After a hefty investment — $2 million over seven years — the inventors of a unique way to move shipping containers from place to place face a new, more standard challenge: sustainable sales.
Marshall Crosby and R. Alan Stahl have both done a lot of work in disaster relief. It’s a personal passion for the two of them — whether it’s the aftermath of a hurricane or another kind of natural disaster, they know how important it is to be able to respond quickly.
‘We feel like we’ve got a really good product. We look at this and it’s like, wow, this does a lot.’ R. Alan Stahl, ContainGo
All those years of disaster assistance got them thinking: Could they improve on the way things were done, drawing on years of professional experience in the utilities, construction and heavy equipment industries?
“We were trying to figure out better ways to set up what’s need quickly,” Crosby says. “Seeing that need is kind of what pushed us into the direction of thinking about how we might be able to make some improvements in how it’s done. And that’s what gave birth to the idea of how to move shipping containers with ease.”
That idea led to the founding of their Englewood, Charlotte County-based company, ContainGo, and what they call a pioneering logistics product, the ContainGo Mobilizer Trailer. The patented system is capable of picking up and dropping off 20-foot, 18,000-pound shipping containers even in the tightest of spaces, with precision capabilities down to one inch.
ContainGo can be hooked up to a standard one-ton pick-up truck and operated by a single driver. What the founders call a “strong arm” attaches to the container, and a trolley system moves it on and off the trailer. Because the trailer can side shift, it can be loaded and unloaded at any angle, with no crane or forklift needed. Pricing starts from $52,500. “It’s a unique product,” Stahl says. “Nobody has anything like it.”
The company, after at least $2 million and seven years in development and prototypes, including 20 patents, is now taking some bigger steps to attack the marketplace. One recent move: It hired a CEO to focus on sales and operations while Crosby and Stahl concentrate on ideas and new products. One of the biggest challenges for the new CEO? Customer education.
“I know there’s a number of trailer manufacturers, and they’re good,” says the new CEO, former area insurance and transportation executive Kevin Foust. “But there’s a reason I was interested in working with these two: because they’re a trailer manufacturer that has a unique product. When I saw [the Mobilizer Trailer], I said, ‘Somebody else has to have something that will side shift like this.’ Nope, they don’t. I saw the opportunity there for me to get involved, and then my job is to take it to market. They’ve got a great product; I just have to help other people to see it and then make it easy for them to get it.”
Sketches to Sales
Stahl and Crosby first began developing their new kind of trailer in 2013, drawing on both their disaster relief work and professional experience as they hashed out ideas and solutions.
A Sarasota High School graduate, Englewood resident Stahl worked in the cable TV industry, owning and operating businesses including Stahl Communications and Metro Telcom Inc. He then formed Sarasota County-based MTI Equipment, which specialized in heavy utility equipment sales. A resident of Georgia, meanwhile, Crosby has worked over the years in both construction and the billboard industry, where he used his artistic talents in designing, fabricating and building billboards.
The two met through Stahl’s daughter and son-in-law, who lived near Crosby in the Atlanta area. They introduced Stahl to Crosby because of their similar backgrounds, and they hit it off. They’ve proved good partners in this new venture, with Stahl more of an ideas guy and Crosby able to translate those visions into potential design concepts.
“We could be talking about something, and five minutes later I’m looking at a drawing,” Stahl says. “[Marshall] could understand enough that he could reduce it to paper. We just made a good team.”
Prototypes helped prove their concept out in the field. Venice-based general contractor Sean Sullivan has one of those prototype trailers. He’s used it to move containers serving as storage spots at job sites for his residential, commercial and marine construction business and finds the side-shift feature makes doing that much easier.
And he’s not the only one who benefits from it. His daughter has a Sarasota company, Tiny Studios, which repurposes used shipping containers into offices, studios, she-sheds and other spaces, and Sullivan uses his ContainGo trailer to help her move her model container to and from trade shows and other events.
“It’s pretty nifty,” he says. “You can get into very tight spots. We find it pretty handy.”
Stahl and Marshall decided their trailer was ready to go to market earlier this year. “We feel like we’ve got a really good product,” Stahl says. “We look at this, and it’s like, wow, this does a lot. It eliminates the need for a crane and forklift and gives somebody the ability to move stuff around quickly.”
That led the founders to Foust, whom Stahl has known for years. Foust has experience in marketing, advertising and risk management related to the transportation industry. Prior to ContainGo, Foust worked on the transportation risk management team at McGriff Insurance Services in Lakewood Ranch.
ContainGo has already sold four Mobilizer Trailers to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and is getting inquiries from as far away as Poland, Portugal and Brazil. A new website launched in October with all-important video content helps demonstrate the Mobilizer Trailer’s unique features.
Foust expects to see consistent sales all the way through 2022. “We’ll be selling multiple trailers each month,” Foust says. “Even with the current uncertainty, containers are very much needed.”
Down the line
ContainGo has a few other products in its arsenal as well. Its End Wheels and Attachment Pins, for example, can be fastened onto a shipping container by a single person, which allows the container to be picked up and moved around a site with just a simple forklift or compact front-loader. “Nobody else has them,” Foust says. “It will be something we’ll be promoting more in the future.”
The company also offers a 4,000-pound Flat Rack that can be combined with a Mobilizer Trailer to haul such items as generators, industrial equipment and other materials and supplies. The versatility and range of capabilities is why the co-founders see such potential for their products in disaster relief situations, when speed and agility are vital to the response efforts.
“As time goes on, containers are being used more and more,” Crosby says. “They’re flexible, fairly inexpensive and easy to move and can be hooked together. And they’re reusable and easy to disassemble and move again.”
Uses for ContainGo products extend beyond disaster relief to industries including hauling and transport, construction and mining. Containers can be used for storing and transporting all kinds of materials and could even be part of a COVID-19 pandemic strategy, serving as testing centers or super-freezers for vaccines that require cold storage. “What is unique about our trailer is that you can move a container regardless of what’s in it,” Stahl says.
And there’s more to come down the road. Foust expects the company to be able to offer a trailer for moving 40-foot shipping containers in 2022. “In the container world, 20s and 40s are what people are using, and I’d like to have one trailer that can do both,” Foust says. “We’d like to be able to offer that with the side-shift feature. It’s very complicated, but we’re working through the challenges.”
Everything the company makes is designed and assembled at its facility in Englewood off River Road. That requires a complex supply chain to amass all the components needed for the products — made more complicated by the pandemic. “With materials and supplies, we just know now that everything’s going to take longer,” Foust says. “We try to get back-up suppliers, so that our supply chain is intact. COVID-19 has been a challenge, but it hasn’t stopped us.”
Although navigating these extra challenges isn’t ideal, it is helping the company prepare for any future hiccups down the road. “We’re trying to be very proactive, so if there are issues in the future, we’re stockpiling our parts and materials now, so we have an inventory ready to sell,” Foust says. “We’re trying to stay ahead of this, and this is good training for us.”