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Guest Post: Start Up on a Shoestring: Resourceful Entrepreneurs’ Space Solution

September 3, 2010 · Filed Under Random · 4 Comments 
Today’s guest post was provided by Art Decker. Art is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including a Texas self-storage locator. Art leads a busy life, but enjoys meeting new people and interacting with customers when traveling between sites all the way from California to the Massachusetts self-storage centers.

It always surprises people to learn that about 30 percent of the tenants of self storage facilities are small businesses. I am not sure why — businesses need, if anything, more storage than the average family. I find that many of our small business tenants have turned to self storage either because they need to minimize the overhead costs for their business, and must keep the official retail or office space small or home-based, or because they need a simple way to merge storage and shipping. Small businesses that need to arrange their own regular shipping or local deliveries often prefer to rent space at a facility that offers moving trucks for rent as well. That way, the business does not have to invest in a delivery truck (which then has to be stored as well, in addition to needing maintenance, insurance, and licensing).

The obvious example of an entrepreneur using storage space is an online retail business, such as an eBay store. However, I find that many entrepreneurs are using self-storage units in ways that are not so obvious:

Watercraft Detailing & Winterization: At one of our North Carolina facilities that offers winter boat storage, I met a man who told me that he figured out that he had a budget for space for a boat cleaning and repair business, but only for a few months out of the year. He was delighted to learn that self storage units do not have to be rented year round — they can be rented on a month to month basis, or only when you need them. He now uses a self storage space at a facility near a marina to offer boat cleaning and maintenance to boat owners who are about to put their boats in storage for the winter. He offers the service for two months in the fall. Then he packs up his tools and takes them home — he needs the space primarily for the boats he works on, as the tools themselves are fairly compact. In the spring, he rents another unit and offers the same service to boat owners who are taking their boats out of storage.

Wine Delivery: I chatted with a northern California business owner who is the middleman between wineries and local businesses and wine collectors. She needed trucks, but only occasionally, to transport wine. It streamlined her business considerably to be able to transport wine via truck to a climate-controlled facility, and to unload the wine and return the truck simultaneously. Then she rented the truck again later, when she went out to make deliveries. She was glad to be able to cut costs on shipping, since she also had to comply with state regulations related to shipping alcohol.

Hand Crafted Signs: An Oregon woodworker who rented a self-storage unit last year told me that he was glad to find a facility that also had trucks for rent. He produces custom handmade wooden signs for local businesses, and then delivers them. If he can, he deliver the signs using his own car, but occasionally he has a sign that is quite large and must be moved using a truck. In addition to using the trucks to deliver his signs, he told me that it is very nice to be able to rent one occasionally when he needs to bring in new materials, or when he participates in art fairs over the summer. For art fairs, he not only loads quite a few of his latest signs, but he also brings shelves and tables to display them on, and a large tent (in case of rain). The rest of the time, though, he tells me that he doesn’t need a truck — nor does he need to be budgeting part of his business income every month to pay for parking, maintenance or insurance.

Computer Solutions: Some of our tenants, on the other hand, have their own trucks, but they need a secure place to park them because they keep their trucks full of expensive equipment. One of our Chicago units is rented by a business that does IT consulting for larger corporations. They travel to sites where businesses are having trouble with their computer networks (in this recession, many companies have laid off their information technology (IT) departments). When they travel to a business site, they bring a van full of computers that can run diagnostic tests on a system. They also bring commonly used replacement parts, network cables, and the like. But they don’t want to park that van, full of electronics, out on the street. Moreover, it’s easier for the “Geeks” — there are two of them — to drive to our self storage facility and park in our parking lot, which is usually not full because most tenants don’t stay all day. Then they take the van out and drive to the site where they will be working for the day. As a result, they not only get affordable security for their business equipment, but they also save on parking for their private vehicles. I thought it was an ingenious way to solve the perennial Chicago parking problem.

Sometimes business owners have to think creatively to stay out of debt. I used to think that anyone starting a new business would have to go into debt just to have the start up capital to provide a place of business, equipment, and/or inventory (depending on the business). But I’ve come to realize that it is possible to start a business with very little capital. No one wants to think that their business is going to be the one to fail, but if your business does fail, you will be far better off walking away from it free and clear — rather than with a mountain of debt. I’ve grown to admire entrepreneurs who refuse to let the excitement of a new business sway their judgment when it comes to personal finance. In my experience, those entrepreneurs who stick to their principles become more than just successful businessmen and women — they become leaders in their community. And we need leaders like that — leaders who have a strong sense of personal responsibility, and who will take the motto “borrow from none,” and apply it whenever possible to our state and local governments.

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