President Obama often speaks of the "fierce urgency of now," and for Shaun C. Robinson, it is more than just a favorite quote -- it is a way of life.
Robinson, the former University of South Florida student who serves as president and CEO of Strong College Students, has taken his interest and expertise in physical fitness and combined it with a passion for higher education and community service to build a company that both offers college students flexible employment, and a service set that is much needed in the Tampa Bay region.
Though the startup process wasn't easy, Robinson has been able to form the business into something both solid and evolving while still maintaining his dreams of even bigger things in the future.
Strong College Students boasts over 3,000 moves, offers both local and long-distance services and offers scholarships for its employees.
"We've grown significantly," says Robinson, who started the company six years ago working out of a USF dorm room. "When we started out, it was me and a college roommate and a fraternity brother of mine."
The business, which was started as simply a moving-labor company, didn't even have equipment in its first few years.
"We had to get really creative," says Robinson about finding funding as the business began to grow. Personal credit cards and cash reserves bought the first trucks and computers needed for the business.
"We were funded by ourselves. We really didn't start with much, so it really didn't cost us a lot to get into business."
As a student, Robinson credits his research skills as one of his most valuable contributions in the company's first days. He identified Two Men and a Truck as their primary competition, and took a closer look at their business model. After finding the things that worked and the factors that could be improved, Robinson worked with mentors from USF and the community to build Strong College Students while working in the core values of the company along the way.
"We hire 100 percent from local universities," he says, explaining that their hiring process focuses more on orientation and success on questionnaires that assess mental and physical fitness as it pertains to daily operation than it does on a simple interview and resume review.
"When you choose Strong College Students" for your move, you're helping hard-working college students earn their way through school, while also receiving a good, dependable service at a fair price," states the website's home page. Movers are encouraged to communicate with the customers.
"Moving is definitely stressful," Robinson acknowledges, so Strong College Students offers a wealth of information to customers with tips on how to save money, prepare and pack. His goal is to ensure that "when moving day comes, there are no surprises."
Customers often want a more active role in the preparation for moving day, but Robinson is proud that his employees can do it all with effective loading and packing techniques.
"The customer can sit back and let us do everything. We can pack up anything that's not packed up. There's a chance for customers to trust us and believe in what we do."
Making The Grade
Though "customer satisfaction is the No. 1 criteria" for marking a successful move, Robinson also employs an internal grading system to evaluate employees and find things that need improvement.
"We grade on productivity, meeting customer needs, and efficiency," he says, and all of these things are evaluated on a 4.0 scale, and result in a report card. "The customer rates the crew on a day-to-day basis," Robinson says of multiday moves, which are no stranger to the company.
One of the largest contracts the company has is with the University of South Florida. Robinson's network with the Alumni Association and athletics department, which Strong College Students sponsors, lead him to the opportunity to bid on the contract for all moves conducted on campus.
"When I went to the meeting there were several companies there," Robinson says, citing the failing economy in 2008 for the increased competition for corporate contracts in the moving industry. Robinson made the lowest bid and gained the contract, solidifying the company's relationship with his alma mater.
Now Strong College Students handles all moves for faculty and staff on campus, in addition to other office buildings and the federal government, including the FBI.
"People think we might focus on college or small moves," Robinson says. "Our largest obstacle right now would be public awareness about who we are, how we can help and the services we can provide."
Robinson and his partners ensure that the fleet is well-equipped, and uses top-of-the-line equipment -- some of which the competition doesn't have, in addition to ensuring the movers are both well-trained and physically able to move customers' belongings.
"Most of our staff is athletes," says Robinson, who put his background as a personal trainer to use in designing a hundred-hour mover training process. Movers "can focus on strength, but we all have stabilizer muscles." Learning to use those muscles helps movers with agility, speed and counterbalancing weight while lifting.
"It's little tips and techniques like this that you don't think of until you apply them."
The Next Move
Robinson plans to grow the company. He not only wants to provide students with flexible employment while they are in school – he also wants to see the company become one of the largest recruiting sources for employers in the nation and make the transition from school to career easier for students in his Tampa business, and in franchises to come.
"I'd like to see a location in every major marketplace across the country," he says, adding that his goal is to see the company be worth $25 million, and consist of 30-50 franchises. The company also supports local charities and organizations with free moving labor and deliveries.
"The brand has definitely grown a lot," Robinson says, but despite this, the "core values have always stayed in line with what we always envisioned."
Customers like Vernon Oswald attest to Strong College Students' work ethic. He says Robinson's initial estimate for his last residential move was "spot on" and says that the movers were on time, courteous and energetic.
"It was a very difficult move," he says, adding that the movers began early in the morning and "didn't get finished until 1:30 at night, but they all kept going."
"I was very pleased with the experience," he says. "They knew what they had to do and they kept going."
The Man Behind the Movers
Though his home was Hawaii, Robinson moved to the University of South Florida area not only for school, but for the sense of opportunity he found here.
"The success of the business is making sure we have happy customers and making sure the guys get to graduation."
The focus on education is integral to the company, which originated when Robinson's roommate had difficulty both earning money and being a successful student. The goal of keeping the movers in school while earning what they need has not changed.
Robinson has bigger dreams still, even beyond being a successful young entrepreneur.
"To be completely honest, I don't really consider myself to be successful. There are lots of businesses I would like to get involved in. Success for me is definitely a challenge," he says. "There is always something else to move forward for. Strong College Students is a stepping stone to get me where I want to be."
So what does Robinson see himself stepping into? His next project -- Dream Cars Come True -- will focus on the sale, rental and leasing of exotic cars. It will fill a gap in the local market, he says, and will turn a hobby into a business.
"I've seen the success you can have when you have a passion -- something you enjoy and can do on a day-to-day basis."
Outside of business, Robinson enjoys focusing on community service. He has given back to the community through the YMCA and Big Brothers and Big Sisters program by being a mentor. He has also worked with the USF Alumni Association, from which he received the "Outstanding Young Alumnus Award" in 2009.
For Robinson, who majored in political science, much of life is about public service. His parents, who both have a military background, gave him a "good understanding of what the word 'service' meant."
He hopes to someday transition into being a fulltime public servant.
"I'm not ready to make that jump yet," he says, though his recent move onto a local planning commission is certainly a step in that direction.
As for advice for others:
"If there's something that you want to do," he says, "there's always a way to do it."
Theresa Woods is a graduate of the University of South Florida, freelance writer and literature nerd living in Tampa. In her spare time, she writes, contemplates her place in the universe and enjoys being an all-purpose geek with her friends. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.