Dread­ing a move? These firms want to make it as seam­less as us­ing Uber.

In­vestors are lin­ing up for new com­pa­nies try­ing to ease mov­ing and de­clut­ter­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY AM­RITA JAYAKU­MAR am­rita.jayaku­mar@wash­post.com

Dread­ing a move this sum­mer? Here’s help: A new wave of start-ups is try­ing to bring the con­ve­nient user ex­pe­ri­ence pop­u­lar­ized by com­pa­nies such as Uber and Airbnb to the unglam­orous world of mov­ing and stor­age.

Ahand­ful of com­pa­nies, such as Boxbee, Clut­ter, MakeS­pace and Roost, have popped up in re­cent years, tar­get­ing the apart­ment-dwelling, smart­phone-wield­ing mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion. And ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists are bet­ting mil­lions that these new en­trants can rev­o­lu­tion­ize an old-school in­dus­try.

Take New York start-ups MakeS­pace and Boxbee. Both are pickup and de­liv­ery stor­age ser­vices. Cus­tomers can or­der boxes us­ing an app, pack their stuff and send it to a stor­age fa­cil­ity through the com­pany. In se­lect cities, the com­pa­nies will de­liver your stuff back to you for a flat fee. MakeS­pace, which calls it­self “the Drop­box of phys­i­cal stor­age,” builds a cat­a­logue of a per­son’s be­long­ings so that users can re­mem­ber what they put in stor­age and or­der an in­di­vid­ual box back when they need it. Boxbee of­fers a sim­i­lar ser­vice.

The idea for MakeS­pace was born in 2012 when co-founder Sam Rosen helped his then-girl­friend move be­long­ings into stor­age. Hur­ri­cane Sandy had de­stroyed most of her apart­ment, and the two had a hard time keep­ing track of her be­long­ings.

“I asked her where her snow boots were and she didn’t know,” Rosen said. “That’s when I said to my­self — imag­ine if a stor­age unit could be brows­able and search­able.”

MakeS­pace has raised $10.1 mil­lion from in­vestors in­clud­ing Up­front Ven­tures, Low­er­case Cap­i­tala nd ac­tor Ash­ton Kutcher’s ven­ture cap­i­tal firm A-Grade In­vest­ments. The com­pany re­cently ex­panded its de­liv­ery ser­vice to Washington and Chicago. MakeS­pace also has a paid de­liv­ery part­ner­ship with UPS across the coun­try, but the com­pany hopes to scale up its fixed-price ser­vice to 30 cities in the next few years, Rosen said. He de­clined to pro­vide de­tails about sales or prof­its.

Boxbee has raised more than $7 mil­lion since its launch in 2013. While Los An­ge­les-based Clut­ter, a stor­age start-up that also of­fers pack­ing ser­vices, has picked up $2 mil­lion.

Other start-ups are try­ing to re-think how peo­ple find stor­age. San Fran­cisco-based Roost fol­lows the Airbnb model, con­nect­ing peo­ple who want to rent out space in their homes to those look­ing for cheap stor­age op­tions. Austin-based SpareFoot is a Web site that lets peo­ple com­pare prices and book stor­age fa­cil­i­ties in their neigh­bor­hood. The start-up is backed by D.C.-based ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Revo­lu­tion Growth, among oth­ers.

“Peo­ple need stor­age in good times and bad,” said Chuck Gor­don, co-founder of SpareFoot and a Washington na­tive. “It’s a very large in­dus­try with a lot of room to grow.”

The U.S. mo­bile stor­age in­dus­try— as the sec­tor is of­fi­cially known — is worth $7.4 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port by re­search firm IBIS World.

Stor­age is de­pen­dent on the real es­tate mar­ket and oil prices. The in­dus­try took a hit dur­ing the hous­ing bust but has bounced back, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. A re­cov­er­ing hous­ing mar­ket and low oil prices are ex­pected to drive sales up by more than 6 per­cent in 2015, the re­port said. That’s why the stor­age in­dus­try is bustling. In­ter­na­tional play­ers such as Bri­tish-based Space­Ways and Aus­tralian com­pany Zippy Shell have en­tered the U.S. mar­ket in re­cent years, bank­ing on the fact that Amer­i­cans have a lot of stuff and will al­ways need some­where to put it.

For Zippy Shell, which de­liv­ers shell-like trail­ers to cus­tomers’ doorsteps, the move to Amer­ica was a sim­ple busi­ness op­por­tu­nity.

“When we came here in 2009, there were more stor­age fa­cil­i­ties in Tampa, Florida, than all of Aus­tralia,” said Rick Del Son­tro, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the com­pany’s U.S. oper­a­tions.

Zippy Shell is head­quar­tered in Georgetown and has more than 100 fran­chise lo­ca­tions across the coun­try. The com­pany chose the Dis­trict to serve as a hub for the com­pany’s East Coast oper­a­tions, Del Son­tro said.

“We love the city’s energy and how it’s grow­ing,” he said.

Zippy Shell has raised $25 mil­lion in a re­cent round of fund­ing, which it will use to buy back someof its fran­chise lo­ca­tions and build ana­tional brand, Del Son­tro said.

“Mov­ing and stor­ing are not fun,” he said. “We want to be seen as a com­pany that clearly un­der­stands that and can help.”

ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Sam Rosen says he dreamed up the idea forMakeS­pace when he was help­ing a girl­friend move. The ser­vice de­liv­ers boxes, picks them up, cat­a­logues the con­tents, stores them then re­turns them as needed.

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