The future of self-storage looks bright
"You often feel like you’re alone in a world of business where stuff often goes wrong, so hearing the challenges other leaders in the room were facing was reassuring. You realise ‘Hey, it’s not just us that goes through these things’” – Ben Cohn, Taxibox chief and co-founder.
Ben Cohn, chief and co-founder of Taxibox at Braeside headquarters, Melbourne. Photography by: Arsineh Houspian.
You may have seen one lately – a luminous yellow Taxibox sitting outside on a street or house in your local neighbourhood. Perhaps this was part of the Taxibox’s original marketing strategy; the branding was always meant to catch your eye.
“The brand has a positive halo effect to it,” according to Ben Cohn, chief and co-founder of Taxibox.
“It’s disruptive in the industry. It’s fun. It’s got life to it. And I think that has been the magnet for the right people and the right kind of thinking we’re trying to encourage within the business,” he says.
Although, time has brought with it the wisdom of hindsight. “If I was setting up the company today, I probably wouldn’t be as brash about it. I’ve found I’ve had to moderate my approach as time goes on.”
However, it does seem that brash approach may have been just what was needed at the time for this rapidly expanding, Melbourne based self-storage company.
Making an impact
Many budding entrepreneurs mistakenly believe, to innovate means to create something entirely new. As a myriad of cases will show however, entrepreneurs who practice the subtle art of understanding how to make the most of existing trends are the ones who success ultimately finds.
Taxibox was founded in 2010 when Ben and his now business partner, Jeremy Rosen – aged 25 and 27 at the time – became enamoured with a similar concept while Ben was working as a management consultant in New York. They instantly recognised this as a unique opportunity to set up their own brand in Australia.
This was a carefully honed disruption to the self-storage market in Australia, with Ben and Jeremy thinking beyond the discovery at hand and envisioning ways to leverage the idea in an entirely new market.
“We were the first movers in the market at the time with the concept of Taxibox” Ben says. “We spent a lot of time learning how the Americans had set-up mobile storage - at the time it was an industry that was in its infancy in the U.S.”
Taxibox were the first movers in the market at the time with the concept. Photography by: Arsineh Houspian.
Blood, sweat and tears
It’s not uncommon for new business owners to feel they’re navigating previously unchartered waters during the company’s start-up phase. This was no different for Ben and Jeremy who both came from commerce/law backgrounds.
“There was certainly a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the early days – trying to understand machinery, forklifts, trucks, warehousing,” Ben says. “We had to really get our hands on the tools. I probably enjoyed this more than Jeremy.”
“At the start, we spent a lot of time overseas finding suppliers to manufacture the Taxiboxes for us, which was a major cost advantage at the time, particularly with limited funds,” he says.
The early days were spent getting their ‘hands on the tools’ in order to learn the business of self-storage. Photography by: Arsineh Houspian.
ANZ Business Growth Program
The ANZ Business Growth Program is a globally recognised program that helps Australian businesses to develop the skills needed to establish an organisation that can sustain growth.
The program is delivered by The Australian Centre for Business Growth, University of SA with global growth expert Dr. Jana Matthews, ANZ Chair in Business Growth at UniSA and leader of the ANZ Business Growth Program.
The online courses, seminars and webinars are open to all Australian businesses. ANZ business banking customers can also speak to their relationship manager about taking part in targeted one-day clinics and an intensive nine-month program.
Business Growth Program alumni
Nominated by his ANZ Relationship Manager with a final recommendation from Dr. Jana Matthews, Ben and his leadership team were selected to take part in the intensive nine-month program.
The ANZ Business Growth Program which is broken up into ‘Growth modules’ (three in-depth, three-day programs) combine expert presentations, concentrated learning and facilitated group discussions to further hone in on growth issues commonly faced by companies. Ben and his team completed the last module in September this year.
“Overall, the experience was fantastic,” Ben says. “Seeing the experiences other businesses are going through – the growing pains – is helpful because it gives you a bit of perspective.”
“You often feel like you’re alone in a world of business where stuff often goes wrong, so hearing the challenges other leaders in the room were facing was reassuring. You realise ‘Hey, it’s not just us that goes through these things’” he says.
“Tangibly, it gave us a crystal clear approach on building out a strategy,” explains Ben when asked about the benefits the program provided his business. “Strategy wasn’t something we were particularly focused on previously. We had a long-term direction for the business but didn’t think about the plan to execute on that vision and how to track it. This gave us a system.”
“We learnt that strategy is not just the nuts and bolts (i.e. revenue and profit targets) – it’s also ‘What is the vision of the business? What does the culture of the business look like? What is the mission of the business?” he says. “It’s all those things combined that allow you to deliver on the strategy.”
“Secondly, it gave us the practical tools to track business performance – what are the things that need to be adjusted, whether it be on a monthly or quarterly basis in order to ensure you’re hitting your goals?” he adds.
The role of innovation and technology
Safely said, even in the pre-pandemic economy - businesses that don’t wholeheartedly embrace innovation and technology may find themselves in a sinking ship.
Taxibox recently launched a wireless Bluetooth locking technology for its onsite storage boxes - a first for the construction and building industry. The keyless lock allows customers to manage their boxes via any smartphone device.
“Within the business [technology] is one of our key pillars of growth. A lot of companies might say that, but for us it’s really part of our DNA,” Ben admits. “We spent the best part of 10 years on what was almost obsessive continuous improvement on technology.”
“From a customer facing front, technology has proven particularly effective as both a marketing tool and for ensuring our customers are getting a seamless experience,” he says.
Ben adds an important part of creating a culture that supports innovation and growth is the business’ ability and willingness to take risks. “I think we take risks other larger businesses wouldn’t, because it’s off the beaten track or they’re not willing to veer of a previously proven path,” he says.
“Whereas we want to challenge the norms and conventions of the way storage is done. There is a huge opportunity to disrupt the market and we continue to do that.”
The recently implemented Bluetooth locking technology renders lost keys and unauthorised access a thing of the past. Photography by: Arsineh Houspian.
Pandemic silver linings
Despite the huge contraction in economic activity during COVID-19, Taxibox has been in a fortunate position - the current climate has seen the business thrive by opening up a new segment in consumer storage needs.
“[During the early days of the pandemic] people were moving back in with their parents or moving to regional towns and putting all their stuff in storage,” Ben says. “A lot of people were also converting their homes into offices which drove a huge demand in the need for storage.”
“Then there was the spike in renovations, people sadly stuck overseas and the massive wave of people moving interstate,” he adds.
Photography by: Arsineh Houspian
So, what does the future of self-storage look like?
“COVID-19 aside, our cities are becoming more densely populated with smaller dwellings, more traffic and likely more consumption. The land values of traditional storage facilities continue to increase and so the supply of storage will move further out of the cities over time,” says Ben.
He adds, “This presents an interesting challenge for the future of storage, with mobile storage well placed to capitalise on this trend. In addition, there’s been a shift to a lot of micro-businesses that are running local business and need a place to store their stock as well as an increase in deliveries from companies that need a localised storage centre. We’re experimenting with using our Taxiboxes to provide 24/7 access type storage in urban locations.”
Ben believes trends for storage generally are on the way up – for both the residential retail space and the commercial space.
And what excites Ben for the future?
"Innovation. Technology. Taxibox."
A state of equilibrium