By Joleene DesRosiers
It’s a business that started quietly in Lancaster, Pa., in the early ’90s. Portable storage sheds were a new concept, and when the Martin family recognized the value they had in Northern New York, they put their dairy cows away and pulled out their hammers.
“My older brothers in Lancaster got the idea and built the first shed in an open field. It just grew from there,” said John Martin, CEO of North Country Storage Barns in Philadelphia. “In 1994 the portable shed industry was very, very laid back. There wasn’t nearly as much business as there is now. It started from nothing, really. We’d sell one shed and pay our employees for the week.”
The concept was so new it didn’t take off right away. It took a grassroots campaign to really open the idea up to folks in the north country. The family didn’t have a lot to put into advertising, either. They depended on word of mouth to get the ball rolling.
The idea of the portable shed is two-fold: For starters, it is indeed portable. It can be moved from one location to another without extensive deconstruction. Second, that one little shed can enhance the value of a property.
“The unit is always portable, so in some cases, property taxes aren’t a factor,” Mr. Martin said. “The resale value also stays steady, even if lumber prices continue to rise. In other words, if someone bought a portable shed five years ago, they could get a decent price for it today if they kept it in good shape.“
Mr. Martin and four of his brothers sell the sheds with a one-year warranty. Service is available anytime. This enables owners to keep it up to par so that resale value is fair.
Things have grown quite a bit since the first shed was built. Today, the family-owned business pumps out as many as 1,100 sheds a year. And that’s not all. From modular cabins and play structures to gazebos and outdoor furniture, the Martin family keeps busy building on site in Philadelphia. Other items like the outdoor furniture and gazebos are built at a manufacturing site in Lancaster. And while some of their business takes them outside of New York, Mr. Martin says the majority of it stays in Northern New York.
“Most of our customer base is within a 40-50 mile radius of our three locations, which are in Philadelphia, Lowville and on the border of Pulaski and Sandy Creek. This is fantastic because we are able to deliver the product to the customer on a trailer and set it up for them.
“Recently, however, we’ve crossed borders into Canada. Within the last year, we’ve started exporting to distributors there. The storage-shed industry in Canada is taking off very well and is growing fast.”