Need Self Storage? There’s an App for That

Tim Schlee |
In the age of smartphones and tablets, when the entire world seems as if it can be tucked away in your pocket, the traditional self storage business model might seem a little dated. Wait, I actually have to drive to a storage facility? Recently, however, we’ve seen a number of businesses approaching storage from a different angle. By taking control of all the steps of the storage process, from transport to the facility to retrieval from the facility, businesses such as Boxbee have presented a streamlined service that’s perfect for the hectic, urban lifestyle of America’s major cities.

Storage-by-the-Bin

It’s been called storage-by-the-bin to reflect the pricing model of most of the new companies. You order a number of bins, priced by their size, fill them at your leisure, and then watch as the storage company picks them up and takes them to their facility for you. When you need a box back, you simply pick up your phone, get on their app, and request it. Before you know it, the bin is back at your doorstep. These types of businesses have popped up in several major U.S. cities, as well as some abroad. Here’s a brief rundown of the most notable storage-by-the-bin startups: While not all of these employ identical logistics – for example, in addition to boxes, Clutter offers multiple sizes of vans as units of measure – the same basic idea applies to all. By eliminating the need for transportation, these apps free up time and money for busy city-dwellers, many of whom might not even own vehicles. While the advantages are obvious, storage-by-the-bin cannot meet all the needs of traditional self storage customers. Let’s look now at the pros and cons of this new storage model.

Pros

Storage-by-the-bin bypasses a number of hindrances that might stop some people from using traditional storage, such as transportation or the large size of many storage units. Even in urban areas where storage facilities often occupy ordinary buildings that are easily accessed, the time and effort of moving in can be prohibitive. Here are the three primary benefits that many city dwellers can find in these new storage apps.
  1. You can store smaller amounts. What’s the smallest unit size at most storage facilities? You’d be hard-pressed to find a unit smaller than 5’x5’, and many don’t go below 5’x10’. What if you only need a couple of boxes’ worth of stuff in storage? Enter storage-by-the-bin. By paying for the box instead of the entire storage space, you can store smaller amounts without wasting money on space you don’t even need.
  2. You don’t need any transportation. This can be a big hindrance to traditional self storage. Many residents of major cities can rely on public transportation to get around. Many have all the things they need within walking distance. Without a car, you have to rely either on friends or a rental truck to get your belongings into storage. If a company is willing to come pick up your belongings for you, that could save you a lot of headache!
  3. You can let other people borrow your things. Boxbee in particular is pushing this idea. When you store with them, you can let friends and family request boxes and items. Boxbee will then send them the requested items so that your stuff is actually being used and not just wasting away. It’s like cloud storage, but for physical objects.

Cons

It’s not all perfect, though. For many people, especially those without the restraints that might push one toward storage-by-the-bin, traditional self storage is simply easier.
  1. It can get expensive. So you can store just a couple bins if you want, but what if you really do need a 10’x20’ unit? That’s a lot of boxes! By paying a flat monthly rate for each box you use, you might end up paying quite a bit more than if you were to use traditional storage.
  2. You can’t get things immediately. Since the storage-by-the-bin company must deliver your items back to you, you won’t be able to get the things you want immediately. Many conventional storage facilities offer 24-hour access, which allows you to stop by and grab your belongings whenever you want.
  3. You might not trust the security. When your storage company also takes care of transport and retrieval, it can create a rather long chain of possession for your belongings. A benefit of traditional storage is that you know nobody besides yourself has access to your belongings at any time.
There’s a lot to consider. If you don’t live in a city with one of these new companies, you might have to wait a while for one to pop up or expand. If you do, then you have to look at prices and weigh the convenience of no transportation with the inconvenience of waiting for requested items.

A Side-by-Side Comparison

Let’s compare Boxbee to a typical San Francisco storage facility, Stop N Stor Mini Storage. A comparison of Boxbee and Stop N Stor. As we can see, Boxbee charges much more per cubic foot per month, but they also provide a convenience that Stop N Stor and other traditional facilities can’t match. When you add in the cost of a rental truck, deposit, lock, and any other fees or costs, Boxbee’s flat rate begins to look a little more appealing. Even if you qualify for Stop N Stor’s free rental truck, you still have to find the time and people to make moving into a storage unit feasible.

Other Moving and Storage Apps

That’s not all in the world of storage apps! While storage-by-the-bin is the predominant model for several budding companies across the nation, others have taken a different route. Cubbyhole is an app that allows travelers to find a place to keep their bags for a day if they don’t have a hotel. By connecting those who need a brief amount of storage with people that have space in their homes, the app makes passing through a city a lot more convenient. Similarly, buddyTruk hooks up people who are moving with people who have trucks available for a move. With the constant progression of mobile technology, it’s become easier than ever before to connect a consumer with someone who can provide the desired service. Technology is always advancing, and it’s inevitable that new developments will change existing business models, even in a stable industry like self storage. As storage-by-the-bin companies grow, they will increasingly become a viable alternative to traditional storage. Ultimately, the competition will force us to think about what we want from our storage and how much we’re willing to pay for added convenience.