Entrepreneur in a Box

Written by Art Decker

Since the recession began, my respect for mothers has shot way up. I have met dozens of resourceful moms who are using their skills, creativity, and American entrepreneurial spirit to earn an income to help sustain their families. In many cases, the income they earn through the businesses they start is a second income — these moms were already working hard. But some of their businesses thrive and do so well that they allow mothers to quit their first jobs and work full-time as business owners.

Since I work in the self-storage industry, the entrepreneurial mothers I meet are using self-storage to support their businesses. At first I was surprised to see how many ways there are to use self-storage to promote a business. I began keeping a list of the business ideas our tenants were coming up with. I call it, “business in a box.”

Business in a Box

Here are some of the ways that I see moms using self-storage to support their small businesses:

  • Interior design warehouse: One of my other tenants is an interior designer — and a stay-at-home mom. As an independent contractor, she makes appointments with her clients, as well as with architects and other contractors, for those times when she can meet with them, keeping in mind her children’s schedules as well as her own work schedule. She does a lot of work at home, on her computer, where she has CAD (computer-aided design) software, but she also uses one of our units to hold everything from carpet, paint chip, and window treatment samples, to sample cabinets, bookshelves, closet doors…you name it. She specializes in “green” workspaces, so she stores a lot of unique materials, such as paint and carpet samples that are chemical free and hypoallergenic, and drapes that are made from plants that have a smaller than average carbon footprint, such as hemp and bamboo.
  • Artists’ studio: Believe it or not, several of our tenants are artists. We have a potter, a painter, and a stained glass maker. I never realized that arts and crafts work is seasonal, but it is. Our artists work all winter producing as much as they can. They store their finished canvases, glass window hangings, pots and sculptures all winter. Then, in the summer, they began fair-hopping. In addition to storing their finished products in self-storage units (and in some cases using the units as studios), they also store tables and shelves to use in art fair booths. One, who likes her customers to have shelter from the rain or sun, stores a canvas tent that she takes to all her fairs.
  • Pet groomer: I was skeptical when a young woman came to me asking if she rent a self-storage unit for her pet-grooming business. I explained that our units don’t contain any plumbing — certainly not sinks or tubs. But it turned out that she needed a place to house a trailer full of grooming supplies. Like our seasonal artists, she had started a business that involved going to pet shows. Many dog owners run out of grooming products when they are preparing their dogs for a show, and need a last-minute place to buy supplies. Others use pet shows as a chance to stock up on items that they will need in the future. Still others relied on freelance pet groomers at shows to groom their dogs for them prior to a show. On show days, this young woman would arrive at her self-storage unit, hook her trailer to her car, and off she’d go.
  • Self defense classes: I met a mom one day who has a black belt in Seido karate. Becoming concerned about the young tweens in her neighborhood who were reaching an age where they were at risk for sexual assault, she offered to teach a self defense class to her local Girl Scout troop. That went so well, and so many women and girls in the neighborhood begged her to teach more classes, that she decided to look for a space. I think she would have given up, but she met another mom who teaches yoga out of her storage unit and decided to try using a storage place as a self defense classroom. She brought in mats and a heavy bag, as well as boards for breaking. Now she teaches class three nights a week (she works at a local bank during the day) to about ten women and girls at a time. She charges a fee of $10 per class (which is fairly reasonable in the fitness industry). At that rate, if she teaches one basic and one advanced class each, three times a week, and has 8-10 students each time, she is bringing in at least $1920 per month, and sometimes as much as $2400. Guess what she does when she goes on vacation? She downgrades to a very small unit, just large enough to hold the mats, heavy bag, boards, and any other gear she needs to store. Then the next month, or whenever she’s ready to teach again, she upgrades back to the larger unit, taking advantage of our month-by-month leasing structure.

I am continually amazed by the ways in which small business owners — men and women — use self-storage. I’m told, though, that women have an advantage — if you can have your business certified as “woman-owned,” you may be able to qualify for special grants or loan programs. Combine a grant with a self-storage facility that offers the first month of rent free, and you may have the capital you need to start a wonderful new business.

Art Decker is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including a Texas self-storage locator. Art leads a busy life, but enjoys meeting new people and interacting with customers when traveling between sites, like from Austin to the Dallas self-storage center.

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