picture of the team at Bouma Self-Storage: Owner Ralph Bouma (far left) and employees Jackie Hart, Jean Knapp, and Ray Cameron
Ralph Bouma was in high school in the 1950’s when he started loading trucks with Grand Rapids Made New Furniture and residential moving for his father’s moving and trucking business Bouma Cartage Co. After graduating from high school, and serving in the Navy, Bouma opened his own business delivering new furniture and doing residential moving. He operated out of his home on Grand Rapids on west side under the name of Ford Moving Co. until 1966 when he moved to his first building at 12 Leonard N.W. He then changed the name to Bouma Moving & Storage Inc. and expanded into long distance moving as an agent for Greyhound and then United Van Lines.
Bouma envisioned a demand for self-storage to parallel with the moving services he offered. He discovered 1.5 acres of available industrial property at 200 Lamoreaux Drive in Comstock Park and built the first self-storage facility in West Michigan while keeping his moving services. Star Truck Rentals bought the property on Lamoreaux from him, and in 1979 Bouma moved the business to its current location at 3700 Mill Creek Avenue. He bought a second storage facility at 5241 Plainfield Avenue NE in 1990.
The company offers various sizes and types of storage units and containers. They also offer boxes and packing supplies. The Comstock Park facility covers eight acres with a 1,000 square foot office building and 70,000 square feet of self-storage space. The facility on Plainfield Avenue covers 1.5 acres with 11,200 square feet of self-storage space, some climate-controlled storage, and a 13,000 square office building with office suites for lease.
“When I started, very few people knew what self-storage was,” said Bouma. “Then later there came climate-controlled storage, and we had to teach people what that was.”
Bouma still remembers one of his first customers to rent a self-storage unit. “It was a man looking to store band instruments,” he recalled. The man didn’t just need a place to keep equipment for his band, the band also needed the unit for their band practice - one of the more unusual rentals he’s had.
Bouma said security is paramount in the storage business. Security at Bouma Storage includes infrared beam surveillance, electronic touch-pad gate access, colored-digital cameras, video surveillance around the complete perimeter of the eight acres, and each office is equipped with security monitors.
Bouma advertises on the website www.boumastorage.com, yellow pages, internet, and expressway exposure. Much of their business comes through word of mouth and repeat customers. The website offers many tips for storing and packing, and customers are given a list of those tips. Number one when storing items in a unit: store items near the front that will be accessed frequently. When packing: try to keep boxes in uniform sizes because they are much easier to stack. Label all boxes with the contents on the sides, not the top, so they can be read. (Click on Storage Tips on website.)
Industry literature emphasizes self-storage is an important asset to have in a community because of our mobile society, said Bouma. Self-storage offers long or short term storage that covers every need.
There are three full-time employees at Bouma Self-Storage – Bouma’s daughter; Jackie Hart is treasurer and office manager, and another daughter Jean Knapp is office manager at the Plainfield facility. Ray Cameron, who has worked for Bouma for 35 years, is in charge of maintenance and security at both locations. Bouma says his job is to make sure the business is “organized and neat.”
“There’s no turnover here…everyone does a little of something...everyone’s versatile,” said Bouma, who calls himself the “umbrella” of the company and calls his employees customer oriented and his most valuable assets.
Bouma is originally from the northwest side of Grand Rapids and graduated from Union High School. He served in the Navy from 1954 to 1957 and then graduated from Davenport College with a degree in business administration. He took a Dale Carnegie Course in 1987. He was one of the founders of the Comstock Park Business Association that formed in the early1990s. He is widowed and lives in Algoma Township. He has five children and eight grandchildren. When he’s not working Bouma enjoys boating and cottage in Arcadia, MI. He jokes that he has a good place to store his boat.