Charles Kuhn's professional journey -- building a business that has served the White House, FBI, Pentagon and luminaries including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder -- began with a single purchase.
It occurred in 1981, when Kuhn was a 16-year-old sophomore at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. He was determined to follow in the footsteps of an uncle named Tom, who owned a moving and storage company in Montgomery County.
"So I got my driver's license and bought this 20-year-old truck from a nursery in Maryland," Kuhn said. The 26-foot truck cost $5,000, and he put $500 down. "I didn't have a marketing budget, so I started bringing fliers to homes that had for-sale signs. My first job was moving a family from Annandale to Fairfax Station."
Two decades later, Kuhn says his Sterling-based company, JK Moving & Storage Inc., has annual revenue of $45 million. Once headquartered in the basement of his parents' house, JK (his father's initials) is based on a 28-acre compound near Dulles International Airport. The company has 430 employees and 260 moving vehicles.
And it's growing: Last month, JK acquired Gaithersburg-based Thomas AAA Moving and Storage Inc., adding 75 employees and 47 vehicles. "We have always done a fair amount of business in Montgomery County," Kuhn said, "but we want to have a stronger presence there."
Like many owners of private family businesses, Kuhn, 39, is reluctant to share financial details. He won't disclose what he paid for Thomas AAA, for example. And he won't discuss JK's earnings except to say it has been profitable since he made that first delivery.
Kuhn does offer a prediction: The acquisition will help boost JK's sales to $55 million in 2005. And as JK expands in suburban Maryland, where Thomas AAA operated for three decades, more than 100 people will be hired, he said.
JK is among the largest movers in the region. Even so, its sales pale in comparison with the revenue reported by national moving companies such as Missouri-based United Van Lines, which had earnings of $14.1 million last year on revenue of $1.16 billion, according to the American Moving and Storage Association.
Like United, JK isn't bashful about trumpeting the work it has done for high-profile customers. In the moving and storage industry, after all, good references are everything.
A recent press release from United was headed: "UNITED VAN LINES CHOSEN TO MOVE PRO BOWL DEFENSIVE END FOR NFC CHAMPIONS," referring to Mike Rucker of the National Football League's Carolina Panthers.
Asked for names of JK's well-known clients, Kuhn produced a list that included NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former defense secretary Robert McNamara, ex-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and retired Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby.
Kuhn said about 75 percent of his revenue comes from making local and long-distance moves. One local job brought JK to the White House in the early 1990s.
"We did an install of antiques at the White House for a telecast on literacy," featuring President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, Kuhn said.
The antiques were rented from a company on Capitol Hill. "We installed four rooms of antiques, then picked them up and took them away after the filming," Kuhn said.
The Pentagon also has been a steady customer.
"They have several displays of things such as war memorabilia and high-value paintings of presidents," Kuhn said. "We remove them and either store them at our warehouse or ship them to off-site displays before bringing them back to the Pentagon."
About 25 percent of JK's revenue comes from storage services for individuals, companies and the federal government, Kuhn said. Typically, JK charges $50 a month for each 245 cubic feet of rented storage space.
"Let's say Lockheed Martin secures a government contract in the area, and they open up an office," Kuhn said, referring to the Bethesda-based defense contractor. "We'll store the furniture for Lockheed Martin, then move that furniture from our warehouse to their new office. Then, if for some reason that contract closes down, we'll bring all the furniture back into our warehouse."
The 254,000-square-foot warehouse has a climate-controlled section, where high-end collectibles are stored for about three times the normal rate.
"We store antique cars and oil paintings, for example," Kuhn said. "And we've had a huge, high-value wine collection here for several years."
Huge, as in . . . ?
"Eight hundred and fifty cases, six bottles to a case," Kuhn said. "And the client comes here to access it, as needed." He declined to name the client.
A recent JK press release, announcing the acquisition of Thomas AAA Moving and Storage, left out an interesting piece of trivia.
Remember Kuhn's uncle, Tom?
Turns out the uncle, Tom Shioutakon, founded Thomas AAA and owned it until the mid-1980s.
"That made the acquisition especially nice; it took me back to my roots a little bit," Kuhn said. "When I was growing up, my brother and I used to work at Thomas AAA on weekends and in the summer, sweeping the warehouse floor."