Loaded with amenities, stylish Franklin mobile office is miles ahead of competition
29 Jan Loaded with amenities, stylish Franklin mobile office is miles ahead of competition
Posted at 4:46 pm in Uncategorized by jlbworks
It’s not easy to describe Steps Ahead — a Franklin-based business that rents out a high-end mobile office — because there’s nothing quite like it.
Launched by Franklin residents Carlos and Shenita Baker last spring, the mobile office isn’t a car service, nor is it a party bus.
The Mercedes Sprinter, which can fit at least seven occupants and offers the space and technology to accommodate everything from commercial real estate showings to private business meetings, is all about maximizing its riders’ productivity.
It took a leap of faith and a $250,000 investment, but the Bakers are confident Steps Ahead is just that — steps ahead of the competition.
This Steps Ahead Mercedes Sprinter extended van is modified to be a mobile office. Steps Ahead offers an array of accommodations on board, including audio and video conference call equipment, Wi-Fi, full computer services with dual monitors, full color printing and a shredder. (Photo: Mark Zaleski / For The Tennessean)
Cutting out lag time
With more than three decades of experience as a manufacturing engineer for General Motors, Carlos Baker, now retired, frequently traveled to Detroit for business.
But time is money, and the constant moving around different plants spread across the city meant frequent interruptions for Baker and his colleagues when discussing new products or design features.
“My intuition was to say, ‘Hey, we need something where when we leave the plant, we don’t have to stop the conversation. If we had a vehicle (so) we could actually still be talking through the process when we get to the next plant, (then) we don’t have to start over,’ ” Baker said.
Steps Ahead offers an array of accommodations on board, including audio and video conference call equipment, Wi-Fi, satellite television, Apple TV, HDMI hookups, full computer services with dual monitors, full color printing, a shredder, an iPad Pro and a Microsoft surface tablet.
Even when commuting from one location to the next, clients can “still continue to run their business, therefore there’s no lost time in productivity and … there’s no net loss because you’re continuing to communicate,” Baker said.
Carlos Baker explains equipment details in a Steps Ahead Mercedes Sprinter extended van that is modified to be a mobile office on Dec. 15, 2017, in Franklin. Baker and his wife, Shenita, started Steps Ahead, which provides vans that are equipped as mobile offices for business professionals to rent out as needed. (Photo: Mark Zaleski / For The Tennessean)
‘Everything in there is first class’
The business’s clientele ranges from commercial real estate agents looking to add an edge when showing out-of-state clients prospective Nashville properties, to financiers and investors and corporate professionals traveling regionally.
One high-profile client flew his family from Virginia to Nashville in August to see the solar eclipse, and hired Steps Ahead to drive the family around the city.
The Bakers have found a niche market with commercial real estate agents, said Shenita Baker, who is also a vice president with Fidelity National Title Group in Franklin.
“We have a really good target with them. Some of their clients fly in for a single day and want to see as many properties as possible,” she said.
The van’s exterior has 360-degree cameras installed, so even in inclement weather, clients can still see properties on the monitor without wasting any time.
With all its amenities, which also include an on-board restroom, a refrigerator and a kitchenette stocked with drinks and snacks, Steps Ahead is clearly distinguished from your average shuttle.
The Bakers are adamant about providing white-glove service at all times.
“When they enter that vehicle, everything in there is first class — from the speakers they use to the table and the phones,” Carlos Baker said.
A Steps Ahead Mercedes Sprinter extended van is modified to include a kitchen area and bathroom. (Photo: Mark Zaleski / For The Tennessean)
Blazing the trail
The Bakers did extensive research when they first set out to create a mobile office to see what others offered. But as time went on, they realized something: There weren’t any others.
“People said (they) had corporate transportation, but when we dug into it, they really didn’t have any of these conveniences,” Shenita Baker said. “Maybe they had Wi-Fi on board, but nothing like this.”
Steps Ahead charges a rate of $200 an hour, with a two-hour minimum rental. While there’s no set restriction on mileage, they try to stay within a three- or four-hour radius of Nashville. But they make exceptions, and once drove as far as Washington, D.C., to accommodate clients.
The business is looking to hire more drivers, who must undergo criminal background checks, a FBI fingerprinting review and complete hospitality training. Drivers are even certified notary publics.
Shenita and Carlos Baker started Steps Ahead, which provides vans that are equipped as mobile offices for business professionals to rent out as needed. (Photo: Mark Zaleski / For The Tennessean)
With his engineering background, upfitting the mobile office was not the difficult part, Carlos Baker said.
But it was somewhat time consuming, as the vehicle’s nine-month build-out had to be done in Indiana because there were no Mercedes-approved upfitters nearby.
Baker says the greatest challenge in launching Steps Ahead was ensuring all the technical devices not only worked, but were also compatible with whatever devices customers brought on board.
“When clients come in with their own devices, we had to make sure we were ready to accommodate that, and that was tough,” he said. “It took a while to get it all dialed in.”
To ensure passengers’ private information is protected, all the devices and software on board are swept daily.
A soundproof partition separates the cabin from the front of the van to help ensure passengers’ privacy.
The Bakers’ goal for 2018 is to better tap into Nashville and Williamson County’s economic development market.
“People think of Franklin as a small city. Well, we’re not that small mom-and-pop city anymore,” Shenita Baker said. “We’ve got a lot of executives that live here in Williamson County … and when they’re trying to attract businesses here, we have a way to do that.”
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