Young entrepreneur sees an opportunity and turns it into a thriving business.
When David VanAssche first moved to Williston, N.D., over two years ago, he was a recent college graduate living out of an RV and working in accounts receivable for an
VanAssche, who spent his first four months in Williston working for that oil company, needed the mail delivered to him at his job because he didn’t have a physical address in Williston. He wasn’t alone. Many of his co-workers were doing the same thing.
“I heard people complaining all over that they can’t get their mail, there’s a waiting list hundreds of people deep at the post office,” VanAssche said. “Back where I’m from there are UPS stores and all those kind of things, but there’s nothing like that here.”
That spurred his idea of helping those in the Bakken area with their mail issues. VanAssche quit his job, and with less than $4,000, started MailBox Solutions Plus.
After seeing that many of his co-workers at the oil company had mail delivered the same way he did – to the office – VanAssche talked to a mail carrier about how the U.S. Postal Service was struggling to keep up with the area’s rapid growth.
“It’s impossible for the post office to keep up with the speed at which people are moving into this area and I didn’t see them catching up for many years,” VanAssche said.
The U.S. Postal Service requires people to prove they have a local address to qualify for a P.O. box. For job seekers who move to the Bakken and live in their cars, campers or other temporary housing, they can’t qualify. They also don’t have a local address to list on job applications.
VanAssche knew he had a solid idea, he just needed a home for it. That’s when he noticed a radio station in Williston – a big building with a very small staff and plenty of extra room.
“I found the radio station manager and approached him with the idea of radio advertising and asked him about the rooms in the back of the building,” VanAssche said. “It was an unused DJ booth, a 10-by-10 room. That was my office, that’s where I sorted the mail, that’s where it started from.”
Now, nearly two years after opening, MailBox Solutions Plus has it’s own location in Williston with about 600 mailboxes on site. A second location is opening soon in Watford City, N.D.
“It just keeps rapidly growing and over the last three or four months it’s really started to snowball into something big,” VanAssche says. “When I first started, I was your stereotypical broke college student, and when I started renting mailboxes it was basically a hobby that I lived off of and now it’s actually a real business.”
His company now offers full-service pack and ship, mailbox rentals and printing for several construction contractors. VanAssche currently has seven employees that work for him and will be adding four or five for the new store.
VanAssche also offers dangerous goods shipping for a client that doesn’t have in-house personnel properly trained to ship those kinds of materials.
“Basically the customer approached me and asked if I can ship dangerous goods and I was like, ‘well, no, but maybe we can start,’ ” VanAssche says. He took part in a training session with FedEx for several days in Salt Lake City and got certified to offer the service. “Now I’m able to advertise for those services. Halliburton used me for explosive shipments for their frac operations and things like that.”
Getting a mailbox
It’s easy to rent a mailbox from MailBox Solutions Plus. All it requires is a little bit of paperwork and about $20 a month, according to VanAssche.
Potential renters must present two forms of ID – a requirement of the U.S. Postal Service. They sign a form giving the business permission to receive mail and packages on their behalf and they are given a key.
“We collect their information and a phone number so we can let them know when packages arrive,” VanAssche says. “If they’re out in the field busy working or something, they really don’t have time to be stopping here every day to see if they have mail. If they get mail or a package, we have an internal system that will alert them by call or text.”
Xtreme Drilling and Coil Services – a company based in Texas with a location near Williston – is one of VanAssche’s clients.
“They’ve been a real good customer of ours,” he says. “They have their mailbox with us for their rigs. Their rigs move around from place to place, but they have a mailbox so if that rig needs to order something, it can be shipped out here for them. We give that rig an address.”
MailBox Solutions Plus pays a fee to the post office to get preferential treatment when mail is sorted, so customers receive their mail by noon every day. They also accept packages from UPS, FedEx and other delivery services.
VanAssche is keeping his eyes on the U.S. Postal Service and what they plan to do with some of the smaller post offices in his area.
“There are a lot of small towns where the post office window is only open two or three hours a day. All those post offices are at high risk of shutting down because of expenses,” VanAssche says. “If the post office decides it wants to close those, I’m going to petition them that I am ready to take them over immediately. I could buy the building, the land and offer the current tenants the first right to keep their box numbers, but I would just reopen it under MailBox Solutions. That’s what I see as the next big step.”
VanAssche knows he stepped into the business at the right time and in the right area, saying that his business probably could not succeed at the same level anywhere but in the Bakken region.
“It’s a business that’s developing on the go,” VanAssche says. “It’s exciting and I couldn’t be happier.”