By Cindy Atoji Keene
Over 10,000 items are stashed away at the Fetch Storage, ranging from holiday decorations, winter sweaters, ski gear, furniture, office equipment, legal documents – even back issues of newspapers. But Fetch Storage isn’t like the conventional self-storage units that have been popping up all over the U.S., growing to a $24 billion dollar industry. Brij Patel, 33, a co-founder at Fetch Storage based in Boston, said that his motto is “Never visit a self-storage unit again” – he offers “full-service” storage, picking up and delivering items so there is no need to rent a truck or van for bulky items. Users can “fetch” individual pieces anytime, and have them delivered to their doorstep. Patel calls it “concierge storage” that also brings technology to the antiquated traditional system of self-storage; he plans to introduce a mobile app so customers can monitor their belongings online. “Storage has become a necessity as we accumulate more and more stuff,” said Patel, an aspiring entrepreneur who also started Rent-an-AC, which installs and retrieves air conditioners as customers need them.
Q: Why do Americans crave all this storage space when they apparently lived fine without it in the past?
A: There’s no single driver for the increase in storage over the last 10 years. We’re living in larger homes and can afford to have more stuff, and storage helps with the transition of those so-called “life events” – moving, marrying or divorcing, downsizing, or dealing with a death. Kids are going off to college at a higher rate than before as well, and it’s no longer a bare-bones college experience, but replicating their lives in a different city, which often requires storing things during the summer.
Q: You graduated from Northeastern and then started Rent-an-AC, a window air conditioner rental service that installs and retrieves AC. How did Fetch Storage evolve out of this first start-up?
A: When I started Rent-an-AC, I initially installed every AC and got to know how AC affects every place I visited, from a fourth floor walk-up in the North End to Beacon Hill condos. It was a very niche seasonal business that had a dead zone in the winter time. So I wondered, what else can we give this customer base that we were familiar with? By then, we had built the infrastructure of vans, storage space and a team of trained workers. We were already storing ACs for customers, which are no fun to store, because they are heavy, unwieldy and can leak rusty water. Why not start a storage business that stores our customer’s other goods and doesn’t make them go to those horrid cinderblock storage sites?
Q: How does Fetch work?
A: I like to compare Fetch to traditional self-storage units, which might be too big or too small, and you often can’t easily access one certain item because it requires a trip to an often dusty and remote facility. Fetch, on contrast, charges only for the space you use, whether it’s just one box or an entire house of belongings. You can rent or buy boxes or crates from us and we’ll deliver them directly to you. We whisk away your stuff to a safe, temperature controlled warehouse, and then you can just call for pick-up or delivery of any item. Unlike other facilities, there are no hidden fees; storage starts at $1 cubic feet per month.
Q: There’s a tech aspect to Fetch as well, right?
A: What gets me really excited about the future of storage is that there’s all this stuff sitting in thousands of storage facilities around the country but no one’s really tracking what’s coming in and going out. Since Fetch inventories each item, we have some basic info about what’s being stored, and we are working on an inventory system where customers will be able to tag and then quickly search what they have using keywords and maybe even photos. All this info and data will empower customers to make much better storage decisions, instead of forgetting about all the stuff they’ve accumulated. And instead of promoting hoarding, this accessibility promotes a sharing community, where users can maybe borrow items from each other or ask for charity donations.
Q: Do you have anything in storage?
A: I have a couple of unique pieces of furniture in storage, including handmade teak carved coffee tables from India and an antique Chinese sideboard. I’m not ready to use them yet so I’m saving them for a different stage in my life.