One of Ann Arbor’s fledgling startups is looking to vault its competition by creating an easier, more social way of storing students’ valuables. Its motto: “Your closet away from home.”
The goal of Vaultd, co-founded by LSA senior Mikey Shen and Engineering junior Brett Mecham, is to provide low-cost storage, in addition to free drop-off and pickup capabilities, to students throughout the year. Shen said there are currently few storage facilities in Ann Arbor.
“The options here are pretty limited,” Shen said. “They do have self-storage things that are around here, but most of my friends are paying a couple hundred dollars a month for storing whatever.”
Shen said his idea for more affordable storage came during his freshman year, when he noticed how expensive it was for his out-of-state friends and international students to store their belongings over the summer. He ultimately started the company in April 2014.
Shen and Mecham began working with one another through “Startup Academy,” an annual event put on by entrepreneurship-focused student organization MPowered. There, Shen said, Mecham helped him explore the idea of renting out self-storage and catering that to students as a profitable service.
The duo conducted a test run this summer with a group of roughly 30 students, selling them cardboard boxes for a nominal fee and storing their goods in a small warehouse space. What made their services different from other storage facilities, they said, was charging students for their boxes on a monthly basis and not charging them at all for pickup and delivery.
The average rate for these boxes is $10 per month — totaling roughly $40 for the duration of summer break.
Now, they are changing their business model and moving away from cardboard boxes. Vaultd has paired with a manufacturer and has ordered a limited quantity of large plastic boxes measuring 24 by 22 by 12 inches.
“Because we used the cardboard boxes, we found that after a few months, even in a climate-controlled facility, between moving and transporting stuff, and stacking the boxes on top of each other, they just kind of got warped and damaged,” Mecham said.
“With plastic bins, they’re a lot more sturdy, they’re waterproof … you can even zip-tie them,” he added.
Vaultd’s main competitor as of this moment, it seems, is John’s Pack and Ship. For its standard, 18-by-18-by-24-inch large box, the company charges from $55 to $187.50 for five to eight months of storage, with the pricing contingent on the weight of the box.
John’s Pack and Ship also sells its own cardboard boxes; each large box costs $5.
Furthermore, a local self-storage unit, such as Stop ’N Lock, costs $33 per month for its smallest locker, which is 5 by 5 feet.
Since its summer trial period, in which Shen and Mecham invested their personal funds, Vaultd has received a $5,000 grant from Grand Rapids startup accelerator Start Garden. Mecham said the company will now use this to test a new theory that students may even desire extra storage during the year.
The decision to test this comes after Vaultd used its capital from the summer to invest in a larger storage warehouse in downtown Ann Arbor, for quick and local access to students’ stored goods.
The hope, after this three-month trial period, is to re-pitch their business to Start Garden for an additional $20,000 investment. Shen said the company has also networked with other helpful local sources through the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, where Mecham works as a peer advisor.
The duo has attended events at startup incubator Ann Arbor SPARK, and was even encouraged to apply for a grant through a Ross School of Business commercialization fund.
Another goal of the company is to expand into a peer-to-peer storage service by creating a web — and eventually, mobile — app. Essentially, Mecham said, Vaultd wants to set up a social network through which students can keep extra items in the homes of local students and residents willing to store them on their behalf for a small fee.
The company would still charge its standard $10 per box per month, and would seek commission from the people storing boxes in their homes. Mecham said Vaultd has also considered pairing ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft to streamline delivery and pickup methods as well as engage more with the Ann Arbor community.
“We’re hoping that this … one-size box, flat rate, monthly, will definitely be able to compete well,” Mecham said. “Especially with our modernized web and mobile app, which definitely appeals to college students.”