Storage units via Flickr user Chealsea Gomez.
Storage units via Flickr user Chelsea Gomez.

On-demand. The phrase once described cutting-edge video services for consumers with cable service, but the definition of on-demand has changed as on-demand has entered every corner of our culture and now is experiencing unprecedented growth across the U.S.

The change is led by on-demand ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, but also can be seen in same-day delivery space tested by Amazon and Google. Even fierce resistance from industry incumbents – as we saw here in San Antonio – is not enough to slow consumers’ increasing appetite for convenience.

Convenience has not expanded everywhere, however. Self-storage is an industry used by almost one in 10 American households, yet it does not serve everyone who needs storage. For example, apartment dwellers with busy lifestyles often find it too inconvenient to drive back and forth to a storage unit, or students may even lack the option to do so.

The scarcity of solutions is not due to the lack of trying. Storage on demand space has been proliferating with startups since 2007, and yet it hasn’t been successfully introduced to the general public. The main reason appears to be the cost associated with building a vertically integrated storage company with trucks, drivers and warehouses, but the unique operational challenges upon expansion should not be discounted, either.

We asked one of our customers to pose with a Remote Garage storage box. Notice the big smile. Photo courtesy of Remote Garage.
We asked one of our customers to pose with a Remote Garage storage box. Notice the big smile. Photo courtesy of Remote Garage.

This is where we come in with our storage on demand service, Remote Garage. Much like other on-demand services, we pick up customers’ belongings in boxes and store them securely. A customer pays by the box, and can get their items back whenever needed.

The main differential with industry incumbents comes from how we actually handle the operations. Unlike our competition, we are not building a vertically integrated company with trucks and warehouses; instead, we partner with an established industry that already has all these – document storage. This also allows us to offer something that no one else does at the moment: free pickups and deliveries.

Because of the increasingly paperless office, document storage companies have spare warehouse capacity, as well as existing trucks and drivers driving around major cities. These companies have decades of experience in going to a customer, picking up a box, and storing it securely.

From Helsinki to Los Angeles to San Antonio

We first came across the concept while building our first company, where I had to frequently travel between Los Angeles, London and Helsinki. I didn’t always have an access to a car, which proved difficult in trying to access my items from a storage unit. Having done consulting for the document storage industry for quite some time, I realized there was a huge opportunity to expand the existing business of servicing companies to the consumer side.

Around the same time, my fiancé accepted an offer to start medical school at the UT Health Science Center, and I soon found myself at the Louis Pasteur Drive near I-10 and 410 Connolly Loop.

Being perfectly honest, I first thought that the best place to start a storage company like Remote Garage would be in a dense, highly urban city. However, it turned out that San Antonio is in fact uniquely positioned with its’ fast-growing population and strong military ties, which generally results in a high need for storage.

Men and Women in the Military have been increasingly interested in on-demand storage options like Remote Garage. Shutterstock image via Remote Garage.
Men and Women in the Military have been increasingly interested in on-demand storage options like Remote Garage. Shutterstock image via Remote Garage.

This is also a city with extremely warm and welcoming people, and after googling “tech startups San Antonio”, the next thing I knew I was co-working alongside great startups such as, Parlevel, Pressable and TrueAbility at Geekdom.

From Beta-testing to Launch

After receiving an initial investment from the Rackspace Founders’ Geekdom Fund last December, we have been testing the service in San Antonio.

During the testing period, the majority of the consumer demand has been coming from apartment dwellers, military members and students. As a current customer Annie Poe summarizes: Bins were delivered to my apartment, and all I had to do was pack them and label them… I will never use a traditional storage unit again as long as I live in San Antonio.”

We work with apartment complexes as a viable alternative to on-site storage. Commonly heard feedback is that "this helps to keep our balconies clean." Shutterstock image via Remote Garage.
We work with apartment complexes as a viable alternative to on-site storage. Commonly heard feedback is that “this helps keep our balconies clean.” Shutterstock image via Remote Garage.

Interestingly, not only individual customers are signing up, but also the management at the apartment complexes have started to promote us. It turned out that the personnel in leasing offices see storage on demand as a viable alternative for on-site apartment storage, and thus end up featuring us as an amenity to their tenants.

In May, we were finally far enough to start talking to potential partners, and we are happy to announce we are partnering with one of the largest independent records management companies in the Southwest: Advanced Services Inc. They are a family-owned company having been in business for over 20 years, and I feel incredibly fortunate to learn from a company whose core philosophy is putting the customer’s interest always first.

Riding on a Trend?

This may look like we’re trying to “ride” on whichever trend that’s currently hot, but the way we look at it is different – the market timing.

When YouTube started, it was not only a great service, but also it benefited from two underlying trends: lower server costs, and increasing consumer bandwidths. Hosting companies like Rackspace brought down server costs by offering their customers the ability host their sites on the cloud, instead of having to resort to in-house infrastructure. From the consumer side, the Internet connections were getting faster and faster, while cost per gigabyte transferred kept going down.

Had these two trends not been intersecting, either YouTube would have run out of money trying to keep up with consumer demand, or they would not have been able to attract consumers with too slow connections for online video.

Storage on demand is in the intersection of several very current and important trends, namely the already mentioned on-demand transportation, but also urbanization and a recovering economy driving relocations. What is more, we are partnering with slowly declining industry of document storage, and hope that this will prove to be an attractive alternative for them to keep their industry relevant.

We are lucky to be positioned in the middle of such an interesting market, and we will be working extremely hard to earn customer trust and to eventually find ourselves among San Antonio’s next growth stories.

Remote Garage was recently accepted into the top Texas startup incubator, Capital Factory based in Austin. Currently, the company is running pilots with selected apartment management companies for civilians and military personnel alike. For more information email or call (210) 625-7925

*Featured/top image: Storage units via Flickr user Chelsea Gomez.

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Jaakko Piipponen is the founder and CEO of a storage on demand company Remote Garage, currently living in San Antonio, TX. He is a serial entrepreneur with previous experience from investment banking and...