There's ongoing debate in the self-storage industry over the issue of mobile storage. Is it an add-on service that can help your business, or downright competition for your customer base? I think the answer is both. But now there may be a new competitor on the horizon: your residential neighbors.
I recently read an interview with Homstie in the Technology News Examiner. Marketed as "a place for space," Homstie is a new service launched in December 2008 that matches consumers who have space in their homes to rent with folks who need to rent it. Person A has vacant space in an attic, basement, garage, closet, etc., and lists it on Homstie. Person B searches available space, applies for it and, if accepted by Person A, gets to move in. You can browse for space by region or by school, and at present, there are 107 listings in all regions. Prices are all over the map; I saw a closet in Peoria, Ariz., being rented for $4 per month. The listings tell you about the domicile, the space, accessibility, cost and more.
With only 100 listings nationwide, I don't consider Homstie to be real competition for self-storage at this time; but bear in mind the service has only been available for four months. Obviously, there is interest from consumers, and the owner is making it a goal to create partnerships and stronger marketing for his service.
I thought this was interesting though: All of the Google ads being displayed on the website are for self-storage. Hmmmm. Good for us? Not necessarily. Users will no doubt weigh price and amenities in the comparison equation. In a "normal" economy, security, retail products and other self-storage features might tip the scale. In a down economy, Joe Schmoe's garage up the street looks pretty darn good.
In fact, Homstie was born out of a financial quandry. During his third year at UCLA, founder Chuck Gordon was going to study abroad in Singapore for a year. Self-storage would have cost him about $8,400 ($700 per month for a 10x30—you tell me if this sounds right?). Instead he moved his stuff into empty garages, living rooms and closets about town.
I don't know about you, but the thought of entrusting my goods to some stranger who might a) sell it, b) skip town with it, c) have kids who pilfer it, d) have dogs who pee on it (and the list goes on and on) does not give me peace of mind. Yes, home-style storage may be cheaper, but it also comes at great risk. For example, is there insurance for the goods? Renting through Homstie does involve the signing of an eight-page lease agreement, which, I'm sure, addresses most if not all of these concerns. But I'm not clear on whether a potential lawsuit would ensue between renter and landlord and Homstie's role if any disputes arise.
I have to tip my hat to Gordon for the enterprising concept, and I'll be curious to see where the venture leads. Personally, I'll be watching it over the next several months. Is Homstie your next serious competitor? Check the listings and see if there are spaces to rent in your area. If there are some, what, if anything, will you do about it? What are your immediate impressions?