Foreigner hits pay dirt with unusual business in Vietnam

By Vien Thong   February 20, 2021 | 07:32 am GMT+7
Foreigner hits pay dirt with unusual business in Vietnam
Aric Austin at MyStorage’s warehouse. Photo by VnExpress/Vien Thong.
American Aric Austin founded MyStorage, the pioneer of the self-storage industry in Vietnam, and quickly fulfilled an unmet need in the market.

Austin was born to American parents in Spain and grew up in Munich in Germany. After completing his MBA at the Rotterdam School of Management in Netherlands, he started in the media industry at MTV Europe in London.

In 2007, he founded an online media company in Germany, which was acquired in 2010 by the U.S.’s Glam Media. Then he co-founded a second start-up with a focus on online video advertising, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2015.

In 2018, he came to Vietnam looking for a start-up opportunity since he believed the country had huge potential and was open to new kinds of businesses.

His start-up in Vietnam was unlike any other he had founded earlier as he focused on a problem that most space-hungry city dwellers face: storage. Thus was born MyStorage, the first full-service self-storage business in the country.

Austin and his compatriot Stephanie Stadler started MyStorage in July 2019 based on his personal observation that mini storage offerings are scarce in Vietnam’s increasingly dense urban areas unlike in other Asian cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.

He himself had struggled to find a professional storage solution in HCMC for his belongings when he moved from Germany to Vietnam.

The company quickly gained traction, and Austin was named ‘Best Entrepreneur’ at the 2020 Eurocham Business Awards.

MyStorage’s customers are families storing belongings to save living space, small businesses that have limited office space and online sellers.

It offers warehouse space at prices starting from VND696,000 (US$30) per cubic meter per month and private storage space at VND1 million per month besides pick-up and delivery services. Customers can store their belongings for one to six months.

"We want to change the image of storage," he says.

The warehouse in District 2, HCMC, is equipped with air conditioners, humidifiers and security cameras.

"Many customers say they wish they had known about MyStorage sooner. Some of them paid for a hotel room for three months just to store their belongings or divided their items into small packages and asked their friends to keep it for them."

Vietnam is rapidly urbanizing, leading to denser populations in large cities, which drives up the cost of living space and results in increased demand for storage.

In Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, apartment prices surged 27.5 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020 to an average of $2,582 per square meter, according to real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle.

All kinds of items can be found at MyStorage’s warehouse, ranging from bicycles and Christmas decorations that are only used once a year to TVs, tablets and to expensive cooking ingredients.

Cass Le-Gardner, the Australian owner of Le Truffle restaurant, is among its customers. She says: "The truffle products I import from Australia are small in size but high-value and environmentally sensitive and therefore require secure, climate-controlled storage.

"MyStorage [has] become an essential cornerstone of Le Truffle’s business," she says.

It took half a year for the first warehouse to be full, and the company opened its second warehouse in Thu Duc District on March 2020, which operates 24/7.

It is considering developing an application that will allow customers to see their items in storage and help return individual items at the push of a button.

"Our biggest challenge is to deliver a brand new concept of storage to the Vietnamese, our target customers," Austin says.

Initially the start-up had focused on foreigners living in Vietnam since they already knew about the nature of the service.

"We used to think that our main customers would be foreigners, but more and more Vietnamese are using our service," Austin says.

Asked what happens if customers store illegal goods, he says while the company respects their privacy, we have an agreement that our customers have to take full responsibility for their belongings stored in our warehouse.

MyStorage has experienced a case of items becoming overdue after a customer could not come back to Vietnam from Africa and asked the company to donate them. MyStorage sent the items to a charity.

"In case there are overdue items, we will inform the customer and wait for a response for two weeks. If we do not receive a reply within two weeks, we will unbox the package and donate the items," Austin explains.

Competition is imminent for MyStorage in the form of new companies. But Austin is sanguine: "If there are many self-storage companies, they will be our competitors, but at the same time they will make the mini-storage concept widespread in Vietnam.So he is focusing on expanding by setting up warehouses in Hanoi and Da Nang.

"As a pioneer, we must take the lead to develop faster and bigger. The key is to find the right moment to enter the markets."

 
 
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