Transitioning To The Box Step

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Don't bring your stuff to the storage locker - bring a locker to your stuff. That's the thinking behind the latest iteration of the self-storage industry that is giving traditional moving and storage companies a run for their money. Company names say it all: The Mobile Attic, Door to Door Storage and Smartbox, the newest franchise to hit Colorado. Their business models are similar. Sturdy steel, or wood and aluminum containers with between 280 and 1,024 cubic feet of storage space are delivered by truck to your home or business. Small-sized units will hold the contents of one or two rooms, while the biggest ones can handle four rooms of furniture. After the boxes are loaded, they are trucked to a secure, climate-controlled warehouse or to your new home. Subset of growing industry Mobile-storage companies are a subset of the rapidly growing self-storage industry. They're especially popular among homebuyers and sellers who find themselves with time between the closing dates on their old and new homes, and no place to store their belongings. They're also useful for all the reasons people turn to self-storage. A death in the family, a temporary work assignment or an overseas deployment can create the need for short-term storage, said Bob Rohrig, vice president of sales for Johnson-United Storage & Moving, a locally based competitor in mobile storage. "People sometimes want to de-clutter their homes before they put them on the market," he says. Johnson-United recently opened a secure, state-of-the-art storage facility near its Centennial office. Private investors doing business as Front Range Portable Storage are the newest players in the Front Range market. They have an exclusive deal to serve Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Pueblo under the Smartbox name. They plan to begin operation by March 1. What's so smart? The advantages are obvious, says Jack Stansbery, general manager of the Denver-based investor group. The move happens on your own schedule, so there's no rush to return a truck and less pressure to time the containers' arrival to coincide with friends or professional movers hired to unload it. The box sits at ground level, so there's no need to muscle an upright piano up and down a ramp. The footprint occupied by a small box is less obtrusive than a small truck. And you can segregate your stuff into different containers, so the love seat isn't wedged against the lawn mower. Compared with conventional, stationary storage, the cost of mobile service is higher in the first few months but cheaper in the long run. "It's a Aida Angel begins to unpack one of the two Crate & Store containers that were delivered to her new home in Thornton. Angel rented the boxes in November when she sold her former home in Hudson. (Post / Jerry Cleveland)convenience service," says Rohrig. "You're paying for pickup and delivery, and to avoid hassles." Rates at Johnson-United, for example, are $99 for delivery of up to five containers, and another $99 for pickup. The storage rate is $64 per month for one container, $45.25 each for two, and $40 each for three or more. Convenience of containers Thornton resident Aida Angel rented two Crate & Store boxes from Johnson-United in November when she sold her former home in Hudson. For two months, they were held in the company facility in Centennial, then delivered to her new residence. "I needed a place to put my washer and dryer and refrigerator until I was able to move in," she said. Particularly convenient was the ability to park the containers near her front door for loading and unloading. The utility of movable storage goes beyond the residential market. Mobile pods are used by retailers to hold seasonal items and excess inventory; and by construction companies to secure equipment at job sites. Office-based businesses use them to store legal and financial records, and to contain furniture and fixtures during remodeling. Disadvantages? Renters must make an appointment with the storage company to access their own containers. And with the vessel out of your control, shifting of contents may occur. Eyehooks and tie-downs mitigate the movement in transit. Lifting a stationary box, particularly with a forklift, can also jar what's inside. But some companies have proprietary systems to keep the box level as it's lifted into place. The industry's largest player, Florida-based franchiser PODS, for Portable On-Demand Storage, uses its patented Podzilla, which resembles a shipyard boat hoist. Condo and apartment dwellers may find that storage containers block traffic. When the boxes hang around for weeks, neighbors of single-family homes may also complain. Many municipalities have taken steps to restrict their use, says Randy Weiss, a spokesman for the Mobile Self-Storage Association. "If it's not part of the building permit, it may be allowed for just seven or 14 days." Customers with long-distance destinations face another question. Does the company operate where they want to go? Smartbox claims franchisees in 27 states and coordinates the handoff of boxes between franchisees. Containers are shipped via common carrier, using the same trucks that deliver commercial goods to businesses and retailers. Similar service is offered by PODS, with service in 40 states and Canada and Australia; and by Door-to-Door, which serves metro areas in 27 states and the Virgin Islands. All have franchisees in the Denver area. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Square deals a big thing in moving circles in U.S.

Self-storage, including the mobile kind, has been a dynamic growth industry in the United States for two decades. More than 45,000 self-storage facilities now encompass approximately 2 billion square feet of personal storage, according to an industry association. That's nearly 7 square feet for every man, woman, and child. Denver is slightly below average among metro areas with 4.56 square feet per person, according to a 2005 report published by Pramerica Real Estate Investors. Four of the top five areas are in Texas, led by Austin-Round Rock, with 7.97 square feet of space per person. Notably low is the New York City-northern New Jersey area, with just 1.37 feet per person. The largest number of storage facilities is in Dallas-Fort Worth. Many explanations are posited for the nationwide storage boom: growth in personal consumption; the rise of eBay entrepreneurs; houses built without basements; thirty-somethings moving back home; and too much bulky, unused exercise equipment. But unlike the market for treadmills, this one seems a long way from saturation. Investors can participate by directly purchasing the stock of public companies such as Public Storage (NYSE: PSA) and others. Most of the nation's storage facilities are held by small owners.

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