Michael May ’11 and Louis Rosenberg ’09 recently launched Swarthmore Storage, a business that will offer an off-campus storage and delivery option for students who want to store things over a summer, a year abroad, or even after graduation.
Rosenberg explained that in their basic service, “we’re hiring students to arrive at your door and give you free boxes and tape so that you can pack your stuff on your own time, and instead of having to move things yourself, students will come to your door, pick up the boxes, and transport them by truck to a nearby climate-controlled facility.”
May said that he got the idea for the business when “I went to Willets this fall and could not see the floor because it was covered with other people’s belongings… you had to climb over them to get your own stuff, and stories I had heard from other people were similarly abysmal,” including problems with mice and with theft. He thought there might be a market for a safer and more convenient option.
Indeed, Rosenberg said that they did a survey of over 200 students and “something like 70% of students said they might be interested.” Rachel Head, Dean of Housing, also believes that there is a demand, writing in an e-mail that “some parents have asked me specifically if a service such as the one proposed by Louis and Michael is available,” and said that in the future, “this will be another option that we will provide information about.”
Tabling at Parents’ Weekend seemed to confirm their impressions—Rosenberg reported that “parents of current students were enthusiastic about a more secure and convenient way to wrap up the semester, [and] parents of incoming students were primarily interested in our ship-to-school service of delivering items directly to students’ dorm rooms when they arrive at Swarthmore for the first time.”
May said that in his talks with the administration, it seems that “they love it because the current situation is a huge liability for them. They say that they will reimburse you for items that were damaged… but some people don’t store items on campus and yet have to pay to replace items stored in these poor conditions. Having a paid system would give a more accurate distribution of costs and benefits to people who are incurring them.” Stu Hain, Director of Facilities, elaborated that “certainly, we feel we are liable if the room floods or a pipe breaks, something that’s a direct result of something the college has done… [but] it’s a store-at-your-own-risk situation,” meaning that the college does not take responsibility for lost or stolen items.
Ultimately, Rosenberg said the new option creates “a win-win situation. Students who want a more convenient climate-controlled option will have one, and those who want a free option will have a less crowded space, which takes a burden off of Public Safety and Facilities in that they won’t have to deal with such a large volume of unorganized secure storage.”
Rosenberg and May have also been talking with the administration about ways to improve free storage. Hain and Head both felt that Swarthmore’s free storage was unique. Hain said that “most schools do not provide free storage to students, and we’ve left ours pretty much under student control. Sometimes they do it well and sometimes they don’t do it well.”
One short-term solution is long-overdue cleaning of storage spaces. Head wrote that “Students may have noticed the Alice Paul, Mary Lyons, Mertz, and Wharton clean-outs that occurred recently. The rooms look amazing and Facilities should really be applauded for the work they’ve done to make more space in the rooms.”
But a long-term solution might also mean changing the way storage works. “We could better manage the free storage areas if there was more supervision,” explained Hain. “Access would have to be less free for them to be more organized. You would have to limit the hours and have somebody down there watching.” Head agreed, saying that “Willets storage is really, really, really full by the time we get to the end of exams. Students find it hard to get back into some of the rooms… some report having to crawl through tunnels of boxes. One idea we are working on involves having the RAs take a more active role in monitoring the rooms and actually “closing” the rooms once capacity is met… additional monitoring and more limited access may also mean that students may end up feeling more secure in leaving their items in dorm storage.”
For now, May and Rosenberg are excited to see what happens with their business as we enter storage season. May promised that “we’re going to focus on continuing to provide the best service we can to students, and once we’ve become more established, we should be able to lower our prices because the storage center we’ll be working with will trust us as a customer.”