Every time I try my hand at a new business everyone thinks I’m shutting MWI down or quitting MWI or something like that, so let me make the disclaimer that nothing is changing with MWI. MWI continues to do high-end SEO work, as ever, but I’ve always got side projects going on here and there, some related to SEO, some not. This latest one is the best one, in my opinion, but it’s in an industry I never would have been expected to get involved in–self storage.

The funny thing is that half the time when I tell people I’m involved in the self-storage industry they think I’m talking about computer data backup, like Carbonite. I then explain “I’m talking about those buildings made out of cinderblocks where you put all the stuff you can’t fit in your garage.” Very old school, not exactly cutting edge technology, although the self-storage industry uses some cool tech. But it all comes down to providing a secure box to put stuff in.

It’s easier to understand why I got into the self-storage space if  you know a little history.

A few years ago MWI landed some work with Extra Space Storage, the second largest self-storage company, with several hundred locations. A year or so after we did that work, we were contacted by Centershift, a company that provides management software for the self-storage industry. They’re also here in Utah, and I think they saw that we had done this other project for Extra Space, so they gave us a call, figuring we had at least a little experience in self-storage, which is more than most web design/online marketing firms.

Centershift’s problem was that they make management software for self-storage, but they don’t make websites for self-storage companies. “So?” you ask, “Why is that a problem?” It’s a problem because all their customers were asking them to make them websites. Centershift’s software can be integrated into a website, so Centershift’s customers were coming to them and saying “We’d like to have your software integrated into our website, how much do you charge for that? In fact, can you just design and build our entire website?” Centershift had to respond “We don’t do that, we just make the software.”

So Centershift contacted us, and we arranged a partnership wherein we got up to speed on integrating Centershift into customer websites, and Centershift would refer their customers to us when the customers wanted integration services. It worked out well and we did some websites for some large self-storage companies. These websites cost anywhere from $30-100K to design and build, and our profit margins were surprisingly thin on those, even at those prices. It just took a lot of work to do all the customization clients wanted.

As we did this work and started promoting the work we had done in the self-storage industry on our website, we started to get a lot of calls from other self-storage companies asking us what we could do for them. The problem was that they only had one or two locations, and their budgets were often under $1,000. We would tell them “Well…our prices start at $20K for these websites, I’m not sure we can do anything for you…” and they would go away disappointed. We got so many of these phone calls and emails from smaller self-storage companies we decided to look into the industry a bit more.

What we learned is that the vast majority of self storage companies are small operators with 1-3 locations. It’s something like 90% of the industry. There are around 50,000 facilities in the United States, and about 35,000 companies. So the thought that came to mind was “What if we could create a system to launch websites of the same quality we’ve built for the big guys, but at a price the little guys can afford?” Long story short, that’s what we did.

The company we’ve formed to market these websites is Full Occupancy. We sell self-storage websites for $50/month. A self-storage company can get a new site in 24 hours. We’ll throw in the domain for free if they don’t have one. The $50/month website includes hosting. If they have a Centershift account the self-storage operator can have fully-integrated online reservation and billpay services on the website at no extra charge. The website comes with a free mobile version that is automatically updated as the normal site gets updated. Customers choose from a variety of designs and layouts and customizes the colors, photos, and content to match their other marketing materials. If they need help with that we’ll do it at no extra cost. There is no limit on the number of locations–if someone has a self-storage company with 100 locations they can use our website for $50/month and market all of them on it.

Then, if the customer is interested, we’ll also sell them online marketing packages at $125, $250, or $500 per month, per location.

The dream is to get a few thousand customers signed up. 5,000 customers paying $50/month = $250K/month. That’s a decent little business. Then let’s say we can get half of those to sign up for at least the $125/month marketing package. Now we’re at $562,500 per month. Not bad at all. Hey, this is easy, anyone want to buy this company right now for $3M? Sure, we’re just getting started and only have one customer paying us $50/month right now, but just look at those numbers! Ok, we’re still in the early stages. We haven’t even really proven the model yet, but our experience in the industry tells us we’re onto something. Over the next two months we’ll be going to tradeshows and doing advertising in industry mags, plus we have some referral partners like Centershift and others. So we’ll see where this goes. There are bound to be some rough spots as we iron out kinks in our processes, but we’ll learn with each new client and we already have a list of improvements and enhancements to make. It should be fun.