Storage Bloc makes a good snapshot of urban enterprise, where the traditionally grungy business of storage can be refreshed into an accesible repository service for city folk.
Hidden from the outside world, the company’s storage warehouse spreads out in a 6,000 sq ft space within an industrial complex in Petaling Jaya’s regenerated Section 13, in Selangor.
The building sits between a phalanx of low-slung establishments in the saturated industrial hub that has evolved into a pulsing community of office workers, students and residents. Inside the warehouse, a brunette with short, bouncy curls and a medium-sized man with round wire-framed glasses emerge and introduce themselves.
They are twins David and Jessica Buri, founders and owners of Storage Bloc, which has been in business since February 2017.
Storage Bloc has struck a chord with a growing sub-segment of customers who are grateful for a space to store their belongings. It must be said that the Buris’ facility is worlds apart from the more traditional warehousing facilities for industrial or commercial goods that are available on the city fringes, where personal belongings intended for storage tend to go for lack of a better solution.
Furthermore, with residences and offices sans storerooms, people are choosing to salt away what no longer fits in their living or working spaces, effectively making Storage Bloc an extension of their cabinets for the long term, or short term as it temporarily absorbs the possessions of those in transition. The warehouse has two sections for this: lifestyle, for items that simply sit in storage; and its fulfilment centre, where the company provides order-to-delivery services to customers who keep stock there.
Hailing from Miri, Sarawak, the Buri twins are the youngest of four children from a mixed marriage: their Iban father is an an engineer with five academic degrees, and their Colombian mother has earned the moniker “Mother Teresa of Miri” with her altruistic efforts in the community. Their family residence, a condominium unit in Kuala Lumpur, where Jessica lives, was a transitional home for the other siblings during their young adulthood in the city. As there was no storeroom in the house, items such as their big brother’s collectors’ figurines would remain stashed in the cupboards as each sibling moved out.
“We grew up in a semi-detatched house with a garden and shed. You can imagine what it’s like for all four siblings’ things to be contained within a single condo unit when we were used to far more space,” says David, a freelance creative director with a long career in advertising and corporate productions. Jessica, on the other hand, has a background in public relations and psychology.
Eager to restore order to their apartment, the pair began exploring storage options in earnest. They soon realised that short-term storage facilities were indeed available in Malaysia; however, many accepted only long-term commitments of a minimum of six months. The entrepreneurial siblings began to look at business models.
They saw that there were players and a ready market, with occupancies in most storage facilities near full at the time of enquiry; David, who had just married then, was looking for a business to do. The timing was perfect for a foray together. They soon learnt of a valet storage service in Singapore and Hong Kong, through which plastic boxes would be loaned to customers, filled and collected for storage — and replicated that model. Eventually, customers would enquire about storing bulky items and furniture, as well as packing material and transport, to which Storage Bloc responded by extending those services to meet growing demand, and ultimately, filling a niche need for lifestyle and fulfilment storage within the Klang Valley.
When people ask why they did not get a 12,000 sq ft warehouse — which would cost at least RM2.5million to set up and run — the twins firmly state their case: organic growth, and that has been their story.
Since their first facility of 3,000 sq ft was filled within 18 months, they are confident about filling this new warehouse of twice that size within a reasonable time. In the last six months, Storage Bloc has come to 60% capacity.
“The constraints of funding have forced us to bootstrap and be thoroughly realistic about things,” says David, whose overspill from home is being stored at the warehouse since the recent arrival of his first child.
His background has equipped him with the chops to take care of the marketing and advertising side of the business, complementing his twin’s indispensibility in the operational and people aspects of the business.
Typical of companies that deal with volumes of paperwork, small to medium-sized law and accounting firms also store their records at Storage Bloc to free up space at their offices.
Renters pay a monthly storage fee of as low as RM8 per container about the size of a tissue box, or RM14 per 100 litres. That is marginally higher than the industry average, but the trade-offs are reasonable: Customers get 24-hour security, temperature and humidity control and standard cover of insurance up to RM1,000 for each signature box, and RM8,500 per cubic metre of storage space in case of damage or theft during transport and storage. A hefty RM120,000 has been invested in the air-conditioning systems to maintain humidity control, and a consistent temperature of 26ºC.
Jessica is often drawn into meaningful conversations when interacting with customers. “I learn a lot about them as I need to ask what they are storing and why,” she says. They share a particularly poignant story of a young man, who was an only child, helping his widowed mother downsize to a smaller unit before returning overseas for studies.
Naturally, sentimental about their old furniture and memorabilia, they opted to keep their belongings at the Buris’ facility. An exercise like that could cost anywhere between RM900 and RM2,500, depending on the size and duration of storage.
From the get go, safety has been paramount in this multi-user gated and guarded building. Outsiders are not allowed so much as a peek into its holding rooms.
“With the 24/7 security at the front, our CCTV system and location on the third floor, we are less accessible,” says Jessica, whose initial hunt for ground-floor warehouses revealed too many entry points than was acceptable. “Besides, those warehouses were way dirtier, being closer to dusty streets and drainage systems. We made a calculated decision on this choice of facility.”
To encourage eco-consciousness, the Buris are looking to rent out reusable containers to customers in place of single-use carton boxes.
“Our business plan for storage is working very well now, but we are not stopping here. There are other services we can provide as customers’ needs evolve,” says David.
“Our goals going into this business were not the same as other people’s. I don’t think we ever wanted to make hundreds of millions from it. We just want to prove that we can succeed. There’s a nice balance in this business since it helps people out and we enjoy working together.”
This article first appeared on Feb 17, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.