Jörg Schwarzrock of Store-Anything tells us about cheap storage spaces in sea containers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jörg Schwarzrock: Thanks for asking; I am glad everyone is healthy. The first couple of weeks of the first lockdown were quite a change, but my family, my team, and I now got used to the situation. We wear masks, we clean our rooms and wash our hands more often, and we don’t meet people as frequently in person anymore. But that’s a low price for being healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Store-Anything.
Jörg Schwarzrock: I am a chemist with an interest in and passion for economics and politics. So I enjoy building models and systems that make sense both economically and for society. Part of my studies I did in the US at Harvard University, where students often need to clear their room every term for the break, so renting storage is a common thing there – not so in Germany. The first time I got in touch with the self-storage industry in Germany was when I needed storage myself. I then learned how expensive and inconvenient the storage solutions available on the German market were. Hence, my co-founder Anton and I founded Store-Anything. We did not get it right the first time, though. Our product did not fit the German market, and after a bit more than a year, we gave up, just like most of our competitors with a similar service-oriented business model, and Anton focused on other projects. Sometime later, I, however, started focusing on the market again and built our first professional location south of Berlin in late 2016. In 2017 we expanded, backed by a crowdfunding campaign. In early 2019 we closed our first financing round of equity – et voila, now we are at the end of a pandemic, eagerly preparing to continue our expansion once the music starts playing again.
How does Store-Anything innovate?
Jörg Schwarzrock: We built a super lean product with completely transparent and highly automated processes. This way, we can offer our customers the best and most versatile solution on the market while offering 5 times as much space for the same price they would pay with our competitors. Our customers rent whole shipping containers on our locations just like a garage and are completely free to use them for their individual purposes, such as simple storage for moving, storing bicycles, machinery, or goods or even use it as a body shop for crafts or motorcycles. You would be surprised how amazingly creative our customers are. At its core, we’re a conservative, physical company that rents out storage. The product overall, however, is highly tech-enabled and would not have been possible 20 years ago.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jörg Schwarzrock: At the beginning of the crisis, there was a lot of insecurity. Luckily, no one in the company was infected with Covid-19. What caused us the most headache in Germany were measures taken by the government. Among others, a law was established allowing any person or business during the first lockdown to postpone the payment of their rent for up to three months, and landlords would not be allowed to terminate their rental contract. From a societal standpoint, this makes sense to make sure people and businesses can endure the worst economic downturn in decades. From our very individual standpoint, this posed the risk of zero revenue for several months. So just like most of the economy, we postponed our long-term expansion plans, got in touch very closely with our customers, and with very few understandable exceptions, most of our customers continued paying their rent. In the end, we are even lucky to say that self-storage is crisis-proof, and our storage space helps companies in distress, people who have to move to smaller apartments, or public agencies that need to prepare for crisis situations.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jörg Schwarzrock: As a precautionary measure, we decided to postpone our expansion goals and focus on developing our internal structures instead. This way, we could increase our reliability and efficiency of our processes. Despite all the insecurity in the market, however, we now know our business model is crisis-proof and will act accordingly if and when the next crisis hits.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Jörg Schwarzrock: Part of the software we use is our secret sauce, so I have to stay vague. The most important management technique we applied is frequent, direct, and transparent communication, i.e., on the one hand, communicating clearly what we do and don’t but also what we do not know and when we talk next. This includes weekly reportings, daily stand-ups, and when most of us were in-home office video lunches, Teamspeak, Google Meet, and all kinds of cloud software we are working with anyways.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jörg Schwarzrock: Our competitors are the typical self-storages and of course new companies who try to copy us. Overall, however, I believe the market is big enough for several players.
Your final thoughts?
Jörg Schwarzrock: The self-storage market is a quickly growing industry in Germany and far from being saturated. The next years will be exciting.