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Mobile Maneuvers

October 1, 2002

3 Min Read
Mobile Maneuvers

EVER THE PAST YEAR, MOBILE STORAGE, often provided by self-storage facilities as an adjunct, is making a significant impact on the marketplace. "We are seeing a coming together of four industries--mobile storage, large 40-foot containers, public storage and moving and van lines--creating an almost brand-new industry," says Pat Bolton, managing partner for SAF-T-BOX Manufacturing, a manufacturer of portable storage units.

Although SAF-T-BOX mainly rents large 10- to 40-foot boxes, Bolton notes the company's 5-by-8 units are generating a lot of interest. "We are getting calls from contractors looking for small boxes, and small-box users looking for big boxes." Customers are renting warehouses, or building new warehouses for mobile storage. Former retail facilities, such as closed-down Kmarts, make more efficient use of the property when remodeled for mobile storage than if used for conventional retail space, Bolton says.

Mobile storage provides excellent opportunities for entrepreneurs. "A person or group can get into this business--I won't say inexpensively--but a lot easier than spending the kind of money it takes building a conventional self-storage," he says. "Over the past few months, we've talked to 10 or 15 people who are getting into this small-box business."

Mobile storage is also a good way for self-storage owners to enhance their businesses. Boxes don't even have to be stored inside. If the facility has any perimeter space that cannot be used, such as a zero-lot line, the boxes can be stacked up to that point. But Bolton does offer some cautionary advice: "The pure self-storage people aren't really embracing this because they see this as a threat, and this is one of those things that is going to roll right over them."

Mobile is here to stay, affirms James B. Wayman Jr., CEO for Store to Door LLC, a Massachusetts-based mobile-storage company. "Over the past year, we've seen a 300 percent increase in competition," Wayman says. "And I think it's great." Although Store to Door serves six major metropolitan areas in the Northeast, Wayman sees this increase as a sign the mobile-storage industry can compete and is taking market share away from fixed locations.

The increase in competitors has really catapulted the awareness of mobile storage in the public's eye. "Our competitors are doing all the advertising," he laughs. "We are getting calls for containers, and people say they saw us on TV. Except we don't have a TV ad yet."

Despite the competition, Store to Door is boasting a 90 percent to 95 percent occupancy rate. "We are dedicated to the business-to-business customer," Wayman says. "Since in excess of 40 percent of our customers are businesses, turnover is very low." He is not afraid of the competition. "The more people that get in it, the better. The profitability will prove itself."

For those considering getting into mobile self-storage or adding 40-foot containers to their facility, now may be the ideal time--prices are way down. "The market has been pretty flat," says Curtis Sepulveda, marketing manager for Southwest Mobile Storage Inc. The Arizona-based company manufacturers large mobile containers, portable offices and cargo containers. It also provides the self-storage industry with turnkey modifications to its large containers by adding partitions and roll-up doors.

"The container industry has gotten very competitive," Sepulveda explains. "There is an influx of containers from countries such as China that are staying stateside because we don't have enough exports sending containers back. This has driven the price of containers to an unbelievably low point." As a result, it has become more affordable to rent or buy containers. For example, a raw container purchased a year ago may cost $3,000, but now it costs $2,000.

"It has gotten more affordable, and we pass those savings on to our customers," Sepulveda says. And that's good news for self-storage owners. As customers become aware of the convenience of mobile storage, the industry needs to respond to the demand. For existing self-storage facilities looking to add ancillary services or entrepreneurs looking for a new business, it appears mobile self-storage offers several positive elements.

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