Self-storage facility owners are keeping their eyes on a growing trend: full-service storage companies that pick up items at consumers’ homes, place them in storage, and return them upon request.
“The first thing to understand about full-service storage is it won’t require all of your time and attention,” said Emma Gordon, a storage specialist at Clutter, a full-service company. “There are people who are willing to do the tedious job.”
“People of all ages and demographics need storage,” she continued. “We are that helping hand when you have a major life event.”
They Lug, You Chill
Full-service storage eliminates the need for customers to load items into a car or truck and transport them to a self-storage facility. In addition, some full-service companies create inventories that are accessible online. Smartphone apps can make the process of requesting the return of items faster.
The need to place things in storage often is triggered by stressful events, such as the death of a loved one. Gordon said using a full-service company at such times can relieve some of the pressure.
“We know that this is a stressful time,” she said. “We send out highly trained professional teams to our customers’ houses, people who are compassionate and good at communicating.”
Robert A. Chiti, a board member of the Self Storage Association (SSA) and CEO of OpenTech Alliance, said full-service storage has brought “a new dynamic” to the industry. The business niche has attracted investments from venture capital firms, he added.
“It probably will have some legs to it,” Chiti said of the trend. “I don’t see it being disruptive to the traditional storage business.”
While pricing varies, in general full-service storage is very competitive with self-storage, said Natolie Ochi, vice president of SKS Management, which runs storage facilities in California and Hawaii.
Gordon said Clutter was started in 2013. It now serves Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area, and the greater New York City metropolitan area. If customers need storage items returned, the company offers four free deliveries per month for things that can be carried by a single mover.
In today’s busy world, hauling things to a self-storage unit is something most people don’t have time for, Mollman said.
“The hardest part about storage is getting your stuff there,” Mollman said.
“Even if you get a free truck you still have to get [your possessions] into the truck, strap them, use moving blankets to avoid scratches, find friends to help you. We make sure customers don’t have to lift a finger. If a dresser is sitting in someone’s third story room, we will carry it into a truck and transport it into storage safely,” Mollman said.
Mollman started Closetbox after his wife became pregnant with twins and the family needed more space. After hauling dining room furniture and boxes of clothing to a distant self-storage unit, he decided to start a company that offered a better solution.
All storage items are tracked, organized, and inventoried for customers. Their possessions can be returned within a single day. While customers typically have no need to visit Closetbox storage facilities, they are allowed to do so by making an appointment.
Shapes and Sizes
While full-service businesses typically charge customers by the amount of storage space they need, there are some variations in the way they operate.
Zippy Shell brings large containers to homes carried inside trailers. The customers then fill them with items and Zippy Shell sends trucks pick them up.
Ochi said the convenience of full-service storage is especially appealing to young adults in their 20s and 30s. Millennials work hard and value their free time, Ochi said.
“I have been researching millennial behavior,” Ochi said. “They want convenience and they want [services] on demand. They don’t like leaving their homes. They are efficiency minded. Millennials are willing to pay a little bit more for convenience.”
How Do They Do It?
Full-service companies often work with moving companies for pickups and deliveries, Ochi noted. They find their storage space by using commercial warehouses or partnering with self-storage facilities. Some companies, like MakeSpace, have started building their own warehouses.
This makes sense in large urban areas, where space for creating new self-storage facilities is difficult to find, Ochi said.
She noted that these businesses don’t have a great need for traditional offices, since storage items are picked up at the customer’s home.
“They don’t need brick and mortar [businesses] in prime locations,” Ochi said.
Mollman said full-service storage isn’t a new concept, but it’s only in recent years that the public has become enthusiastic. Some of these businesses have been helped by their use of smartphone apps to enable customers to track inventories and request that items are returned. In addition back-end logistics is supported by advanced software, sometimes developed by companies in-house.
“The time is right,” said Mollman. “People are more open to it now. A few years ago most people had no idea there were other options out there and now they do.”
Ochi said she recently compared prices for full-service and self-storage operations in Southern California. While costs vary, she found that full-service storage often is slightly more expensive than renting a traditional self-storage unit. However, the added cost often is offset by the fact that customers don’t need to rent a truck to transport their possessions to a self-storage unit. Also there is no labor involved.
Mollman said his full-service company charges customers about the same price as self-storage facilities. Gordon at Clutter holds that there is no significant price disparity between full-service storage and self-storage.
“Our prices are very competitive with typical self-storage units, ” Gordon said.