By Christine Perez
Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the most vibrant business communities in the world. It has grown and prospered through the sheer determination of the entrepreneurs and corporate executives who call DFW home. Cushman & Wakefield is proud to represent some of the region’s most successful leaders and companies, and pleased to share their stories in this new interview series.
We’re kicking things off with Dan Slaven and Kyle Bainter, co-founders of Callbox Storage, an innovative enterprise that’s disrupting the self-storage industry. Formed last year in Dallas, it’s a full-service storage company that provides free pick up and deliveries and provides an online, barcoded inventory of items, complete with photos.
Finding the right real estate to support the Callbox business model was critical, Slaven said: “With the assistance of Gary Collett and Shannon Johnston of Cushman & Wakefield, we were able to gather exceptional insight into the marketplace, which allowed us to make the best decision for our business.”
Within six months after launch, Callbox Storage needed to double its space, based on the strong market response to the new service. The company expects to continue to grow locally and is exploring potential in other markets, too, Collett said. “The sophisticated way they handle storage and the way they service clients and protect their belongings—it’s precedent-setting,” he said. “Callbox Storage has a very bright future.”
Cushman & Wakefield: How did you come up with the idea for Callbox Storage?
KYLE BAINTER: My wife and I had our first child back in November 2015. In the summer of that year, we began getting the baby room ready. At the same time, we were remodeling another part of our home. We had stuff everywhere, but I didn’t want to store our belongings in a hot garage, so I began calling around to find a storage place near us. I also started doing an inventory of everything we needed to put in storage, and tracked it all on my phone. We were dealing with triple-digit temperatures at the time, and I realized I would have to get friends and family members to help load up everything and spend all day going back and forth to the storage facility. It got me thinking that there had to be a better way. So, Dan and I put our heads together and came up with what’s now Callbox Storage.
DAN SLAVEN: We had made investments in the storage industry and saw some real inefficiencies. Kyle and I figured we could take away the pain points of traditional storage by providing a convenience-based model that comes to the customer and provides an inventory of the stored items. We believed there would be a market for this new approach, considering that one in nine people use storage.
“We include free pick up on the front end and returns of up to five boxes per month. Other storage providers don’t do this, so that’s a nice value proposition for customers—and, we believe, a competitive advantage for us.”
Kyle Bainter, Co-Founder, Callbox Storage
C&W: As you began investigating the concept, what did you find?
SLAVEN: We found that women make most of the storage decisions, even if it’s a man who does the physical packing and moving, and that proximity and price were big factors. We also learned that what people dislike most about storage is having to spend all day moving stuff into a unit. So, our challenge was bringing a convenience play to the masses in a cost-effective way. Ultimately, we developed a system whereby we go to the consumer, whether it’s at a residence or place of business or even another storage facility, pick up the items, and store them at our facility. We give customers an inventory of their items, with barcodes and photos—and that’s a big one, because six months after people put stuff into storage, they don’t remember what they’ve stored. We then give them ability to get items back by selecting the items online. So, we keep it simple, provide convenience, and provide clarity.
BAINTER: The need for off-site storage never comes at a convenient moment in life. It’s always stressful, even if it’s a happy time, like getting married or having a baby or buying a new home. And then you have the unfortunate events, like a parent moving into assisted living or even the death of a family member. Through our technology and the ability to serve customers through a single large facility, which is climate-controlled and ADT-secured, we don’t have that 3-mile-radius market constraints that a traditional storage building would have. We go directly to the customer, from Denton to McKinney, down south to Interstate 20 and west to Fort Worth or Mansfield, and everything in-between. That has been a nice advantage for us.
SLAVEN: When it clicked for me was looking at seasonal items, things that clutter up your garage but you only need for a couple of months each year. By taking the hassle out of it, we give people more time to enjoy the holidays.
C&W: How did you develop the Callbox Storage system?
SLAVEN: We were fortunate in that we found Darrell Olson, a national logistics expert who formerly worked for Target. We had him poke holes in our plan. Darrell connected us to another logistics expert, who had done work for FedEx and UPS. We spent about a year doing research and due diligence. We identified our customer base targets and worked out the kinks in the platform, then we brought in some additional capital. We did a soft launch for friends and family in July 2016, then opened up to the market in September 2016, and we’ve been running ever since.
BAINTER: Keeping costs in line with traditional storage was a big thing for us. For example, our fees are $97.50 per month for a 5×10, which is what you’d expect to pay at a traditional storage facility. But we include free pick up on the front end and returns of up to five boxes per month. Other storage providers don’t do this, so that’s a nice value proposition for customers—and, we believe, a competitive advantage for us.
SLAVEN: People often ask me how we differ from PODS. The big difference is we do all the heavy lifting. When you get your pod back, you still have to spend your Saturday going through the thing and figuring out where your stuff is. We can get granular enough to get down to the one item or one box you want back. You get what you want, when you want it.
C&W: How does the service work?
BAINTER: People go online and sign up from either a computer or phone. We assign a coordinator to them who will walk them through the process and gets information about what they’re storing. We are usually right on with what a customer needs. But if we get on site and find they only needed half the space, then they only pay for what they need, not for what they don’t. If they only need a 5×5, that’s all they’ll be charged for. Or if they go over, we give them the option of going to the next plan.
SLAVEN: And if they take things back and then need less space, we’ll make that change, too. Bottom line: You pay for what you store. It’s a fluid model that gives people flexibility to make decisions based on need and cost.
C&W: Demographic trends seem to be working in your favor. Have you found that?
BAINTER: Yes. It used to be that one in 11 people used outside storage, and now it’s inchingdown to one in nine. Baby boomers represent up to 25 percent of the population, and they’re going to keep downsizing, which often creates a need for off-site storage. Next-generation individuals want to live in more urban areas, which generally means smaller spaces. For them, we’re like that garage or extra closet.
SLAVEN: Statistically, our customer base is 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial. Most of our residential customers are female, in terms of who makes the actual hiring decision.
BAINTER: We’ve learned from them that they don’t like having to walk those long hallways at storage facilities. It doesn’t have that safe feeling. So women, in particular, appreciate that they don’t have to leave their homes or do the heavy lifting.
SLAVEN: Residential will always make up the largest segment of our business, but we’re fortunate that we’ve also secured a good base of commercial customers, and we’ve done a fair amount of senior living facilities, too.
“With the assistance of Gary Collett and Shannon Johnston of Cushman & Wakefield, we were able to gather exceptional insight into the marketplace, which allowed us to make the best decision for our business.”
Dan Slaven, Co-Founder, Callbox Storage
C&W: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
SLAVEN: Creating awareness of what we offer and finding a certain quality of people on the labor side, so customers have an elevated experience. You’re walking into a customer’s home and working with their belongings, so you need to be respectful of that. Like every business, it all comes down to people.
BAINTER: So far, we have more than 60 five-star reviews. That’s important to us, because this is a service-based business, so our customers are everything. We have a focused hiring process for our field Storage Professionals to make sure we’re delivering the best customer service experience possible. Employees are background-checked and placed on a career path that sets them up for advancement within the company.
SLAVEN: We’re also fortunate to have several strong key players as part of our leadership team, which has been of critical help and importance. Luke Collins, who has a strong logistics and transportation/logistics and background, has been instrumental. And Tasso Ziebarth, who runs our customer service side, has deep restaurant and service-industry experience. He formerly worked for Chuy’s and is great when it comes to process and protocol and also is very good with people.
C&W: Now that you’ve got operations figured out, what are the plans for the future?
SLAVEN: We’re going to expand, but we’re going to do it in a thoughtful, methodical way. I don’t know the number of markets we’ll expand to over the next three to five years. We’ll focus on other Texas markets first and also look at high-growth areas outside of Texas.
BAINTER: We’ve learned that there is a consumer education process to this, so we don’t want to get too far ahead of our skis. Each market requires time for education. We’re being careful, but based on the response we’ve had in Dallas-Fort Worth, the idea really resonates with people.
SLAVEN: We recently did an appearance on ‘Good Morning Texas,’ and it gave us a great opportunity to explain what we do. Anytime we’ve had a chance to explain our service to people, the reaction has been overwhelming. In North Texas alone, there’s anywhere from 50 million to 70 million square feet of storage space. If we can gain just a fair amount of that market share, we have a chance to be very successful.