If you run a small business, you know that finding space to do what you do can be hard. Many ventures begin in the house or the garage, quickly learning that it’s hard to keep work and family separate when they’re both housed at the same location. Products and documents often occupy space needed by the residents of the home, and those residents may often intrude on work time, putting their concerns at the forefront.
Renting an office, however, is frequently cost-prohibitive; you may be costing yourself thousands of dollars a month in overhead to run a business with one employee—you.
These days, though, many resourceful small business owners are finding a solution to this problem by moving to a more affordable space: a storage unit. From warehousing product to providing office space for a team of employees, businesses are making the most of a simple solution. But is it a good idea?
This guide will take you through four different kinds of business purposes people are using storage units for, and discuss whether or not it’s a smart choice.
Holding the title as the oldest business purpose for storage units, warehousing is still pretty common to this day. Businesses from eBay sellers to plumbers store goods and supplies in storage units when they have too much to keep at home, but not enough to rent a whole warehouse. It’s an economical solution, that keeps their property safe, yet available when needed.
“Warehousers” usually find themselves enjoying a mutually beneficial relationship with the storage facility managers, since they’re long-term customers who don’t typically need any special accommodations. Storing a bunch of construction tools, for instance, doesn’t require wifi, electricity, or air conditioning. What’s more, business customers like this tend to only need access during the day, which cuts down on complaints about needing access at odd hours.
The benefits to the renter are obvious: a safe, convenient place to store things they need to access regularly, at a price they can manage more easily. There’s even room to scale up, should business start booming. All-in-all, a good arrangement. If this is what you need a storage unit for, go for it.
As every work-from-home type can tell you, one advantage to a dedicated office space is having a quiet place to work, uninterrupted by family concerns. The problem is the cost of traditional office space; it’s difficult to afford beneath a certain threshold of company size and income—something that has vexed freelancers and small business owners alike. That’s why, just like warehousers, “office spacers” are turning storage units into office rentals to meet their needs.
There are some issues with this strategy, however. A basic storage unit lacks several amenities that would normally be considered must-haves for an office rental—amenities like electricity and internet connection. There’s also the issue of climate control: basic units don’t have it, meaning it with either be too cold in the “office,” or too hot. What’s more, there’s no bathroom.
Those are just the basic needs. That doesn’t cover secondary business needs like conference rooms, package pickup and delivery, and parking. And lastly, there are some zoning concerns to be aware of, which might make the arrangement a violation of local municipal ordinances.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that it isn’t a good idea. Storage centers have begun accommodating for office spacers, providing the amenities that regular unit usually lack. First and foremost, climate controlled units have been available for a number of years, usually for an increased price.
But it doesn’t end there. Managers have been adding outlets and wifi to their facilities in select units, and some have built additional business space into their main office buildings, including additional bathrooms and conference rooms. And quite frequently, they’re accepting postage and packages for their renters.
The bottom line here is that if you intend to turn a storage unit into an office space, you need to do a little bit of shopping around. Be sure to ask management about these features and amenities, and clarify what’s permissible per the zoning codes. Make sure the facility you choose to use has what you need, and don’t try flying under the radar, as the first call to the cops could mean the end of your fledgling business.
In some cases, those who work with their hands have been using storage units as a place to practice their craft. Renters do everything from blowing glass, to repairing engines, to arc welding. For those who run their own business and can’t afford a full-size shop, it can seem like the perfect setup, especially if the facility has taken care of some of the amenities like electricity and bathrooms.
Here’s where we start having some bad news, though. Just like basic units aren’t really set up to serve as office spaces, they’re not really built to handle power tools or work that would require a hot permit. Storage units aren’t properly ventilated for work that involves noxious gases, smoke, or exhaust. They also tend to be built less fire resistant that other businesses, since the building codes don’t require it. That means, in the event that your blowtorch starts a fire, there’s not much in place to stop it.
There’s also the concern of injury and emergency—if something happens to you while you’re in your unit and you need help, you may have trouble getting it. Onsite managers and fellow renters alike are unlikely to know that you’re in your unit and less likely to be aware you need help. If you’re rendered unable to use your own phone to call 911 there’s no backup. Even if you can reach 911, gates for self storage facilities frequently need access codes to unlock, which can either keep them out or at least lose you valuable time.
The fact is, self storage facilities just aren’t built with these professions in mind. Storing tools and spare parts, sure. But there’s no way of knowing if you’re welding right next to a unit where someone’s storing all of their business’s old tax paperwork. Add the zoning issues to that, and you’re asking for a lot of trouble by housing your business in a storage unit.
Lastly, in our discussion of things you should or shouldn’t do with a storage unit, you have “storefronters”: people who use their unit as an actual location for customers to come and exchange money for goods or services. While obviously not as dangerous as industrial work it still brings with it certain concerns that need to be addressed if you intend to run a viable business.
Zoning is, again, an issue here, so be sure you check with management before opening up shop. Parking is also a concern, since most storage facilities don’t tend to have spacious parking lots. Amenities like bathrooms, electricity, and internet may or may not be available. The biggest concern, however, is letting the customers in.
Storage facilities these days tend to have gate codes to restrict access to the units for added security. While some older establishments still just open the gate in the morning and close it at night, automated gates have quickly become the norm. This creates a problem for any business that wants customers to come directly to their unit.
The easiest solution is for the business to share their gate code publicly, allowing customers to get through the gate and reach them at the unit. This solution creates a security loophole, though, as a publicly accessible gate code undermines the whole gate code system, potentially giving access to anyone who wants in (including potential thieves). And when it’s being advertised by a business that keeps valuable items in a unit with a number that’s also advertised, it practically paints a bulls-eye on the business.
It’s a huge security concern that renters will have a hard time answering. However, some savvy self storage facilities are accommodating for these businesses too, providing specialized storefront units with easier public access, thereby preserving the security of the other units. The setup varies, depending on the facility, but all of them aim to maintain security while providing their renters with units that can serve the functions they need it for.
In other words, just like the office spacers, you’ll want to shop around before you open up shop.
In the end, determining whether a storage unit is the right space for your small business can be difficult, so your best bet is to ask an expert. Talking to someone in the business, like the pros at Simply Self Storage, can help you pin down just what your business needs, and help you find a place that provides it. With a little help, you could be lifting the door on your own business in no time.