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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 16, 2018 8 months ago

Higher Gear

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An entrepreneur invested $2 million to prove his idea — storage for snazzy cars — is a winner. More growth is in the offing.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Ralph McLaughlin spent a lot of years in Silicon Valley.

That's why he considers the first iteration of Mac Exotic Car Storage the company's beta test site.

McLaughlin gave Operations Manager Vinny Binstock two years to prove a high-end car storage facility was viable in Sarasota. (A similar business exists in Naples.) In 2015 and 2016, Binstock filled the company's 6,000-square-foot space it leased on Tallevast Road, near Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. “That was enough to tell me we can make money in this business,” says McLaughlin. “This is the next step.”

“This” is the company's new $2 million facility, also near the airport. Built over the past year, the facility has 16,000 square feet of indoor storage space, plus 6,000 square feet under roof outdoors and additional uncovered outside space. That gives the company room to store more than 100 vehicles — a huge jump from the 30-something cars it could store at its old site.

Inside, the space is far from run-of-the-mill storage. Swisstrax flooring that cost more than $55,000 to install prevents flat spots from forming on tires while cars sit idle. A high-tech humidity control system eliminates mold and condensation. A GPS fire monitoring system means sprinklers would pinpoint problem areas rather than flood the entire site with water.

A dozen cameras provide security around the clock, an important feature for well-off customers who store Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches. The company can now also offer indoor RV storage, which some clients have already claimed.

“There are some larger facilities like this in Miami and Tampa,” says Binstock. “But they're not to this standard. If I get people to this door for a facility visit, my closing ratio is up over 95%.”

The company has seen 40% revenue growth over the past two years. Binstock thinks he can get the site to at least 80 cars in 2018, and he doesn't expect it to take long beyond that to totally fill up. Owner McLaughlin sees revenue doubling in 2018, and then doubling again in 2019. “I wouldn't have invested the $2 million if I didn't think I would get a return on my investment,” he says. (He declines to provide specific revenue figures.)

About 80% of Mac Exotic Car Storage's customers are snowbirds who leave their cars at the site in the spring when they head back north. Other clients have vacation homes in the area and don't want to leave cars out on the barrier islands, or are collectors who don't have enough room at home for all their vehicular toys. Short-term storage is also available.

Word of mouth has been a big driver of customer growth, with referrals coming from luxury auto dealers and clients. “If you own a Mercedes or Aston Martin or Lamborghini, you're often in a circle of people who have one,” says Binstock.

McLaughlin previously invested in a million-square-foot facility like this in California that not only offers auto storage, but also sells commercial condos. He was also senior vice president of engineering and quality at disc-drive manufacturer Seagate Technology, retiring in 2006.

Binstock, meanwhile, spent years in sales and operations at places like BellSouth Real Yellow Pages. “I've always been around sales and marketing; that's kind of my forte,” he says. “Ralph has vast experience in terms of running big organizations. I think we play off each other nicely; it's a partnership that really works.” (Their wives are also sisters.)

They see the new site as the start of something big. McLaughlin, for example, is in negotiations with the landowner next door for an additional 2 acres, which could pave the way for car sales.

And once the Sarasota location has been cruising for a while, McLaughlin and Binstock see the potential to take the concept on the road, possibly to Tampa and West Palm Beach, as well as other high-end resort areas like Hilton Head. Franchising is another possibility.

“We think we're going to grow big,” says McLaughlin. “The money's in it when you go to the next place and then the next place. That's big time; now you're running it as a big business.”

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