All those cranes on the horizon signal a sky-high opportunity for Stow Simple.
That’s because each new condo high-rise going up will house the startup’s initial target market: young professionals who own or rent condos as well as empty nesters downsizing from the suburbs.
The sister-brother team behind Stow Simple, second-place winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, presented a plan to solve a growing problem: a storage solution that is easy and efficient to access. Stow Simple will deliver bins so you can pack them, then pick up your items — including miscellaneous items such as strollers, golf bags and camping gear — and store them in an air-conditioned warehouse. Customers will be able to see their inventory online at all times and can order it returned with a few clicks through the website, and an app will follow later this year.
Judges were impressed with the market opportunity, the simplicity of the on-demand service and the strategy for execution. Stow Simple plans to start its service in Miami in late May, and after fully testing and tweaking the model, it will expand to other cities in South Florida. Then it will go nationwide.
The idea came to Silvia Camps after she had a particularly frustrating experience moving a few things out of an apartment, including a bike, after a breakup with a boyfriend. “I’m an independent person and I like to do things on my own, but I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this shouldn’t be so difficult,’ … and that got me thinking.”
She started researching pain points of storage, and found a lot of people feel the frustration. “People told us they have had things in storage for years, they don’t know what is there. What if you have a look book for your stuff?” she asked herself, which led to the idea of always accessible photo-cataloged inventory. “My biggest joy in this business is taking a pain point and making it a pleasurable point. Miamians may never have to visit a self-storage unit again.”
And the opportunity was enticing, too: More than 17,000 new units are planned for Miami-Dade by 2018. Many of those are in Miami’s urban core, which has already seen the population double since 2000. Amid the boom, prices and rents are going up, putting extra space at a premium.
“We think our initial market will be urban city dwellers who are mobile and web savvy who may not want to shell out an extra $400 a square foot when we can provide them with a spare closet,” Silvia said. She had to raise her bed to store her stuff, and it still wasn’t enough space.
Other potential customers: empty nesters downsizing, college students leaving town for the summer, people going through transitions, such as divorce, and part-time residents who rent their condos when they are away.
One of Silvia’s first successes as president was persuading her brother, Jorge Camps, to come aboard. Silvia will oversee strategy and marketing; her brother will lead operations. “We want to offer the best experience possible, and that is what my brother excels at,” Silvia said.
Jorge spent 13 years managing 120 employees at the Container Store Miami. Silvia has 15 years of experience in marketing and strategy, consulting for brands such as Google, Target, Conde Nest and Univision while working for República and helping the founder of Dylan’s Candy Bar get started in New York.
“Good idea, good team” is a winning combination, said Stanley Sharenson, a counselor with SCORE Miami-Dade who has been helping Silvia since she started working on the concept in October.
“I like this because it is a great idea, and there is nothing like this in Miami,” Sharenson said. “I work with a lot of startups, and one of the issues is getting the right team. Silvia and George complement each other; she is strategic developmental and George is operational. Very frequently the right team doesn’t start on these things and they fail for that reason.”
The past few months have been a whirlwind for the siblings: There was warehouse space and a van to find, bins to purchase, and a custom website, stowsimple.com, that they are building from scratch and is in final stages of testing. They have assembled a delivery and customer service team and partnered with a local moving company with trucks and men if needed. They have forged partnerships with building managers and Realtors as well as other local businesses and will soon begin their marketing push.
Pricing will likely start at $28 a month for four bins (each bin can hold the contents of about two carry-on suitcases), with larger items priced separately. Pickup will always be free, but there be a flat delivery fee when customers want their stored items. The team is testing pricing.
For some extra customer service pop, Stow Simple plans to partner with a local charity and deliver a customer’s donations for free. And the startup has some customer-service surprises in store.
Worried about copycats?
“There is a certain trust you need to have when you store the things you love,” Silvia said. “We want everything to be as easy as possible. We are going to be on time, we are fully bilingual, our website will be bilingual. We want to go above and beyond on customer service. At the end of the day, that is how we will win.”
Adds Sharenson, “The trick is to keep improving it, refreshing it, and I think they will be very good at that.”