Father and Son Team Chris & Scott Sorensen
How a family business connects for certain sons and daughters but not for others is a mystery that defies explanation. But it certainly did for Scott Sorensen, whose moving and storage business that started in Melbourne came to him as much out of necessity or circumstances beyond his control, rather than an entrepreneurial impulse.
The fifth of six children born to Kay and Bill Sorensen, Scott was just six months old when the family moved from Albany, N.Y. to Melbourne so his father, a truck driver, could open his own moving company. With a small warehouse and one truck, Sorensen Moving & Storage opened its doors to support the growing activity NASA was bringing to Cape Canaveral. Scott grew up around the business and followed in his brothers’ footsteps as an all-around athlete, particularly on the football field.
During Scott’s junior year in high school, his father passed away following a bout with cancer, leaving the business to his wife, who had little to no experience running a moving company. To make matters worse, NASA’s Apollo program was winding down and, as any longtime resident of Brevard County will tell you, so too was the local economy. His high school coach became like a surrogate father and Scott’s hard work landed him a scholarship to the University of Miami, and then he moved with his coaches to the University of Kentucky. He played football at UK for a year before giving up his scholarship and transferring to the University of Florida, where his older brother, Doug, was playing football for the Gators.
When Scott hit his senior year at UF, Doug had graduated and moved on to medical school while his other brother, Steve, was in law school. Back home in Brevard, his mother was struggling to keep the business afloat. So when she called him and asked him to come home and help her run the company, he packed his bags and moved back to the Space Coast.
It was 1977; the local economy was in shambles, the company was teetering on going under, and Scott had been home for just one week when his mother turned the business over to her 22-year-old son. “My mom was a tremendous mother, but keeping a business going, with no business background, while raising six children had taken its toll,” he said.
“I remember that summer. We had a small warehouse, one truck and a three-man crew. There was no money for payroll; the company was broke,” he recalled. “So I literally drove around town looking for homes with ‘For Sale’ signs in their yard. I would knock on the door and solicit their business.” His perseverance slowly paid off as Sorensen Moving & Storage established its name and began to recover.
As luck would have it, Harris Corporation moved to Melbourne in 1978, bringing with it a wave of executives and high-tech workers requiring relocation services. Soon after, Scott bought the site where his corporate offices are still located and became an agent for Allied Van Lines, a relationship that lasted over three decades.
With his Brevard moving and storage business doing well, he eyed expansion – first into Orlando (in 1993) and then Tampa (in 2004). He was soon recognized by Allied as one of the top agents in its system, and was named Allied Global Agent of the Year in 2001. But by 2006, “I was running myself ragged,” he said, “so I started to contemplate retirement.” He tried semi-retirement but quickly realized that wasn’t for him. “I’m a hard charger and I love working. I learned at a very early age that in business, once you get on top, don’t let up or get complacent. Keep working harder and out-work your competitors.”
Todd Starkey, a financial advisor with the Starkey Wealth Management Group of UBS and long-time friend of Scott, said, “In addition to his family, Scott’s work is his life. Running his companies is as much a hobby for him as it is a career. He doesn’t really fish or play much golf; he just loves building businesses, taking care of his customers, being with his family, working out and watching his Gators.”
As the nation went into a deep recession, rather than rest on his laurels or simply defend his market share, Scott looked for opportunities to diversify. In 2011, Harris Corporation inquired whether he could store the company’s trade show materials, and Sorensen Trade Show Services was born. This new organization not only utilizes the company’s available warehouse space for storage of trade show booths and materials, but also provides refurbishment, maintenance and transportation services.
Soon afterward, Sorensen’s core moving business was experiencing a major cultural shift due to the merger of Allied Van Lines with North American Van Lines under the ownership of Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, a private equity firm based in New York City. Looking for a better fit, after over 30 years as an agent with Allied, he severed the relationship to partner with Mayflower Transit. Not only did this open new opportunities for geographical expansion, but it required a $500,000 rebranding makeover of the company’s headquarters and fleet of moving vans. Sorensen’s familiar orange and black Allied vans were repainted to Mayflower green.
Using sports analogies comes naturally to Scott. He refers to his “playbook” instead of a business plan; his staff is the “team” and there is no talk of the fiscal year – it is their “12-game season.” Perhaps it is his passion for athletics or the fact that for nearly a decade they have been the official movers of Gator Football.
When asked what were the key milestones or developments that enabled Sorensen Enterprises to experience growth in a challenging market, Scott is quick to point to “the best team we have had in 37 years. They are good, quality people who are passionate about the business.”
One member of that leadership team is Scott’s son Chris, a graduate of UF. “I didn’t like referring to my father as ‘Dad’ at work; it sounded nepotistic. So we agreed I would call him ‘Scott’ at work and ‘Dad’ after hours,” Chris said. “Anyway, Scott does a great job of training every member of the team to see their role as essential to our success. To him, the most important players are the ones touching the clients.”
Scott identifies attracting younger people as one of the keys to the company’s renewed vigor. “Young people bring fresh ideas, enthusiasm and a completely different perspective to the business.” One of Chris’ main contributions has been examining the company’s marketing strategy, in addition to web development, search engine optimization and social networking.
Chris is close to the age his dad was when he took the business over himself from his father. Scott said, “I want to empower him (Chris) and give the ‘guardrails’ (that’s my term) that I would give to any other member of the team that I’m developing. Primarily what I tell Chris is to always do the right thing; do what you’re supposed to do. Also, what I tell everyone is take ownership; act like an owner and think like an owner, not in the sense of being bossy, but being responsible.”
Though Chris is willing to play any role, he likes the idea of expanding Sorensen’s geographic footprint. “Our business is transitioning people into the next phase of their life; we don’t just fill and move boxes. I like business development, analyzing how to penetrate the market and how to grow our brand in new communities.” It is a focus that will keep Sorensen Moving and Storage growing for another generation.