Two new online ventures designed to match people in need of storage with available space from homeowners could provide competition for self-storage operators. The two websites, RovingBox.com and StowThat.com, enable homeowners to advertise and be searched by potential renters for their available storage space. The bulk of promoted space is found in residential garages, according to sources.
Homeowners interested in renting out space through RovingBox can create a listing that includes photos and a description of the area for rent. They may also attach "House Rules" stipulating what renters may store and when they can access their goods. When someone makes a storage-booking request, the space owner can review the application and discuss details and concerns with the renter before confirming.
Once a booking request is confirmed and the renter moves his property into the space, RovingBox charges the renter’s credit card and deposits the rent payments into the homeowner’s banking or PayPal account.
“For the homeowner, it makes good financial sense, and renters benefit by having a storage space that is often more affordable and flexible than they’d otherwise get by signing a lease on a traditional storage unit,” said Zachary Price, co-founder of RovingBox. “Our service upends traditional self-storage business models by creating a marketplace where people can list and rent unused space. We are excited to help homeowners earn extra income, while providing renters with inexpensive and environmentally friendly storage options in their neighborhood.”
According to sources, both websites are trying to capitalize on the growing popularity of the “collaborative” or “sharing economy,” a method of using social media or online tools and technology to match buyers with consumers on goods and services such as room rentals, errand running, vehicle loaners, and now a form of self-storage.
StowThat creator Joseph Mele first tested his concept by renting out the individual garages of his own rental properties, which he says was successful. Formally set to launch this week, the company’s idea already has been praised by technology website TechCrunch and last month won a competition that enables StowThat to present at the tech site’s conference in San Francisco next month.
“We want to connect people who have stuff they want to keep with those who have room to spare and could use a little extra cash,” Mele said in an interview with technology website GeekWire.com, adding that the business model could expand to compete against traditional self-storage . “There are many different paths to go down, but we want to use the ‘lean startup’ concept—get out in the market and get close to customers to understand what they really want and need and expand as necessary from there.”
To establish some security measures and build trust between renters and homeowners, RovingBox offers a system that enables users to rate each other based on set criteria. Although the system enables renters and space owners to chat before confirming a rental, RovingBox also has a three-day guarantee through which renters can get their money refunded if they do not feel comfortable with the homeowner or space.
Security measures at StowThat also enable renters and homeowners to vet each other before entering a rental agreement. “Owners are required to create profiles both of themselves and their garages or other storage spaces before they can list, and each garage listing must have at least one photo of the unit,” Mele said, adding that renters also must create profiles before making a space request.
“Addresses and full names of owners are not displayed to potential renters until they have started the agreement process together,” he said. “Renters and owners can communicate via the website, and we encourage them to try and meet face to face before entering into an agreement. We also require payment through a third-party service, PayPal currently, so that transactions are secure.”
In addition, the site stipulates in its terms of service that certain items are restricted from storage, such as “flammable, explosive or stolen items,” Mele said. “[Homeowners] are required to provide a secure, locked unit that is accessible only to the renter and the owner. The owner must notify the renter if [he is] going to enter the storage area or have to move any of the stored materials. Renters are not allowed to be on any other part of the owner’s property without permission.”
In terms of liability, Mele said homeowners are generally covered from damages via their home-insurance policies, but StowThat intends to offer renters insurance options at some point. “For now, we encourage renters to have their own insurance for their goods if they are of high value,” he said.