As the work from home brigade continues to function out of their native towns, storage units come to their rescue, housing their precious belongings while they give up their rented accommodations in their cities of work
Marie Kondo may be trending on social media but here is a little secret. Did you know, there is a percentage that de-clutters their homes but stashes away their excesses: memorabilia, collectibles or just about any object they are attached to, in storage facilities? “People are attached to material things that they do not want to dispose,” says Ameya Davda who started Space Valet in Mumbai in 2017, along with his cousin Devak Davda. This sentiment was what the Davda’s business hinged on before the pandemic set in.
As lockdown started and offices shut, working professionals headed back to their hometowns to work from home. Many realised, it would be economical to give up their rented accommodations for the duration they were away. But what about their luggage: Furniture, appliances and other household goods? Ta-Da! “This is where the self storage facilities come in handy. It is a 50 billion industry in the US and is picking up in India now. A number of such storage facilities have opened during the lockdown,” says Ameya who has four storage units (two each in Bhiwandi and Sewri) in Mumbai. The largest, however, at 25,000 square feet, came up in the middle of the pandemic, given the demand.
Stownest Storage that started in December 2018 in Bengaluru, too saw an unprecedented increase in demand during the lockdown: It went from 100 in a month to 800. The founders — Sudhindra Subbarao, Amit Kumar, Srinivasa Murthy and Ramesh Chincholi — had a goal of opening in two cities by end of 2020. Fuelled by demand they launched their services in Hyderabad in August and in Chennai by November. We started getting calls from all over India and quickly needed to replicate our workforce and vendors, says Sudhindra, adding that Pune is their latest market. To facilitate faster service they started an estimation system online along with bookings through the app/website. This industry was growing at a predictable pattern — this included luggage from people relocating abroad for six months, families renovating houses, students and professionals migrating within the county — till the pandemic hit, he adds. Bengaluru houses their biggest store house at 1.5 lakh square feet. In Hyderabad it is 35,000 square feet and 12,000 square feet in Chennai. “We will be adding 15,000 square feet in Chennai every 75 days,” adds Sudhindra. Four hundred to 500 enquiries pour in everyday. These are from companies (who need a place to keep their office equipment as they are giving up their physical space) as well as working professionals.
“Even though the vaccine has come, and a few people are back at work, most are still working from home because companies want their employees to be safe. Plus some offices are opting for smaller offices to reduce their costs. So our unit is still at 85% occupancy and we expect it to remain this way till December,” says Ameya. After the pandemic too he is confident about business in Mumbai as the city has space issues and people live in houses as small as 400 square feet but have lots of belongings that they need to store somewhere. The monthly rent starts at ₹1,700 and can go up depending on the client’s requirements. “The idea is that clients pay only 10% to 15% of what they would as home rent,” explains Ameya.
Sure enough, this works as a competitive saving option. Aarka Banerjee, a legal professional with a multi-national audit firm in Hyderabad, says, thanks to these storage services, he would have saved almost ₹2.7 lakh on rent, by the time he goes back in June, when his office is tentatively scheduled to reopen physically. In early September, he left his rented accommodation in Kondapur (Hyderabad) and moved back to his family home in Kolkata. “I was paying ₹30,000 as rent for a two BHK. Now I just pay ₹3,000 per month to the storage unit,” says Aarka. There was also the option of carting his belongings back with him. With prices inflated because of the pandemic, that would have cost him around ₹45,000 both ways. In comparison this still works out more economical, he says. “It also helps that a personnel from Seacon Traders, where his worldly possessions are currently housed, calls every month giving updates about his belongings. It was safe even during the heavy rains in October,” adds Aarka.
Most storage services also offer insurance to their clients, the amount is usually included in the rent. Some people store expensive items such as art pieces, while some keep things that are of emotional value like old photographs or artefacts belonging to their parents. Drones, Dussehra idols, replica of football ground with players on it are some of the unusual things that clients store, says Sudhindra. Ameya says one of his US-based clients, a middle-aged gentleman, keeps his collection of action figures at Space Valet.
While we accommodate most things we do not allow cash, jewellery and perishable items, says Neha Sharma, assistant manager at Self Storage that has units in Gurugram and Noida. Interestingly, she adds that given the popularity of this segment quite a few people have also started fly-by-night versions of this service. These include people renting out a room in their house as a storage space. If only it were that simple, says Neha adding that at their warehouses everything is stored on top of pallets so as to protect from moisture. “In addition we do checks for fire hazard every fortnight and pest control every month. We have a duty manager who is present at the site 24/7.” She mentions that the items are neatly packed in three layers to maintain its original quality. “That’s why it was hardly a surprise, when one of our clients, who lives abroad, landed in Delhi, came to our storage unit, took out one of his festive garments, got dressed and went straight for a wedding!” laughs Neha.