Dreading a move this summer? Here’s help: A new wave of start-ups is trying to bring the convenient user experience popularized by companies such as Uber and Airbnb to the unglamorous world of moving and storage.
A handful of companies such as Boxbee, Clutter, MakeSpace and Roost have popped up in recent years, targeted at the apartment-dwelling, smartphone-wielding millennial generation. And venture capitalists are betting millions that these new entrants can revolutionize an old-school industry.
Take New York start-ups MakeSpace and Boxbee. Both are pick-up and delivery storage services. Customers can order boxes using an app, pack their stuff and send it to a storage facility through the company. In select cities, the companies will deliver your stuff back to you for a flat fee. MakeSpace, which calls itself “the Dropbox of physical storage,” builds a catalog of a person’s belongings, so that users can remember what they put in storage and order individual boxes back when they need it. Boxbee offers a similar service.
The idea for MakeSpace was born in 2012 when co-founder Sam Rosen was helping his then-girlfriend move her belongings into storage. Hurricane Sandy had destroyed most of her apartment and the two had a hard time keeping track of her belongings.
“I asked her where her snow boots were and she didn’t know,” Rosen said. “That’s when I said to myself — imagine if a storage unit could be browsable and searchable.”
MakeSpace has raised $10.1 million from investors including Upfront Ventures, Lowercase Capital and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher’s venture capital firm A-Grade Investments. The company recently expanded its delivery service to Washington and Chicago. MakeSpace also has a paid delivery partnership with UPS across the country, but the company hopes to scale up its fixed-price service to 30 cities in the next few years, Rosen said. He declined to provide details about sales or profits.
Boxbee has raised more than $7 million since its launch in 2013. While Los Angeles-based Clutter, a storage start-up that also offers packing services, has picked up $2 million.
Other start-ups are trying to re-think how people find storage.
San Francisco-based Roost follows the Airbnb model, connecting people who want to rent out space in their homes to those looking for cheap storage options. Austin-based SpareFoot is a Web site that lets people compare prices and book storage facilities in their neighborhood. The start-up is backed by D.C.-based venture capital firm Revolution Growth, among others.
“People need storage in good times and bad,” said Chuck Gordon, co-founder of SpareFoot and a Washington native. “It’s a very large industry with a lot of room to grow.”
The U.S. mobile storage industry — as this sector is officially known — is worth $7.4 billion, according to a 2015 report by research firm IBIS World.
Storage is dependent on the real estate market and oil prices. The industry took a hit during the housing bust but has bounced back, according to the report.
A recovering housing market and low oil prices are expected to drive sales up by more than 6 percent in 2015, the report said.
That’s why the storage industry is bustling.
International players such as British-based SpaceWays and Australian company Zippy Shell have entered the U.S. market in recent years, banking on the fact that Americans have a lot of stuff and will always need somewhere to put it.
For Zippy Shell, which delivers shell-like trailers to customers’ doorsteps, the move to America was a simple business opportunity.
“When we came here in 2009, there were more storage facilities in Tampa, Fla., than all of Australia,” said Rick Del Sontro, chief executive of the company’s U.S. operations.
Zippy Shell is headquartered in Georgetown and has more than 100 franchise locations across the country. The company chose D.C. to serve as a hub for the company’s East Coast operations, Del Sontro said.
“We love the city’s energy and how it’s growing,” he said.
Zippy Shell has raised $25 million in a recent round of funding, which it will use to buy back some of its franchise locations and build a national brand, Del Sontro said.
“Moving and storing are not fun,” he said, “we want to be seen as a company that clearly understands that and can help.”