoor and climate controlled-storage units, to warehouse-and office-space rental, and everything in between—all offered in a variety of sizes to suit most any customer need.
“We’re almost constantly full,” says Jerry. “That’s because our services are diverse, our facilities are well kept and secure and we have a full staff that’s always available to help customers when they need it.”
When asked what inspired her family’s foray into the storage and rental business, Diane’s answer is relatively simple. “My husband just always really wanted to own a storage facility,” she says, laughing.
Intrigued by the growing number of self-storage developments sprouting up throughout Wisconsin during the mid-90s, Jerry found himself increasingly attracted to the prospect of owning and operating one of his own. Coincidentally, the family already owned a nice-sized parcel of land. So Jerry built a 42-unit storage facility on it, giving the Champion Storage story its official beginning.
“It didn’t take long for us to realize we were onto something,” says Jerry. “We had all the units filled within about 18 months. So we turned around and built another facility. And when that one filled up, we built another. And then another.”
ROOM TO GROW
In 2008, Champion’s self-storage and rental inventory included 432 storage units, 11,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space and an outdoor parking area with room for 50 vehicles. But customer demand for the company’s services was growing—quickly. So, in order to keep up, Jerry and Diane began looking for faster and more strategic ways to expand.
“Buying land and building from scratch is great, but when demand is so high, it’s not very efficient,” says Jerry. “So we started looking for opportunities to acquire existing facilities. And that’s when our relationship with Wisconsin Bank & Trust really began.”
The Fletchers approached Wisconsin Bank & Trust (WBT)—then doing business as Community Bank & Trust—at the suggestion of fellow business owners in the Sheboygan area. And, from the beginning, it was clear to the couple that the bank had a passion and talent for helping local businesses.
“They understand that business banking isn’t black and white,” says Diane. “They take a vested interest in our company, using what they learn to tailor products and services to our specific needs. They also introduced us to SBA loans, which have been huge factors in our growth.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
After many years of managing and growing the business almost entirely on their own, Jerry and Diane are proud to report that Champion Storage & Rental has become a family affair. Daughter Jenna joined the business in 2013, bringing with her a fresh jolt of marketing expertise. And in 2015, daughter Amanda jumped aboard, giving the business valuable insight into customer service.
“Amanda and Jenna joining the business isn’t something we expected,” says Jerry. “But we’re all pleasantly surprised it worked out this way.”
Together the family serves approximately 850 customers across seven Champion Storage facilities in the Sheboygan County area. And WBT has been a pivotal ally in the company’s ability to remain agile, plan for the future and optimize its cash flow.
“Recently, our money was tied-up in multiple projects,” says Jerry. “An SBA loan wasn’t an option, so WBT created a short-term line of credit that enabled us to pay our bills on time and keep those projects moving.”
Working together, the Fletcher family looks forward to building on the success Champion Storage has already achieved. In fact, with a little help from WBT, the company plans to move forward on a 20-acre development that will steadily expand its business footprint over the course of five to 10 years.
“When you compare apples to apples, WBT really separates itself from the rest,” says Jerry. “They’re champions of small local businesses, and they work very hard to help them succeed.”