Flying start for records storage company Filing Fortress

Stuart McBurney and Matthew Pennock (left) of Filing Fortress.

Stuart McBurney and Matthew Pennock (left) of Filing Fortress. - Credit: Archant

Stuart McBurney and Matthew Pennock of Filing Fortress are taking storage and document management services to new heights at their old airfield site at Horham, near Eye. SARAH CHAMBERS paid them a visit.

Filing Fortress proudly bears the emblem for one of the iconic aeroplanes of World War II.

Its facility at Horham, a former American airbase, was once the home of the B-17, a heavy bomber which was nicknamed the Flying Fortress.

So Filing Fortress seemed like an apt name for a fast-moving new firm priding itself on providing secure storage. Initially, it focused on firms with sensitive documents, such as solicitors, which needed a safe and accessible place to keep them, but has branched out in a number of directions since.

The firm’s founders, Stuart McBurney and Matthew Pennock, both from Saxmundham, were family friends for many years before deciding to go into business together. Matt, 27, is the stepson of pet food entrepreneur Roger Skinner, owner of Skinners Petfood, and of the former airbase site where Filing Fortress is based, who helped him in the initial stages of setting up the business.

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Stuart, 35, a director of SM Direct, a haulage firm, based at the airfield, was also mentored by Roger.

“We are like brothers, which is a nice way of looking at it, which obviously has led to us joining forces. Things have progressed really nicely since the start of last year,” explains Matt.

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Matt, the son of professional golfer Tony Pennock, was a mechanic in motor sport before working in hospitality management and customer service and moved to Suffolk about five years ago. The unit on the industrial estate was empty, and he saw an opportunity to start a business which became Filing Fortress.

Stuart started out with a market stall and went on to run a warehouse discount centre in Framlingham. In 2007, he scooped an Entrepreneur of the Year award from Shell Livewire.

Stuart came on board slightly later, bringing with him his business experience and the added value of the collections and delivery service he could offer through his haulage firm.

“Roger asked if I would like to become involved and become a director and it works well really. Matt has a lot of skills I don’t have and I have a lot of skills that he hasn’t got,” he explains.

Matt sorts out the administrative side while Stuart has the manpower to deal with the practical challenges involved in moving things on and off site.

In the initial stages, they took a very hands-on approach to targeting businesses which they felt required their kind of service. Rather than cold-calling, they would write to firms, and put the Flying Fortress wings on the letter.

“It’s quite clever and some people see the connection straight away. We are happy with the name we have come up with,” says Matt.

Among their customers is Earl Soham-based coffee firm Paddy and Scott’s, for which it supplies storage and document management.

“We also do all their delivery for corporate events. It’s a case of setting up machines. We have taken on and learnt how to set the machines,” says Matt. Stuart, the son of a lorry driver, started his haulage business about nine years ago with a £500 lorry, and an unpromising start.

“It broke down on the first day on the Orwell bridge,” he laughs. “We have built the business up from there. We don’t do pallet deliveries – we do bespoke delivery – square peg, round hole.

“We have delivered turbines, biomass boilers, stuff that doesn’t fit on a pallet. Stuff you want to be coddled and taken directly.”

There are lots of synergies between the businesses, especially around the bespoke services offered and the need for care and attention, the pair explain. “That gave us lot more capability with the vehicles Stuart runs,” says Matt.

Filing Fortress started off with document management – supplying boxes, storing them, providing a confidential shredding service once the documents had reached the legal cut-off date. Some may have a seven-year dateline, so it’s a question of going into firms and persuading them that the space they are taking up on their premises would be better served by being cleared and used for something more productive.

On the documents side, clients include garages which have to store MOT certificates, solicitors, accountants and medical groups, or other firms or organisations where legislation requires storage of a hard copy. It also offers retrieval services so that the document can be returned if required.

The business went on to provide services for firms such as Cotton Tree Interiors of Saxmundham, an interior design firm for which it collects stock from all over the country. Items such as sofas will be collected, taken into storage, then delivered to, say, a multi-million pound home in London. It’s a “white glove” service requiring meticulous attention to detail, such as running a hoover over the upholstery to ensure it reaches its destination in perfect condition.

“We have got an old fashioned approach to business,” says Stuart. “We start with a handshake. We look them in the eye and say: ‘This is how we are going to run this service.’ They don’t want to be tied in. With a lot of small businesses we are creating space. Our unique selling point is we have gone in and said you can get two more desks or three more desks in that space there.

“We tailor it exactly to customers’ needs. At the end of the day, when we are doing a delivery or a set we are representing them.”

The firm carries out about 10 tonnes of certificated shredding, and ensures that all its work has its own “paper trail” so that documents and goods can be tracked.

It is also expanding into new niches and diversifications and recently launched a new storage scheme for students, which it is operating as a selected partner of the University of East Anglia.

Uni-store stores students’ books, bedding, sporting equipment, and electrical items such as printers, kitchenware and bikes.

The business, which has 8,000sq ft of storage, is a 24 hour, seven-day-a–week operation, and employs four full-timers and two part-timers.

“The plan is to grow,” says Stuart. “We have the capability to double the business. We want to get this place full and build another. Obviously with my haulage background we can pick stuff up from anywhere.”

Although quite different in personality, the two business partners feel that their characters complement each other well.

“Certainly over the last year we have become very close. I would trust Stuart with my life,” says Matt.

Stuart adds: “I’ll shoot from the hip and sometimes go straight in and say it like it is. Matt showed me a different approach that works quite well. In business you have got to be likeable. Our customers are our friends as well.”

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