by Kim Hackett
Photography by Alex Stafford
JAY VANDROFF, 52, is the third generation in his family to run Yarnall Moving and Storage, a firm started by another family more than a century ago and purchased by his grandfather in the late 1940s. No longer just brawny men and trucks, the Sarasota-based company, affiliated with United Van Lines and Mayflower, also operates a massive records storage division where employees move, scan, store and shred millions of documents in an 80,000-square-foot facility. On top of moving possessions to all 50 states, Yarnall provides white-glove moving services for designers and builders. It recently added a senior citizen relocation division, where a small team works closely with retirees, some with dementia, handling all the details of boxing, selling or moving furniture and heirlooms. Yarnall is truly a family affair. Gina, his mother, is CFO; Anita, his sister, is vice president; and his wife, Beth, handles the marketing.
I pretty much always knew that Yarnall was an opportunity for me. My parents brought me in as a little boy, and they’d put me on the floor with a toy moving truck to play with. When I was older, they handed me a broom.
I got first-hand schooling in the business in 1986 after college when I bought into a moving company in Syracuse with other family members. I was far enough away from my dad but close enough to get guidance. The first lesson I learned was in crisis management. Coming from small-town, no-union Florida, I was thrown in with a company that had a bad reputation dealing with unions, major accounts and staff. I was fairly new and some employees thought they were more in line for my position. I learned how to take advice from a lot of people and develop relationships.
Keep quality high. Our biggest concern in New York was dealing with vendors who had been burnt. We overcame that by being personal and assuring them that we’re not going anywhere. We picked up a couple of big accounts; our quality scores went through the roof. We sold the company in 1991 and it continued to grow and I moved back here to get out of the snow.
Pick your battles. That was my dad’s philosophy and one of the hardest things I had to learn. I used to spend too much time on small issues and not see the big picture. You have a customer who is adamant they were promised one thing, for example, and you know that they weren’t. Instead of charging them, you just take care of it. It’s something that is so simple, but you don’t see it at the time. Those are the things that come with age and time.
Listen to your customers; they will always tell you what services you need to provide. We had a commercial customer who had all these records and asked us if we could store them. We started in the record management business with one customer and a rack. It has grown to half our warehouse space and is one of our biggest businesses.
The key to any business is quality people who are not only going to look out for the customer but the business as well. When the economy was really bad, we were facing dismal options: cut hours or lay people off. Our six-member management team came to us and offered to take a 15 percent pay cut so we didn’t have to lay anyone off. It helped our guys stay whole. As soon as the economy picked up, the first thing we did was restore their pay. You know you have a good team when they come to bat for you during a bad time.
Be active in the community. It’s a philosophy my dad had and I take it very seriously. We try to help out as many organizations as we can. I was on the Florida Winefest and Auction board; my wife is involved with Junior League Manatee.
I think a lot about succession planning. One of the last things you want to think about is your own demise, but if something happens to me, my mother or my sister, what happens to the business? It’s an issue that is ongoing, and our attorneys revisit it every year. I want to make sure the footprint I leave is the same as my father’s footprint. It’s finding the right person to make that happen. ■