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September 10, 2019
StoragePug Client Feature: Spaceman Self-Storage
Here at StoragePug, we are pretty excited about Portable Storage.
A lot of what people know us for is developing responsive and clean websites - we see these location and company websites as a natural extension of a company’s brand, mission, and interests.
Portable self storage, in similar regards, is very much a natural extension of what traditional facility-based self storage offers.
StoragePug wanted to learn as much as possible about portable storage as a development in the industry - so I tasked myself with finding and digesting as much information as possible.
I quickly got to the end of the road of portable content. As exciting as an added convenience for customers and an additional revenue channel is, there just weren’t many outlets answering real questions about this sector of self storage.
Luckily, StoragePug has landed nothing but personable customers that are always willing to help us understand as much as we can to serve the industry better. Because of this confidence, I reached out to one of our very own clients, Charlie Washington, who chose StoragePug to optimize his exclusively portable operation, Spaceman Self-Storage.
Charlie is not only the owner but also the managing operator of Spaceman located near Brunswick and Bath in Massachusetts right along the coastline.
Before Charlie got into the self storage game, his past life is actually what brought him directly to portable storage. He was a commercial real estate appraiser that spent time looking over plots of land and crunching the numbers to establish value.
Many of these plots of land were home to traditional fixed storage facilities. Charlie started to notice that many facilities were “maxed out” on their available real estate.
He saw a trend that the most successful facilities he visited were ones that offered portable containers on the little extra space that they did have. The ability to stack containers was paving the road to growth despite being hindered by the lack of space these facilities had.
Even though Charlie was prequalified for our conversation because he is a fantastic customer and person, we also wanted to make sure to talk to him for another reason: He is doing things right.
At the time of this conversation; Spaceman had all of their portable containers out for rentals.
His inventory was completely booked.
Charlie further communicated that up to this point in his business; he has yet to have a customer become delinquent.
He is selling mobile units and keeping people so happy that they are making sure to uphold their end of the deal.
Although Charlie Washington believes he is taking a crash course into self storage with Spaceman, because it’s a relatively new operation, you can still gather after talking with him that you’re dealing with a thoughtful individual.
Before I ever picked up the phone, I riffled through the Spaceman Self-Storage website.
I had most of the industry-specific questions lined up, but I wanted something from his site to spark more personal question ideas. My attention was eventually drawn to a subtle photograph featured on the “About Me” section.
The image is of a bundled up hiker looking to the horizon at the peak of a snowy hill. The image is not storage related whatsoever. It’s just a nice lifestyle picture of a real moment experienced by a real person.
I like this image because I know that our clients usually pick the photos, which means Charlie decided to show this to potential clients on purpose.
I also like the image because it’s the opposite of what I’ve noticed as a standard in the self storage industry. So much self storage imagery shows boxes and trucks and buildings - typical, impersonal stuff.
It’s my belief that customers will resonate more with lifestyle imagery and photography, and I think the industry should move more towards the style Charlie uses.
This one image stuck out to me and would reflect our conversation well when I got off the phone with Charlie. To me, this picture and my conversation with Charlie confirms that Spaceman really cares about the customers and the community.
During our conversation, we touched more on the topic of community, and the conclusion that Charlie is aware of what he wants Spaceman to be for people who find him and his services.
It was more in-depth than just choosing a photo that reflects his customers and putting it as the header of his “About Me” page.
The name Spaceman, itself, was a look towards the future. Charlie used the name and brand to communicate that he is more than just an address in his community; Spaceman is a solution.
Although Charlie relishes in the importance of community, we talked about the reality that communities are more than just the name of their location; these locations and the people that inhabit them change as well.
Charlie considered going the route of naming his portable operation Bath Self Storage, a path that many self storage companies go. For Charlie, this was too general.
As he grows his business steadily, he would rather have a brand for his community that is timeless and not tied to a physical address. Charlie is less concerned with the community knowing where he operates and more concerned with providing an experience that members of his community would talk and tell others about.
Charlie believes future generations will need self storage, and Spaceman will be an applicable and quality service when that time comes.
One of the most redundant parts of the available portable storage content I came across initially was getting a good profile for people in the market for a portable container. You see the word convenient a lot, but an argument could be that - everyone - is looking for more convenience.
With Charlie being not only the owner but the voice on the other end of the phone to his clients, he painted for me a picture of real people who are calling him.
Charlie said that Spaceman provides over 50% of its rentals to home renovators and the builders that help make some of these projects possible. Home renovations are an area portable self storage can aid in, but I would not have guessed the percentage would be that ubiquitous.
Charlie went on to try and explain this number by stating that being so close to the coast lets Spaceman be an option to people converting summer coast cottages into forever homes.
That real estate is prime.
People who purchase these cottages as getaways come to a point in life where they renovate these vacation homes to become their retirement destination.
These people, as well as any hired builders, love portable containers to organize the job site for what ends up being a lengthy conversion process to make these second homes become dream homes along the coast.
The rest of Charlie’s portable rentals are made up of locals that actively sought out this type of storage because of its quality and unique ability to solve problems.
Because Charlie is active in the whole sales and rental process, he can obtain a decent amount of personal information from his customers.
His clients include business partners that use a portable container to store grains for their craft beer company indefinitely.
Another client is a local dentist who is passively renovating his home. The dentist found such a deal on bulk windows that he decided to rent a mobile unit to store them until he is ready to install them.
An example of a temporary rental was when Charlie told me he had donated a few portable units to a local library for a fundraiser.
The library was wanting to donate excess books to summer readers. The library expected such a high volume of kids for the event that they reached out to Spaceman to see if a container could accommodate this activity. Charlie loved the cause for aligning with the community. So much so, he decided to donate a suitable sized container.
The summer book giveaway was a success.
I loved hearing these snapshots of real people able to find and work with Charlie to fulfill the dreams they had.
The real dreams of running a unique beer business successfully; taking advantage of the window deal of the century for a dream home; and delivering quality books to the hungry minds of vacationing students.
StoragePug works closely with owners and operators; therefore, it’s always interesting to hear about trends and find common problems to solve down the road.
Due to our belief that portable storage will become an enduring part of our industry - my initial task of learning as much as I could included identifying problems portable operators faced. Because it’s a newer concept than fixed storage, the amount of content looking to connect with struggling individuals and operators is low.
A big part of preparing for my conversation with Charlie was to ensure I had questions ready to ask so I could learn more about the hurdles of starting Spaceman.
Charlie, an attentive person with expertise in real estate and a knack for genuine customer service, did have challenges at the beginning.
All things worth doing will have some opposition, and if we know about them, then we can prepare. Other times, we have to be adaptable and decisive so that we can conquer the problems that come seemingly from out of nowhere.
To better draw insight from Charlie’s experiences, I will classify these portable incidents as either expected or unexpected.
An expected challenge Charlie admitted was Spaceman was going to have to figure out how to deliver these containers. The containers were officially on site, and now it was time to use tangible dimensions to figure out how to feasibly get each container onto the average truck bed, secure them, and send them to their destination.
Charlie lined up a trucking company with some drivers, so they drove one of their company trucks to his lot. Now that all facets of the delivery process were in the same place to compare, Charlie decided to create a system where the driver equips the container with sets of wheels. The container could then be moved onto the truck bed relatively smoothly and without much labor.
Charlie decided to have custom tires and wheels made. The first set of wheels did not work. The second set of wheels did not work, and so on. Finally, Charlie designed and sourced the perfect wheels and tires so he could get containers on the truck bed and have them on and off in a satisfactory amount of time.
Spaceman was always going to have to be able to deliver the portable containers, but how to do it was the challenging part. The difficulty was piecing together what truck the company drove, the ability and limitations of the wheels then training drivers.
With the delivery system operational, Spaceman was able to schedule rentals and deliver containers to customers.
However, this was the moment when the unexpected issues came up.
Spaceman was fully functional. Charlie is taking calls, asking and answering questions, planning deliveries, scheduling rental windows, and even accompanying drivers on delivers.
The rentals became so consistent though that Charlie wasn’t always able to help unload containers from the truck. His absence led to a discovery that when he wasn’t on the deliveries, the drivers were lacking. They were not always mindful enough to do the best job or treat the customers to Charlie’s standards.
Charlie had decided to conscript a trucking company with a revolving door of drivers to handle his deliveries. However, the inconsistency of who was driving and low investment of knowledge into Charlie’s operations was going to cause long term problems.
Charlie informed me that even though that discovery was troubling, it led Spaceman to a new business relationship that he prefers.
Charlie spent time talking to locals to find a reliable person to hire. He ultimately found a gregarious person that he could trust to carry his brand and uphold his standards. Charlie now employs this person, a local wrecker, for his deliveries.
There were moments of transition; making sure the custom wheels would work with his truck and training a new person to the delivery system. Regardless, Charlie believes their relationship is an equitable one, finding a pleasant person to compensate with a specialized vehicle, a specific operating skill, and time to offer.
This new partnership is further proof that Charlie wholly believes in his community. He strives to be a person that gives equal value back to whomever he works alongside.
This next unexpected issue is less of a challenge and more of an annoyance.
Spaceman’s initial portable container order was a specific manufactured brand. Charlie made custom wheels to fit them and began renting them out. As rentals increased, Charlie decided to order his next wave of inventory.
Having now operated his business for a little bit, he now had more resources and with that more options. For his second wave of containers, he ordered a different manufactured container emboldened with the Spaceman branding.
Charlie said that when he finally was able to compare them against each other, he was a believer that he had made the right choice.
The more time he has both in inventory circulation, the more glaring the comparison becomes. Charlie feels his original containers are too inferior.
He said that he cannot wait for the day when all of his inventory is uniform and comprised solely of the newer container style.
Although Charlie has found containers that he is thrilled with, he now doesn’t know what to do with the old ones. Will he retire them as personal containers, will he resell them, or what can he do?
It was really cool to speak with Charlie candidly about the ongoing importance of finding and selecting the right containers for one’s purposes.
With most of the discussion about potential metaphorical fires and putting them out behind us, I wanted to use any conversation downtime with Charlie extracting secret tricks from a real operator.
While asking this question about tips, tricks, or industry secrets, Charlie quickly brought me back down with a rational explanation. Although there are some tips for a smooth delivery, Charlie believes the key to success is genuinely caring about your customers.
Charlie extrapolated that when he is on a call with a potential customer, he tries to ask as many questions as there are questions for him.
If he can communicate clearly and figure out why someone is calling, then he can realize if portable is the right solution for them. Charlie would rather spend time educating individuals about options and instill confidence in customers that they are choosing a valuable resource with Spaceman.
Charlie then explained that the one tip he did have came from a realization after several deliveries. He realized that most people could not visualize a container until it was at their front door.
He clarified that even though people could explain why they needed a container or how they were going to use it - customers just didn’t consider where they wanted the container on their property or which way it should face.
Charlie communicated that this is a tip because, with these considerations in mind, the container can be loaded more correctly so that customers can actually have more utility and accessibility.
If a customer doesn’t think about what space the container will physically occupy until it has arrived, then a few factors can come into play.
Maybe the customer has to spend unnecessary time clearing a driveway for the truck or the container.
Maybe the decision to save time means clogging up a neighborhood street without consulting or informing neighbors.
Maybe apathy forces the driver to make a decision that results in a difficult move that causes property damage.
Furthermore, if a customer decides the best place for a container, then that can be communicated to Charlie. Spaceman can then load the delivery truck accordingly so that the door opens closest to the customer’s property, which means everything is as efficient as possible.
This tip may seem small, but it equates to optimizing a customer’s experience with the product. Now that Charlie knows this is a hurdle for the customer, he actively asks for customer’s preferences so to diminish the chance for a bad experience.
After our conversation, I knew Charlie would immediately get back to work to make up for the massive chunk of time I had usurped from his daily tasks. Our discussion was on a Monday, so both of our weeks were ahead of us.
His week would be infinitely busier than mine.
Charlie mentioned that with his inventory out for rentals, one of his priorities was purchasing another wave of units.
* He has updated me since our phone call to confirm that he officially has twelve more units in the Spaceman fleet.
Additionally, Charlie is building a traditional facility. I am sure his life as a real estate appraiser will help to make this experience be a profitable one. Charlie emphasizes though that portable is still very much towards the front of his mindset, even with the new facility.
His dream is to design a covered warehouse that is vented and built to accommodate stacked containers on the facilities site. Hopefully, Charlie can learn from the mistakes of facilities with “maxed out” land and grow as much as he wishes with both fixed and portable storage.
Charlie of Spaceman Self-Storage is a customer-centric individual that believes portable is a quality option. He believes that with the amount of information in the world, more people are going to commit themselves to learn everything they can before making a decision.
This mentality of a younger and faster world will reward individuals by being confident they are always finding the best option for themselves.
For self storage, it’s entirely possible that more people will come to believe that portable is that best option. If you’re in Massachusetts, I was convinced that Spaceman portable storage can be the best option for you. This belief was confirmed by speaking with Charlie Washington, a man I know strives to better himself and those around him to offer a solution.
I think Charlie became this way because he seems to forge himself in a theme of trial and error.
A trial and error seen through his actions to purchase different manufactured containers, try them both out, and come to an insightful conclusion to satisfy his needs.
Charlie experienced trial and error when he decided to work with a delivery company then analyzed their performance whether he was around or not. He used the information to decisively improve his operating quality by reframing his criteria for a driver and found a local driver.
A final observation that illustrates Charlie’s desire to immerse himself, learn, and recalculate for the better is when he was branding Spaceman.
Charlie sourced his logo, container designs, and text copy from young, local artists. He was referred to them, not by industry acquaintances, but from members of the community. There is trial and error throughout these types of relationships and arrangements, so that everyone gets something out of it, which ends with a superior product.
“I try to seek out and work with the younger generation in my community because when you work with young people, you get cool stuff.”
This quote highlights Charlie’s industrious attitude and belief in the others he works alongside. He seeks out opportunities to learn and try new things because it will result in success.
It’s this vision that led Charlie Washington of Spaceman Self-Storage to StoragePug. He said he decided to work with us because he “liked our new blood.” He knows that we are hungry and wanting to better ourselves too through all our experiences with our clients.
StoragePug cannot appreciate him enough, and neither can I for the chance to talk about the real issues of portable storage that were eluding me.
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