While Others Pull Back, Scott Sorensen Goes Forward
When Scott Sorenson was just a junior at Eau Gallie High School, he lost his father who had founded Sorenson Moving and Storage in 1956. In an action that was as surprising as it was courageous, his mother – who was now not only a widowed mother of six but had no background in running a business – took over the company. For those who remember the post Apollo era, this was one of the most difficult times for Brevard’s economy, but she kept the firm going until Scott graduated from the University of Florida in 1977.
Taking the helm of any business at 22 years old is no small task, as he reflected, “I came home from Gainesville on a Sunday and started in on Monday.” But by working hard and working smart the company became the largest Allied Van Lines representative in the state of Florida by 1983. Sorensen frankly admits that when you’re young, “You don’t know, what you don’t know, so you just go out and make it happen.” He also recalls that, at that time, a business education at a university like UF focused on preparing students to go to work for General Motors or IBM, not to start or run a small business.
One of the keys to Sorenson’s success, and the “working smart” dimension of the company’s growth, has been strategic alliances – both in the people he has hired over the years and the companies with which he has partnered. Growing people from within, as well as drawing experienced personnel from outside the company, along with franchising with larger corporations like Allied, brought a national approach to a small but growing local firm.
Building that Competitive Edge
“In 1978 Harris was moving their corporate headquarters to Melbourne; this was a tremendous opportunity, not only to help move the company, but the many employees that would follow Harris into the area,” Sorenson reflected. This was the beginning of their expansion, which during the next two decades resulted in the company covering the I-4 corridor with facilities in Orlando and Tampa.
Then, he decided it was time to reflect, reevaluate and refocus. Like a team going into half time, Sorenson wanted to map out where he and the company should go. Before the economy began to recoil, he decided to sell the businesses in Orlando and Tampa, which was incredibly opportunistic in hindsight. Feeling reinvigorated after his sabbatical, in 2008 his leadership team (at Sorenson the team approach to winning at business permeates the culture) asked, “How do we become operationally more efficient in our core business? How can we become leaner and more effective at capturing a greater portion of the market share?”
Then, while other companies were pulling back, Sorenson’s team decided it was a great time to start getting ahead and began looking at areas where they could expand and diversify.
Expanding within their Expertise
The company had decades of experience in corporate moving and saw a very clear and logical step they could take in supplying office furniture. “When it came to work systems and modular furniture, there was an opening in the area from Herman Miller’s products. Both in aesthetic design and the ergonomic function their reputation was second to none,” Sorensen explained.
The fit to their core business is hand and glove, plus they are able to run it out of the same facility they have occupied for years. Sorenson hired people to manage the new venture, but was also able to utilize many of his existing personnel. What is more, there was already a preexisting relationship and reputation with companies that might be his clients. Thus Sorenson Office Solutions came into being.
Partnering with companies like Allied originally and now with Herman Miller provided not only branding, but a multitude of resources made available by the supplier. Sorenson Office Solutions’ target markets are higher education, like the local colleges and universities, technology companies, medical corporations and municipalities, along with the myriad of small businesses that could benefit from their new product line. Already, Craig Technologies, the City of Rockledge, Space Coast Credit Union and Brevard Workforce have been added to their client list. “We are targeting the companies that want to create a better overall work environment. And, we are partnering with 75 to 100 other companies that have product lines beyond Herman Miller’s portfolio.”
“To be a one source company is our goal, which can provide not only the move, but carry it further to design, selection and installation of office interior systems for our clients’ new facilities. For companies planning to relocate into the area, like AAR Corporation, we are involved not only moving their company, but also providing office interiors and moving employees as well.”
Maintaining the Momentum
The plan is to start expanding into new regions by 2014. “We are positioning ourselves with a number of young and enthusiastic people who can be a part of our future. One of them is my 21-year-old son, who is finishing his business degree at the University of Florida right now,” Sorenson shared with obvious pride, yet tempered with the recognition that positions in the company are “earned, not endowed.”
Finding people who share the culture and the core values that have brought the company to where it is, is paramount. “I look for people who want to move up and grow,” or as Scott calls them, “rain makers,” those individuals who are inwardly motivated and simply enjoy playing the game and always want to play to win, i.e. those people who “make things happen.”
To Sorenson, it doesn’t matter what position a person has in the company; everyone is a part and everyone’s part is important, and every part can contribute to make the company better. In fact, he observed that he rarely has to fire anyone. “Most of the time they fire themselves; we set the expectations and the accountability so that within 30 to 60 days people know if they are a good fit.” But for him the essential element is finding good people, who do the right thing. “For those people,” explains Sorensen, “we make their place here very secure.”
The diversification didn’t stop with office systems. Seeing the need for transportation, logistics, installation and storage of trade show displays, which sometimes are up to three stories high, was again a natural and much needed service. So, Sorenson Trade Show Services was developed, serving customers like Harris Corporation and LiveTV, whose displays fill a good portion of one of their warehouses.
There were two factors Sorenson points out that went into this move. One, the recession caused storage space normally used by homeowners to be available in their warehouses. Secondly, listening to customers revealed a need in the market. As Sorenson explained, “I see a natural synergy to the services we have provided companies over the years with the trade show support solutions that so many seem to desperately need. This segment has been underserved for many years.” Then, with his characteristic desire to be the best they can be, Sorensen added, “We will set a new standard.”
Scott Sorenson sees the present as the best time to invest in ourselves and incentivize our people – not to draw back, but to take market share and diversify. If his company can expand at a time like this, imagine what they will do when the economy fully rebounds.