May 18, 1998

Business

Bothell High grad's storage business picks up

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Andrew Walgamott/staff photo

Aaron Zarling

  by Andrew Walgamott
Staff reporter



   WOODINVILLE--Aaron Zarling owns a company that is so hot it has caught the attention of three local business journals and has the competition training their cameras on his warehouses. Zarling, a 1990 Bothell High School graduate, owns PortaBox Storage Inc. of Woodinville. The company stores large crates packed full of customers' belongings inside a climate-controlled warehouse and offers them 24-hour access to their goods at competitive costs.
  
   It's a new and rare concept that less than a half-dozen other people in the United States are doing, Zarling says. The business is doing so well that he plans on expanding to Hawaii and the other 48 states soon, and is looking for partnerships to make that happen. "I want to have a secure business where I'm number one in the industry," the 26-year-old said while leaning against one of many boxes inside a company warehouse last week.
  
   Business only one year old
   Zarling began PortaBox, what he describes as the "UPS of the storage industry," thirteen months ago with an investment of more than $300,000. Since then, he's had to buy a second truck and expand his warehouse space. Here's how the business works: After a customer calls, a company truck drops off 5-foot by 7.5-foot by 8-foot wooden boxes at a house or office. The customer has a week or so to fill up the 300-cubic-foot containers before the company picks them back up and stores them at their warehouse. "It's a lot more convenient than a self-storage company," Zarling said.
  
   Just breaking even now, the company will consolidate its two warehouses into one facility off of the Woodinville-Snohomish Road soon. The new digs will also serve as a corporate training center where partners will learn how to drive trucks and stack containers.
  
   Drawing attention
   PortaBox's growth has been noticed by the Puget Sound Business Journal, Eastside Business Journal and the Everett Herald's business journal. The first two have written stories about the firm. Competitors would also love a peak inside the warehouses. Zarling says he has seen people driving past with video cameras. His main competition locally is Door to Door of Kent and Shurgard Storage.
  
   Though PortaBox doesn't allow storage of flammables or hazardous substances, there has been at least one case of mispackaged goods. A customer accidentally trapped three of her kittens inside different containers. Stacy, a company customer service representative, said she got a call about a week and a half later from the woman stating, "This is a real weird question, but can you go to the boxes and say 'kitty, kitty, kitty?'" They did and found the cats still alive.
   Owns other companies
  
   Business seems to come naturally to Zarling. "I enjoy building and starting things with nothing and making it big," he said. Zarling also owns AZ Roof Cleaning, which he began in 1992, and Gotta Go Espresso, which opened in 1993 along State Route 9. He sold a Bothell coffee stand to raise capital to start PortaBox. He also co-founded a magazine, though has since sold his interest in the company. "I just have this drive," the tall, well-built bachelor said. "I want to be able to settle down when I'm 30 and start a family and not have to worry about scraping by."
  
   His photo in other papers sparked a number of calls from female admirers, Stacy said. One lady even sent flowers. Zarling didn't attend college, but that doesn't matter to him. "I believe you don't have to be the smartest guy; motivation is everything." "I don't know if I'll ever stop working," he adds. "That's all I think about, business." He says he puts in 12 hour days six days a week. In his spare time, the Lake Sammamish resident said he likes to water ski and snow ski.