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How Stuf is looking to disrupt the self-storage industry

Katharine Lau, Stuf CEO, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how her company is moving in on the self-storage industry and her plans for expansion.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: The company is called Stuf, just S-T-U-F. And while it may sound like a new startup, it is something those of us who live in big cities are desperate to find, which is a place to store our stuff. Let's bring into the stream the entrepreneur, founder, CEO of Stuf. We welcome to the space Katherine Lau. And congratulations on getting this company up and running.

By the way, I got to point out, don't be fooled by her youth. Your background, real estate. You've been an asset manager. You were an [INAUDIBLE] investment analyst at Prudential. And it seems to all come together with this. Because you are partnering with landlords to use empty apartments, of which there are many, to store stuff. Where did you get the idea?

KATHARINE LAU: First of all, thanks for having me and Seana. The idea came to be because last year, I was just struggling with too much stuff at home. And I did a spring cleaning. And so much of-- it felt so good to get rid of things in my closet. But then I remember staring at this pile of stuff on the floor and just being so frustrated with it. And when I looked into self-storage, I was so underwhelmed by some of the options that I found. And most of them were out of the way. They were in fringe neighborhoods. And they had bad customer reviews.

So what we do is we are monetizing underutilized real estate as self-storage. And we are taking a safe, inviting, convenient approach and offering that to our members closer to home and where they live. And we're doing that by partnering with landlords, exactly leveraging some of my experience from commercial real estate days.

SEANA SMITH: Katherine, how are you getting the word out there about your business?

KATHARINE LAU: Currently sharing it here with you on Yahoo, but we are also doing quite a bit of guerilla marketing, partnering with moving companies, apartment buildings, sharing with the local communities that we operate that we're there and happy to offer storage to the local community. So really excited to continue operating both in the markets that we're in-- New York, LA, San Francisco, and Oakland-- as well as new markets that we're looking to get into. So DC, Boston, Philly, those are some of the markets that we're moving towards right now.

ADAM SHAPIRO: What, to me, seems the genius of what you're doing is there are storage companies out there that kind of have the Airbnb model, where you can rent somebody's closet. But if you look at a city like New York, there's a development, Tudor Place-- a ton of studio apartments that are sitting empty because of what's happened during the pandemic, going to waste. And here comes a company like yours. You're not renting someone's closet. You're actually contracting with the management firm to store stuff. So do you find is there apprehension on the part of the management firm? Or is it the people like me who want to use a service like yours?

KATHARINE LAU: I think, in many ways, we've figured out some of the apprehension or the reasons behind the apprehension, which often are access and security. But we've developed tech enabled operations and access and security features that have helped get our landlord partners comfortable and also making sure that our members are having a seamless experience. And when we work with landlords, we only sign revenue sharing agreements. So we are aligned in terms of interest and incentives.

And it's really a different model than traditional self-storage operators, who typically will buy land, do ground-up development. It'll take years to get up and running, whereas we can get up and running in a matter of weeks. So we're excited to turn these basements, these garages that currently generate $0 into a thriving business and share that with landlord partners.

SEANA SMITH: Katherine, how many locations do you operate in now? And I guess, what do you think that road map looks like, just in terms of growing your business over the next couple of years?

KATHARINE LAU: Yeah, in terms of growth-- and when I talk about growth, I smile, so. It's exciting because we have seven locations after operating for probably six, eight months. And we have four open, three under construction that are opening in the next couple of weeks, and have a pipeline of another 40 deals. So I think we'll probably end the year with 20, 25 locations and expected to 3x by next year.

ADAM SHAPIRO: What is it like when you have to approach big money investors to convince them-- because it sounds like you've done it quite successfully-- that this is a worthwhile investment?

KATHARINE LAU: It's so funny because so many investors will share with me their trials, tribulations with self-storage, whether they used it in college, whether they moved during the pandemic, and just how much of a headache it was. So they can really appreciate the problem that we are solving and often are so interested in what we're doing. And fortunately, I have some background in working with institutional investors with VCs. And so it's-- well, it's been a learning experience. I've been fortunate to have some experience prior to Stuf.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Katherine Lau is the CEO and founder of Stuf. We look forward to your coming back and sharing with us the tales of how you are growing successfully.