Gibson, Pa Man's Products Improve Access to Self Storage

Need a storage unit to declutter your home but don’t want to go to the trouble of packing it yourself? Paul Vidic has an app for that. The Gibsonia businessman last week started a website and free smartphone app that he says will take some of the hassle out of dealing with storage units. “The problem with self-storage is access,” said Vidic, 38, president of The company’s website allows users to catalog the items they want to put into storage. Then BrightPocket picks up the items, stores them and will bring back items by category, such as “winter clothes,” “old business records” or “holiday decorations,” any time the customer wants them. “What makes us stand out is that our business model is designed to provide our customers the most convenient access to their items as possible,” Vidic said. BrightPocket is aimed squarely at the traditional self-storage industry and is among a growing number of technology startup companies using the Internet to reduce inefficiencies or costs in long-standing business models, said Babs Carryer, a Carnegie Mellon University “embedded entrepreneur” who advises students and professors on starting their own businesses, and author of, a blog for entrepreneurs. “There’s a ton of startups right now that are able to use technology to challenge the traditional ways of doing things,” Carryer said. Think Amazon taking on bookstores, NetFlix versus video rental stores and Quicken Loans challenging the mortgage industry, she said. “There are a lot of industries that are ready for a bit of a revolution,” she said. There were more than 46,000 standalone self-storage businesses across the United States by the end of 2009, according to the latest estimates from the Self Storage Association, an Alexandria, Va., trade group. The industry generated revenue of about $22 billion in 2010, and storage units are used by one in 10 households, the association estimates. Vidic, who previously ran an exporting business for 12 years, came up with the idea for BrightPocket after finding the self-storage business to be “outdated and inefficient,” he said. He spent 18 months and about $75,000 developing the technology. While the website and app are free to use, BrightPocket plans to make money by charging storage and shipping fees. Vidic said BrightPocket’s storage fee will equal about 49 cents a cubic foot a month. An average storage unit costs about 37 cents a cubic foot a month, he estimated. The company has a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Marienville, Forest County, where it will store customers’ items. Vidic plans to use UPS to ship items back and forth between the warehouse and customers’ home, meaning it can only accept items that will fit into boxes that UPS will accept. BrightPocket expects to initially target local college students, Vidic said, using social media and online advertising. Carryer said she would expect marketing to be BrightPocket’s biggest challenge. “Marketing directly to consumers is very difficult,” she said. “He’s competing with 10 gazillion other websites. … That’s going to be the most expensive thing.”