May 30, 2023 - Business

Turning unused buildings into "sexy" self-storage

Blue and white metal storage units installed in unused basement space.

Photo courtesy of Stuf

As a commercial real estate professional, Katharine Lau has walked through a lot of buildings, always noting weird and unused "funky" spaces.

Driving the news: Struck by the wastefulness of such vacant square footage in otherwise dense urban areas, Lau founded Stuf Storage in 2020. The startup transforms unused basements, storefronts and other spaces into self-storage units.

  • The company is in eight markets with 22 locations, including two that opened in Seattle this spring at 220 Second Avenue South and 401 Union Street.

Why it matters: In cities like Seattle with a plethora of office vacancies, city leaders are calling for innovative ways to use that space and encouraging businesses to see opportunity in serving the needs of a growing residential population.

  • Lau's concept is also better for the environment, she told Axios, as it creates storage in existing buildings rather than relying on construction.

Of note: Stuf, named among the world's most innovative companies by Fast Company in 2022, secured $11 million in a Series A financing round.

How it works: Lau enters into a revenue-sharing contract with owners who have space. She then installs prefabricated, secure and tech-enabled storage equipment.

  • Landlords are finding the storage units provide an amenity for commercial and residential tenants that makes money instead of costing it, she said.

What's next: Lau said she wants to do for self-storage what Warby Parker did for eyeglasses, elevating a common item into something "accessible, sexy and fashionable."

  • She aims to triple in size, from 600 to 2,000 customers this year.

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