Ecommerce Businesses Run From A Storage Unit

Last Updated
May 1, 2023

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Setting up a business is a scary prospect, and making the change from casual home worker to fully-fledged business owner is a very large one indeed. Often the change from one to the other is necessitated by the business growing enough to need the extra space but sometimes the cost of this dramatic step can be too much for the fledgling business’ precarious finances.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground: running your business from a storage unit can be the ideal solution. It might sound crazy, but self-storage units can be whatever size you need, you are not subject to business rates/taxes (the storage company pays, at cheaper “Warehouse” rates), and rent is a fraction of the price, compared to renting a shopfront of a similar size. According to BBC News, it’s also a growing trend – especially for seasonal businesses.

Here are six ecommerce businesses, that you could easily run from a storage unit:

Jewellery or a craft workshop

In today’s world of cheap, mass-market goods, there is a growing trend for homemade items: unique pieces, made by hand and with ingenuity. Websites such as Etsy have made boutique craft items even more accessible and trendy. If you are a handy knitter, jewel maker, woodcarver or similar, you can make your items at home and stockpile them in a storage unit until they are ready to send to customers. Most large storage units provide a packaging and postage service as part of their product offering – after all, many people use storage units between moves, or to keep items to send on to others in time – and this service can become part of your bespoke service, as customers find you online on Amazon or in your Etsy shop. As well as offering storage space and packaging services, storage units tend to have excellent security with cameras monitoring everyone coming and going, and with users being required to have a key or pass of some kind in order to get into their section of the storage area, so any high value, physically small items – such as jewellery – will be kept as safe as possible.

Collectables such as comic books

The category of collectables is a very wide field indeed, with almost anything being eligible for piquing a collector’s interest. Many people are choosing to hold on to items which will be worth more in the future, in order to sell them on at a later date. However, collections can quickly become bulky and space-consuming – stamps are small, but stamp albums are large! Comic book collections, coins, memorabilia or anything else that might benefit from fluctuating prices over time will benefit from the high security of a storage unit, as well as the controlled storage conditions. Storage units tend to be dry, well ventilated and generally offer ideal conditions for keeping products in good shape, no matter if they are personal household items or collectable stock that may be worth a lot of money.

Mobile phone or gadget repairs

If you are setting up a gadget repair workshop, a storage unit is the perfect venue. Renting a storage unit is a safer option than working from home if you need to provide a physical address for deliveries, collections etc. Storage units are a secure space to keep phones and gadgets, which are of high value. Depending on the terms and conditions offered by your storage unit, you may even be able to use the unit as your repairs workshop, working on the small but expensive gadgets surrounded by CCTV and having the storage company personnel on hand during opening hours. This, compared to, for example, working alone in your garage, at the mercy of anyone with an eye to making a quick income boost, is definitely the preferred option. In addition to this, storage unit companies are usually very sanguine about accepting deliveries of spare parts and so on, which means that you do not have to spend every waking moment, listening out for the delivery vehicle or postman to knock on the door.

It’s not hoarding, if they’re books

Books can be something of an interesting commodity. To those who do not value them, they are junk, to be recycled or given away; while to those who appreciate and love them, they can be a worthwhile (if sometimes emotional) investment. A canny way to make a business from books is to accumulate them in large numbers – rescuing them from charity shops, house clearances, library sales, and mystery lots at auctions – and then sell them individually on Amazon or eBay. Books are very space consuming, however, and having a good storage unit is an excellent solution. The books can be stored alphabetically, by genre, even by colour – however, it works out best so that you can find the right book when it is sold to be sure of laying your hands on it to send it off promptly once the payment has been made. A final benefit, but a significant one, is that storage units tend to be kept at a constant temperature and humidity, with many doors between your unit and the outside world. This keeps pollution, damp and dust at bay: contaminants that could otherwise impact on the quality of your precious books.

Greeting cards for all occasions

As a buyer, you may think that greeting cards have become expensive and outpaced the rate of inflation over time. This is more to do with the overheads of running a shopfront though, rather than the stock itself. Wholesalers and specialist greeting card manufacturers will sell you cards in bulk for mere pennies, but you must buy them in the thousands to qualify for such good prices. Once you have the bulk stock, you can maximise your profits by selling the cards individually – or in bundles of ten or so – for a comparatively huge mark-up of 20x to 100x per card. For even more profit, you can offer a personalisation service, by having someone write a beautiful and personalised message in the card at the behest of the buyer. You can learn basic calligraphy or hire someone to do the writing for you, depending on how artistic you are feeling. For this business, you will definitely need plenty of clean dry storage for the various stocks of cards, whether they are birthday celebrations, Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day messages, or more generic ‘good luck’ and ‘get well soon’ cards. For this business, in order to make a living at it, you must be able to turn over a good number of cards each month, with little wastage, and this means having a good range of cards to hand at all times. While the profit margin is generous, the numbers remain small, and you will need high turnover of stock to properly maintain your lifestyle.

From discards to vintage garments

Clothing re-sale is another business that can be undertaken by almost anyone with a good eye for style. Many people turn over their whole wardrobe anywhere from every year, to every three or four years, and often these mass clear-outs will include clothing that is in very good condition. Sometimes hardly worn and even occasionally completely unworn, with the original tags and labels. Having somewhere to store all these unwanted garments allows a sharp-minded business person to gather as many as they can: for free or for a nominal price, to sort through at leisure. Having paid a £10/$10, let us say, for a black bin bag full of clothing, it will take maybe a day or two’s work to separate it out, assess it, and upload it to an online auction or buying site, with each piece now individually priced at the same price as the whole original haul. With sixty or seventy garments bringing in this sort of money, the cost of postage and your storage unit  will soon pay for themselves, leaving you with a tidy sum to reinvest in more stock and take a wage. Do bear in mind though, that you should focus on clothing that is of good quality, as well as being unique. Few people will pay good money for cheap or poor quality clothing, that they could buy new for pennies more than you’re asking price. However, many fashionistas will pay surprising sums for garments that are eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing, and that have stood the test of time. Denim jeans for example, from the 70s and 80s, can go for a fortune to the right fashion lover or vintage collector.

Storage rules and regulations

Do be aware that there are regulations about what kinds of businesses can be run from a storage unit though, the Self Storage Association warns. Storage unit companies have their own internal rules too: some will allow workshop operations to be conducted from a unit, others are strictly for goods storage only. Some actively encourage budding entrepreneurs to use them as a base, others prefer you to dump your stuff and leave quickly. Discuss your plans openly with the Self Storage providers before choosing which one to use as your base. Also be aware that all storage providers will require you to have Self Storage Insurance, which is often found a lot cheaper online, according to Surewise. You may also need Business Insurance to cover your stock and liabilities.

These are just six examples of online businesses that can be run successfully from a storage unit. The business models described above, can be applied to other products and services that require a physical address without demanding official premises like offices or a shopfront. This way of working can be the perfect way to allow a business to grow at its own pace, without risking growth by raising overheads and expenses too high for comfort.