Forty years later, and while gas prices have certainly changed, The Storage Key still is providing rental storage units.
The Storage Key began after Howren stumbled upon the business model while visiting family at Fort Benning. Further investigation found the closest self-storage facility was near Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta.
"I got to thinking and I said, 'You know, I think I'll try a few of these in Cartersville and just see how it does.' So I built nine units up on Grassdale Road. It took me seven years to do 42 units over there just building a little at a time," Howren said. "We were out of room pretty much and wanted to move closer to town and decided if we didn't move in closer to Cartersville, someone else would. ... We were able to acquire enough property to keep expanding and we would just build units as we needed them through the years."
Now, with more than 1,800 units on 18 acres, The Storage Key's main property is on U.S. Highway 411 just north of the U.S. Highway 41 cloverleaf.
"It was just something intriguing, it was something I knew Cartersville didn't have and I thought it'd be something to try. We didn't know what it would do, that's the reason we just sort of did it on a shoestring and just kept adding to it," Howren said. "We had a total of 42 units after seven years, so it was slow. It was not a big market. When we came over here, which was 33 years ago at this location, we built our first building here and it just took off.
"Cartersville started growing, Bartow started growing and there was more need for what we were doing so we just kept expanding as the market grew. Sometimes we would build 30 units a year, sometimes 60."
The intrigue of something new has always kept Howren busy. Before building his first storage units, he operated a service station with his brother and owned a grading, landscaping and septic tank business.
From grading, Howren soon moved into construction and began building homes, which he continued for many years eventually branching into real estate development with projects, including The Planters and The Four Seasons subdivisions.
An appreciation for hard work was instilled early in Howren growing up on his parent's farm once at the corner of Grassdale Road and U.S. Highway 41, a piece of which eventually became home to the first Storage Key units.
"That work ethic was instilled upon us whether we wanted it or not," Howren said laughing. "We did learn a lot about working and kind of taking care of yourself. We always had our little projects dad would let us have. Had a little crop or livestock we kind of claimed our own and made a little money doing that -- and, of course, we worked the cotton fields like everyone else."
The work ethic Howren gained from his parents also found its way into his children's life. His son, Mike Howren, operates Michael Howren Realty -- a family company conducting real estate sales and property management.
"I've been involved since I was 6, 7, 8 years old always coming up to the facility," Mike Howren said. "Just always having a business to be around was neat to have growing up. Of course, when I was that age, daddy was actually still building so I'd go out to one of his homesites and do cleanups and, of course, I have done my fair share of cleanups at the storage spaces too but at an early age it was always important for us to work and be doing things to help out so I was always up here cleaning out storage spaces and picking up the trash on the lot.
"He would always have us doing something just learning the ins-and-outs of all of it. It was definitely an interesting environment to be around."
Beyond hard work and dedication, Michael Howren gives credit to his wife of 47 years, Cathy Howren, his staff and meeting the needs of customers. As demand increased, The Storage Key added units but also added different sizes now offering 20 sizes to choose from. About 10 years ago, The Storage Key added climate control units and is now a U-Haul dealer offering a line of moving supplies.
The Storage Key is located at 1310 Highway 411 in Cartersville. For more information, call 770-382-8585 or visit www.storagekey.com.