A new kind of storage

March 11, 2019

Toward the end of the spring term, DePaul students typically pack up whatever belongings they have from their dorms or apartments and take them home for the summer. They may leave their other items in a storage unit if the place they call home is a long way away from Chicago.

But not everyone, including college graduates, can meet the financial requirements or specific dates that different storage facilities offer. These factors are why 42-year-old Chicago native Sean Sandona founded Doorage.com, a storage solutions company, in Feb. 2018. The now-CEO launched the student program in April 2018.

Doorage.com differentiates itself from the general storage business model in that it charges its customers in the Chicago area on the cubic volume in boxes that they use instead of charging them for a room of storage space. Aside from catering to students, Doorage.com also does business and residential storage.

“You get small bins. You can photo everything that’s in there, and we take it away from your dorm and we bring it back to your next housing when fall move-in is happening,” Sandona said. “It takes all [of] the headaches out of it. We did great with students, so we really targeted our business aggressively towards students.”

The first month of storage is based on the number of days left in the month. New customers only pay for storage based on the pickup date until the end of the month and then it renews on the first on the month at the full monthly storage rate. The only minimum is the first pro-rated month and the renewal on the first full month.

On average, college students spend about $60 to $70 per month in storage with Doorage.com.

Storage starts at $1 per cubic foot for up to 50 cubic feet, and the average box is four cubic feet. The larger volume you store, the price continues to drop per cubic foot. Comparably, the average monthly cost of a self-storage unit in the U.S. is $91.14 as of Dec. 2018.

Sandona came up with the business model for Doorage.com following a history of having a handful of storage units for many years that had been broken into and damaged. It became evident to Sandona that he could not get out of the traditional storage unit model trap.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Sandona started his first company when he was 15 years old before starting two more companies while he was in college at Northeastern Illinois University and after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Graphic by Annalisa Baranowski for the DePaulia

While taking a trip to Las Vegas a few years ago, Sandona began brainstorming ideas after wondering how he could make the storage unit business less of a hassle for consumers. Perhaps the most important component of the industry that Sandona realized was missing that was not so evident in his experience was customer service.

Sandona then spent half a year planning before creating a concept for the business and spending a year in technology development.

“We know that with student business, there’s such a volume that student business makes us profitable in a market through the whole student season,” Sandona said. “So, we can pre-launch in January, hard-launch in February…and then we’re profitable in that market during the student storage months.”

The relatively new storage solutions company is expanding rapidly and has a strategy to grow to 50 markets nationwide. Doorage.com will be launching in Milwaukee and Madison , Wisconsin later this month.

Additionally, Doorage.com has looked into franchising, but its primary target will be university-specific markets that could not be disclosed. Aaron Pagel, an adjunct professor at DePaul who teaches an undergraduate economics course in business strategy, doesn’t see any harm in the model that Doorage.com is implementing.

“The fact that [Doorage.com] is focusing specifically on college students and the college market, I mean it makes sense,” Pagel said. “It’s a meaningful segment for sure. I think it’s probably something that I’d be curious if other competitors would come into this market as well once they show there’s value.”

The company doesn’t disclose the total number of facilities because self-storage units are one of the highest-targeted areas for criminals because there’s not a lot of monitoring. Furthermore, Doorage.com has non-disclosed locations because it is protected, so no one is allowed in except for the background check staff and employees. What Doorage.com can say, however, is that it has multiple facilities in the greater O’Hare district.

Eva Toon, a student at Elmhurst College, found Doorage.com to be helpful in aiding her with storage operations as an out-of-state student from Arizona.

“[Doorage.com] is a stress reliever,” Toon said. “The workers who helped carry all my stuff up three flights of stairs was one of the many helpful tasks they did. They went through protocol to double-check all items were secured within the boxes and for the items like my mini-fridge was nicely wrapped and protected.”

At the moment, it is not quite certain whether the model that Doorage.com utilizes can be duplicated across the storage industry by other moving equipment and storage rental companies such as U-Haul because of the numerous technological variables, such as security maintenance and storage unit codes, that go into the business model.

“All of that technology exists, but implementing it in the storage unit industry is questionable because most people, when they use storage units, aren’t necessarily putting everything in pre-defined boxes,” Pagel said. “From this market, the college market, I think it makes a lot of sense. The expansion of the industry moving forward, I think there’s a lot of market education that needs to be done for that to be a real thing.”

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