A website that is on the move
Many profitable ideas come from watching rapidly growing entrepreneurial companies and asking what else can be done. Toney Fitzgerald talked to Ben Staines, Managing Director of www.storage.com.au, about his entrepreneurial dream of creating a novel and successful website.
In 2003 Ben Staines was working in a real estate agency in Coffs Harbour and saw first hand the growth of the internet in the real estate space, in particular realestate.com.au. At that stage he was keenly evaluating various business opportunities; looking for the next real winner in that space.
After thinking long and hard about what that might be, he discovered it – a niche in the storage and removal industry which had a direct alignment with the massive online real estate business and growth. We all move several times in our lives and we all store and hoard things constantly so it made sense that this could be the next area to experience tremendous growth.
With a marketing and property background, Ben identified that there was enormous potential in what was a highly fragmented, very competitive area that was currently not taking advantage of the power of the internet.
With his wife Libby supporting him, Ben launched storage.com.au with an initial investment of just $40,000 from his office in Coffs Harbour. It has had more than 2.2 million hits since January 2004 with more than 80,000 unique visitors and 310,000 actual searches performed since the website was launched. Ben and his family now live in Narromine, in country New South Wales, population 8,000 – just one of the benefits of an online business!
“It was such a fantastic feeling to discover an opportunity that no one had any presence in, so I secured the website URL www.storage.com.au and started building our website portal. I knew we were on a real winner and nothing was going to stop us from moving forward and making it happen. If realestate.com.au and others could do it, so could we!” Ben said.
One obstacle after another on the journey to success!
“When we started out, I didn’t expect it to be so hard. It seemed that every time we tried to move forward we would hit an obstacle and come to a grinding halt.
However, when that happened to us I knew we had to find a way around it and when you come from a space of ‘how can it be done?’ versus ‘it can’t be done’, you can always find a way to overcome that challenge and power on,” Ben said.
One thing entrepreneurs love is a challenge. ‘Bring it on!’, most say. Let’s face it, challenges are there to test the true entrepreneurial spirit to its highest level. When Ben started out he had many challenges ranging from his contact with industry decision-makers, to funding his start up and its growth, to lack of brand awareness. The first challenge resulted from the fact that most decision-makers in the industry were middle aged or older and not internet savvy. To get over this he just held his clients’ hands through the process of understanding the internet and what it could do.
His second challenge was one that many start-ups face and Ben overcame it by borrowing money from family members and friends and being very frugal with his own money. In addition, his wife works full time while Ben focuses on the business success.
Brand awareness was a huge hurdle but Ben achieved his goal by going out and meeting face to face with people. “When you are an online business you also must get out there face to face” Ben said.
The size of the industry made it difficult to communicate with the all the businesses and organisations in it but over time, as Ben kept calling and emailing information to all his potential clients, that started to change and now storage.com.au is becoming a well known brand name within the industry.
“In July 2005, storage.com.au became a part of the eMove (see www.emove.com.au) network - the moving services portal of www.ninemsn.com.au. This means that storage.com.au exclusively receives genuine referrals from qualified customers in need of storage solutions and with ninemsn’s exposure to millions of unique visitors each month this was a major coup for us.”
Ben said: “Storage.com.au has emerged as the leading website for people looking for self storage, removalists, and storage-related products and services within their local area. Whether their need is large or small, general or self storage; vehicle, caravan and boat storage; home and office storage; removalists; shelves and storage systems; document storage; warehousing and logistics; container sales and hire; pallets and platforms; wine and racking; storage insurance providers; boxes and packaging products; storage sheds; storage units; storage facilities; and everything else related to the storage and removals industries. Something like 14% of the population move every 12 months and, on average, we move something like once every 6.6 years.”
The backbone of the website is the advertising which companies take to promote their services and products. “When clients advertise with us, we sell advertising packages that are tailored to suit our clients’ specific advertising needs. Another way we make money online is to design and build our clients’ websites. This helps them market more effectively online and increases their business so they can grow as well.”
Every entrepreneur must plan for the future and be as specific as possible about what they want to achieve and what milestones they will accomplish. It’s important to know where your revenue is going to come from and what partnerships or alliances you will create with other companies.
“We really want to get into bed with major real estate companies. It makes sense for us to have a strategic relationship with them as there are lots of synergies.” Ben said. “We will also continue to explore various strategies that will add more value for our clients. We have recently been thinking about introducing Digital Storage to our list of storage services. This has a huge upside potential that we are very excited about.”
“In addition to actual storage we know that people are also looking for storage related products such as boxes, tapes and other products, so we are considering launching a huge range of these products – it’s all part of the big picture. We are always thinking of ways we can take our business to the next level and how we can go the extra mile for our clients.”
“Today we have local and national companies advertising their products and services with us and we have built websites for such companies as All About Storage and Appin Storage. We intend to increase by a factor of 10 over the coming year. Apart from this, we are also helping many removal and storage companies enhance their already established online businesses to improve their website functionality and profitability.”
“We have spent thousands of dollars on Search Engine Optimisation, both in-house and out-sourced and the results are now beginning to show.” Ben said.
“We have noticed that the websites we have designed and developed receive very high Search Engine Rankings. The key lies in the design process. It is our opinion that if you are going to have a website it should be designed so it ranks favourably for search engines. A high ranking costs nothing and helps increase site traffic and ultimately profitability. Search Engine Optimisation is an ongoing challenge for any online business and it’s one which we are taking head on.”
About the Author
Toney Fitzgerald, is a business coach and the Author of eBook ‘Start Me Up – You’ve got a business idea now make it happen’.