Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

The leading model for self storage has remained the same since the 1970s: Customers rent units at storage facilities, where they can go to drop off and pick up items. This has been, almost universally, the leading business model for self storage businesses.

Now, these traditional facilities are being joined by startups that aim to manage every step of the storage process, revolutionizing the standard model of self storage and providing creative inspiration to traditional properties' business models and storage marketing. The new “storage by the bin” model is taking control of all the steps in the process, from moving to retrieval. Read on to learn more about the leaders in this space and what to expect in the future!

Enter storage by the bin

In the storage by the bin model, customers fill bins provided by the company and then the bins are shipped off to a warehouse for safekeeping.The tenants don’t visit their storage unit - they don’t even have a traditional storage unit. But they don’t need to visit. They can simply put in a request and the storage company will deliver their requested bin(s) back home. Storage by the bin takes the “self” out of self storage - on-demand valets deliver storage bins or boxes and transport renters’ stuff for them.

MakeSpace, Clutter, and CityStash are pioneering storage by the bin in a number of cities around the U.S. MakeSpace, in New York, takes pictures of items to be stored before carting them to their warehouse, and Clutter, in Los Angeles, asks its customers to do the same using their app. The trend has even made its way to the United Kingdom, with London’s GotBox22 entering the fray.

Brute Storage, in San Francisco, has perhaps taken the biggest strides by making their on-demand delivery and valet storage services the physical equivalent to digital cloud storage. Unlike traditional storage units, bins aren’t just for one person anymore. Now friends and family can also request deliveries and use your items while you aren’t.

“Cloud storage is such a great idea, but it needs to extend beyond the world of software and apply to people’s physical things,” said Kristoph Matthews, a pioneer in the storage by the bin space.

Cloud storage for physical belongings

“Our vision for the future is that your home finally becomes the place where you just keep the things you love and need every day. All of the other things you only need on occasion, you keep somewhere else, and just order it when you need it,” said Matthews.

It’s a grand vision, and we’ll have to wait to see how successful these kinds of companies will be. Nonetheless, the first question the savvy business owner will ask is, “how can I get involved?” If you find a budding storage by the bin service in your emerging area, contact them and figure out what you can do to be a part of this new trend. Let’s look at some ideas for getting started.

How to get involved

Here are some ways your facility might be able to get involved:

  • Offer warehouse space. Most of these companies use commercial warehouses to store their customers’ belongings. As they grow, they’ll need more space, and space is one thing your storage facility has. If you have large warehouse-style spaces, you could very well have some indispensable real estate, enabling you to partner with these storage by the bin companies and rent them space for their storage business.

  • Rent a truck. Not all of these companies own their own vehicles. Many pay for third-party courier systems. If you have a truck that you usually rent to tenants, you might have just found yourself another customer.

  • Franchise. Many storage by the bin startups are small and relatively new, so it might not be as hard as you think to get in on the ground floor. Even if you’re not in the same market, many of these entrepreneurs are no doubt looking to expand beyond their initial location.

  • Partner with the company. Find some other way to partner, like a joint advertising campaign or a mutually beneficial referral system. Many small companies will take whatever exposure they can get, so don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and ask to work together.

Not everyone is located in the same city as one of these developing companies and some of them might simply not be open to partnering. If that’s the case, there are still a number of ways to implement the innovative ideas these companies are developing at your own storage business. Two such ideas are mobile storage and postal deliveries.

Mobile storage

Mobile storage pods are portable storage units that are brought to the renter’s home, filled, and then returned to the facility. It’s super convenient for homeowners who are moving from one residence to another and in-need of an easy way to store and transport their stuff - just like a moving truck. After their stuff is returned to the secure facility, their portable storage unit can be dropped off at their new address for them to unload into their new home at their convenience.

Byrd’s Mini Storage of Dawsonville, Georgia has been capitalizing on this trend for years. Their fleet of portable storage units are delivered, transported, and picked up anywhere within a 40-mile radius of Dawsonville. If the renter needs a safe place to store their portable storage unit, they can have it transported back to Byrd’s secure, unlisted portable storage facility until their new home or office is ready for delivery. You can read more about Byrd’s Mini Storage’s portable storage units in this client spotlight article!

Of course, to offer storage pods, the existing infrastructure of a facility has to change somewhat. At most storage facilities, the tenant seals their unit with a lock that only they have access to. In order to deliver the items back to the renter, the facility manager needs to have access to the unit. Business owners also need the tools to manage delivery drivers, unit delivery schedules, and transportation of portable units.

Postal deliveries

Another innovative way to step into the full-service space is to accept postal deliveries. Companies like Kinek are working to increase the number of storage facilities in the nation that accept postal deliveries.

Accepting postal deliveries is a convenient way to provide on-demand services to your tenants that doesn’t involve a lot of work from the manager and staff. Postal deliveries allow managers to sign for packages and let renters to pick up their packages at their leisure, offering a ton of convenience for a small amount of effort. If you’re already renting to savvy parents who use their storage unit to hide Christmas presents from their kids, accepting package deliveries of gifts is the next logical step.

Once again, accepting postal deliveries is still a step away from the storage by the bin model, in which a renter’s delivery could be stored directly with their other belongings without the renter needing to make any trips, but it’s a step in the same direction.

Where does this leave traditional storage?

It’s hard to say at this point how far storage by the bin will go. Even the largest companies in the space are still small. There seems to be a lot of upside to the increasingly popular business model, especially in urban areas where space is scarce and people are always on the go. But storage by the bin startups are treading volatile waters, and there will always be a secure market for traditional self storage.

The advantages of traditional self storage

So what’s stopping everyone from moving to storage by the bin? Price, for one. Full-service storage comes with a hefty price tag, and valet delivery and pickup isn’t cheap. If you are only needing to store a few boxes’ worth of stuff, paying for the boxes individually for storage by the bin might be cheaper than renting a 5’x5’, which is usually the smallest unit available at a conventional storage facility.

Another benefit of traditional self storage is the security. Many renters take great comfort in knowing that they are the only ones with access to their unit via their own lock and key, a security measure that is impossible in the storage by the bin model.

Accessibility is another advantage of traditional self storage. Currently, storage by the bin is only offered in major metro areas, and since storage owners are most likely to find and rent from a facility within three to five miles of their home, it’s simply not accessible to the majority of storage seekers. For storage by the bin to take over as top dog in the industry, they’ll need to expand their services to reach all populations.

What traditional self storage facilities can learn

With cloud storage becoming more and more popular online, it’s not unreasonable to see the same happening with our physical belongings.

Matthews had that exact vision. “Imagine the not-too-distant future where we have a feature in the interface where someone can browse what kinds of objects their friends have in storage, and they can have that delivered to their house and sent back, like a lending library,” Matthews says. “It turns storage into something that is not just a poor excuse to hold onto your stuff, but a dynamic thing that is useful to a lot of people.”

While many would argue traditional storage is not a poor excuse, tomorrow’s facility owners know that there is always room for improvement. With the rise in smartphones and cloud storage, it seems inevitable that these storage by the bin services will begin to take off.

While it is doubtful that storage by the bin will supplant traditional storage entirely, it is becoming more imperative to think outside the box, move forward in the wake of modern technology, and never simply sit back and expect the industry to lie still. Now is your opportunity to continue putting your customers first by finding new ways to reach out to them.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this blog post, you may also like: 5 of the most unique cultures in self storage, Selling & marketing to the self storage consumer: How to get the biggest bang for your buck, or 4 niche storage ideas to explore for your new build.