The Inner City 100: The #1 Company

The brothers who run Pac-Van are doing what their father taught them to do--right where he taught them to do it

Some sons follow in their dads' footsteps. Bill Claymon's sons followed him right into his office, and then they took it over.

That was in 1993, when the three Claymon boys founded Pac-Van Inc., running it in the same cramped quarters occupied by Bill's company, a Roto-Rooter plumbing franchise. By 1996, with sales soaring to nearly $6 million, Pac-Van--which sells and leases mobile offices, modular buildings, and storage trailers--was in desperate need of more room.

With a five-year growth rate of more than 19,000%, Pac-Van tops Inc.'s inaugural ranking of the 100 fastest-growing inner-city companies. Given Pac-Van's demanding trajectory, the Claymons considered picking a spot more convenient to the posh northern suburb where they live. Instead they chose to stay where their father and grandfather had run businesses. Their new facility is bordered on two sides by a gravel yard in a heavily trafficked industrial corner of Indianapolis. "The inner-city element isn't anything we even thought about," says eldest brother Brent, 31, who, like his brothers Scott and Matthew, uses the title of principal. "We probably didn't think about it because of our own experiences. There might be people who would shy away from that."

Indeed there might be, but those people shouldn't be confused with members of the Claymon clan, whose inner-city roots extend back to 1942. That was the year that George Claymon, grandfather to Pac-Van's founders, started a Roto-Rooter franchise, about five miles from where his grandsons now work. Bill worked for his father from the time he was a young boy. In 1967, he started his own company, a Port-o-Let franchise--note the generational pattern here. He shared space with his father's business, which he took over a couple of years later.

From about the time they turned 13, Bill's three sons spent their summers cleaning and repairing portable toilets. Besides teaching the brothers the importance of hand washing, the experience exposed them to the specific benefits of doing business in the inner city--access to highways, parking for large vehicles, flexible zoning, and cheap land.

When it came time to move Pac-Van's facility, in 1996, the inner city still seemed ideal. For one thing, the company is strategically located within two miles of both I-465, the city's beltway, and I-70, which runs across the country. For another, the site reminded them of where they've always been. "Our decision to move to another inner-city location was probably easier for us to make because we were accustomed to it," explains Brent.

Many founders of high-growth enterprises in the inner city come from entrepreneurial stock; the parents of 58 out of 100 CEOs on Inc.'s ranking owned their own business. Even so, few parents have influenced their kids as strongly as Bill Claymon.

That said, Bill refuses to take credit for conditioning his sons to work as a team. "I tried to be laissez-faire with them," he insists. Yet each of his offspring somehow developed complementary company-building skills: Brent has a knack for finance; Scott, 28, has a marketer's charisma; Matthew, 26, masters details like a natural-born operations chief. Birth order played some role in this uncanny lack of overlap, their father suggests.

Still, it was their father, notes Scott, who exposed them to the different functions inside a small business. "Our father laid out the opportunities for us when we worked for him, and we all took pieces of it," he explains. "Remarkably, our interests lie in different areas."