Thursday, August 5, 2004

Air Tite founder finds new challenge in boxes

'Dale is very innovative, very inquisitive'

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Dale Yates, who started Air Tite Windows in 1978, has launched another start-up venture this year called Boxes-U-Rent. The company rents plastic boxes to individuals who are moving or need storage.
SHARONVILLE - Nothing fuels the entrepreneurial engine like the combination of an idea and a challenge.

Dale Yates' latest venture is a case in point. Yates is in the driver's seat of a start-up he launched early this year called Boxes-U-Rent, which provides plastic crates to individuals for residential moves and storage.

"I saw an opportunity in the marketplace with the plastic containers," said Yates. "They do a much better job than the cardboard boxes. No one was offering that service in the market."

Yates' credentials as an entrepreneur are distinguished. In 1978, he started a window replacement company, Air Tite Windows, which grew into a manufacturer of custom windows and has now - as Air Tite Home Products - branched into storage systems and replacement doors. In 2003, sales for Air Tite Home Products were about $29 million.

And then came the new idea: forming a company that would rent heavy-duty plastic storage containers to individuals. The strong, stackable and reusable boxes would cut down on waste and, when they did wear down, could be ground down and recycled.

"In some other markets this has been done on a commercial basis for a number of years, but not on a residential basis because the ticket is fairly small compared to the commercial side," said Yates.

• Dale Yates says the plastic cartons his company rents have many advantages over traditional corrugated ones. They are sturdy, waterproof on five sides, reusable (and can be recycled when they wear out), and they nest compactly when empty.
• The pricing structure can make renting plastic cartons cheaper than buying a comparable number of new corrugated ones. Price packages come in a range of residential sizes, from large homes to apartments. Rental is on a 28-day basis with longer-term rates available.
If customers want to buy the containers for long-term storage use, the company guarantees it will buy back the boxes.
• Boxes-U-Rent, at 11483 Enterprise Park Drive, is a subsidiary of ATW Industries Inc. Information: (513) 772-6937 (77-BOXES) or
"I definitely saw this as a new challenge from the standpoint of education. There is not a whole lot of educating the public in windows - it's more educating them about our company. With Boxes-U-Rent, it's different."

Getting potential customers to think outside the box - the corrugated box, that is - is more challenging than it might seem.

First, Yates and his team developed a business plan. The plan's marketing component emphasizes what Yates says are the advantages of plastic over corrugated (what most people call cardboard boxes).

One of the business associates with whom Yates discussed his prospective enterprise is Ron Grantham, a window manufacturer from Trenton, Mich.

"Dale is very innovative, very inquisitive and very knowledgeable," Grantham said. "He has a good mind and he's always thinking. I don't know how he sleeps."

Mike Keating, of the local private equity firm Keating Vollmer & Co., shares Grantham's respect for Yates' business intuition and acumen.

"He's an entrepreneur, an engineer and an inventor who holds several patents," Keating said. "He is driven by a passion of doing something better.

"A lot of entrepreneurs have good ideas, but Dale has a focus on the bottom line. He knows how to cut to the core issues, to take ideas and make them work."

Yates' success with Air Tite Windows demonstrates this combination of abilities.

Yates began as an assistant to his former father-in-law, who owned a replacement windows company. The older man was generous but exacting and schooled Yates in his work philosophy.

In 1978, Yates started his own company selling and installing windows from a variety of manufacturers. By 1987, he had engineered some improvements to those windows, spurring him to incorporate as Air Tite Windows and to begin manufacturing.

"He realized, 'I can make these windows,' and then, 'I can improve on this design,' and finally, 'I can take them direct to the consumer,' " Keating said. "He knows every aspect of his business better than anyone else and is able to focus on the details. But then, once things are well under way, he brings in the bench.

"This kind of ability is important as you get a company off the ground."

Yates says his plan was to grow the company market by market, starting with Cincinnati.

"We went out to Dayton, then Indianapolis and Columbus. We wanted to stay close to home and be able to deliver our product quickly."

Each window manufactured by Air Tite Home Products is made specifically for an individual opening in an individual customer's home. Most of its customers are middle-class homeowners, who have responded favorably to the low-maintenance design and durability of the products.

The company is now in 14 markets, reaching from Milwaukee to Nashville, from St. Louis to Pittsburgh. It sells its products through a streamlined distribution network.

The Air Tite network and know-how is the model for its start-up sibling, Boxes-U-Rent.

"Our short-term goal for Boxes-U-Rent is to prove the numbers out in the Cincinnati market," Yates explained. "Our longer-term goal is to open in 150 cities in five years."

"Plan your work, then work your plan - that's Dale," said Grantham. "He runs quality and expects quality. He also works the numbers better than anyone you've ever seen."


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