This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Mini Storage Messenger Magazine.
The storage industry isn’t what it once was. We’re seeing new technology all the time, and now the big chain stores and the mom and pop facilities are being joined by young entrepreneurs looking to transform the industry.
But they aren’t out to make changes just for the sake of change. Unique culture is about more than cool gimmicks and questioning the conventional; the right employees, the right business models, and the right kind of innovation can make all the difference in the quality of products a company produces and the level of service they deliver. From large software providers with small startup ideas to brand new storage operators with unconventional methods, the storage world’s unique culture is shifting. Will your company be the next to make a change?
Of course, SpareFoot needs to be included in an article about exciting cultures in the self storage world. This Austin-based startup created the largest marketplace for self storage, connecting renters in need of storage units to operators all around the nation. But SpareFoot does a lot more for the industry, too.
Their marketing team produces blog articles covering storage news, renter tips, organization hacks, and storage-related surveys. SpareFoot also designs interesting infographics that visualize their research on topics like social media, closet organization, up-and-coming tech hubs, features of New York vs. LA vs. Chicago, and even calculations about space used in the popular television show Breaking Bad. These visuals are perfect examples of SpareFoot’s ability to translate self storage into what their target audience is most interested in.
SpareFoot’s unique approach has earned them press in publications like TechCrunch and The New York Times. They continue to achieve smashing success in the storage industry, but they haven’t lost their fun and light hearted spirit through it all.
That isn’t even the tip of the iceberg on their company culture. From free lunches and a “no-policy vacation policy” to happy hours and a program that pays employees who bike or take the metro to work, SpareFoot understands how important it is to find and keep smart and dedicated individuals. You can tell just by seeing their team in action that they take both company culture and their product seriously — and it doesn’t look like that mentality is to going to change anytime soon.
While SpareFoot continues to grow, smaller companies are building a unique culture of their own. One such company is StoreLocal, a self storage co-op located in California. It was created by storage operators in an effort to develop a strong sense of camaraderie as the industry becomes increasingly competitive.
Rather than taking one man’s vision and getting a team behind him to make it happen, StoreLocal’s mission hinges on an extremely collaborative goal, bringing several operators together to share their knowledge and experience to reduce operational costs, increase profits, and provide customers with the highest standard of service.
The co-op idea takes a strong focus on the end goal in order to work, since people who may have previously seen each other as competition actually help one another out. With no more than five employees running the StoreLocal ship, this small team finds ways to make a lot of people happy all at once while staying true to their mission. Because they’re relatively small, StoreLocal is able to adapt as quickly as needed to keep up with industry changes — and even become leaders in it.
This management company is making its mark on facilities around the country, managing properties in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
A noteworthy part of their culture is their internship program, which gets college students and young professionals involved in the process of social media marketing. Grace Anderson, the company’s organizational analyst, started out as an intern and moved into a full-time position, combining her experience in the storage industry with her studies in website development, marketing, and advertising.
When you think about new ideas in the storage industry, your thoughts may immediately go to new technology and products for the storage renter. But new ideas can be more than that; Absolute Management’s internship program demonstrates how important it is to think about the operational side of your business. This philosophy showcases the value of recruiting young, talented professionals who may have taken their skills elsewhere but are now using them to better the storage industry. This allows the storage world to advance just as quickly as the industries that college grads were previously most attracted to.
The “storage by the bin” model is starting to make a name for itself in the storage industry, demonstrating that unique cultures spur unique products. Companies like Brute Storage (formerly known as Boxbee) and MakeSpace allow renters to take advantage of small bins delivered to their homes rather than units at facilities across town. This system is ideal for urban areas with large populations, where space is a valuable commodity.
It makes sense, then, that Brute Storage and MakeSpace were founded in San Francisco and New York City, respectively. For roughly $10-$25 per box per month, renters can order high-quality plastic bins online, skipping the hassle of cardboard boxes and tape. What about items that don’t fit in these bins? Both Brute Storage and MakeSpace provide solutions for things like bikes, wardrobe boxes, mini refrigerators, luggage, golf clubs, and “anything one person can carry.”
Both organizations nail the company aspect of culture, too. MakeSpace, with an office in a loft in Soho, allows employees to buy or build their ideal workstation, and states on their website that, “of course,” snacks and beverages are included. Brute Storage provides a budget for “whatever makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to work,” offers an onsite gym and yoga studio, and even allows your dog work next to you.
Speaking of cool cities, Portland may see its own share of hip self storage with the new facilities Get Space is envisioning. This innovative company is all about honoring the tried and true service that self storage provides while completely transforming the ways customers can use it.
Get Space is dedicated to making it easier than ever for renters to utilize storage. By implementing business models similar to that of Redbox and IKEA, Get Space allows renters to complete their move quickly with advanced technology, operating unmanned properties where personalized help is just a quick call away.
While Get Space’s facilities are in the development stages, Storage Express has been taking a comparable approach to storage for years. Their company began when their owner bought his first facility while still in college, where he saw two problems that could be solved: storage properties in need of more convenient features and college students in need of jobs.
Also following the unmanned model, Storage Express utilizes a call center located in a college town and onsite renting kiosks to make reservations and move-ins simple. They’ve since created a successful internship program and expanded to more than 80 facilities nationwide.
Whether you’re a storage operator, vendor, or software provider, there’s always room for change. No matter if your company is as large and resource-filled as SpareFoot or has yet to break the ten employee mark like StoreLocal, it’s clear that the storage industry is just as capable as any other industry to shift over time.
Industries grow collaboratively. By watching other companies develop their own culture and implementing those good ideas in a way that’s right for your company, you can be the next one to provide innovative services to renters, implement unconventional employee benefits, and transform what people may think of when they hear the term “self storage.” As we all continue to learn and grow from watching each other learn and grow, our ideas, company cultures, and ultimately our products and services will become better for it.