This week’s Small Business Star is Steve Folwell. Having previously held a number of senior roles at Guardian Media Group (GMG), Steve was one of the key architects of The Guardian’s highly successful global digital open strategy. His influence helped transform it from the 9th largest newspaper in the UK to one of the most popular digital news services in the world. In 2013 he left his career in media to help launch LOVESPACE, seeking the challenge of building a new business from the ground up.

We spoke to Steve about why LOVESPACE is the next big thing.

Doing for storage what Amazon did for books

LOVESPACE was started in 2012 with co-founder of Streetcar, Brett Akker, who had decided to target the storage market with a second fleet-based business. The ambition is to do for storage what Amazon did for books and Ocado did to supermarket shopping by introducing greater efficiency, convenience and a much more transparent pricing model.  At LOVESPACE, we want to change the way people think about and use storage, and our mission is to help our customers to live bigger and better lives thanks to the space, time and money we will save them.

A streamlined approach to customer service

The self-storage industry in the UK is valued at around £0.5bn, and the need for self-storage is destined to grow as the cost of living space continues to rise, particularly in bigger cities such as London. Traditional self-storage is a property business, relying on customers to come to them.  However, LOVESPACE is different – we’re a customer-service based business, and a digitally fulfilled one. Rather than offering shed space, we reduce costs for the customers by placing their items on racks in large warehouses.

As well as our consumer market, hundreds of start-ups now use LOVESPACE as a logistics partner – storing stock, samples or equipment that can then be delivered anywhere in the UK, and collected again for storage until next use. For example, a lingerie business uses LOVESPACE to store its gift boxes and seasonal stock, and a photo booth company stores all its booths with us, which we then transport to venues across the UK.

Like cloud storage, but for physical things

LOVESPACE is the UK’s first by-the-box storage company.  Unlike traditional storage companies, we collect things from your home or office, look after them for as long as you want, and then return them whenever and wherever you want them.  So there’s no need to hire a van to transport your things to a storage unit, and no need to pay for excess space in a storage locker that you don’t end up using – you only pay for what you store.  We see our service like cloud storage, but for your physical things.

In the B2B market, what makes us different is the fact that businesses don’t just use us for archiving.  Approximately half of our business customers use us to outsource some or all of their operations.  Businesses are becoming more mobile and they don’t want to store things locally because they don’t know where they will be in a year.  By offering more than just archive storage, LOVESPACE allows them to stay nimble as they grow.

Think partnerships and clever marketing

As LOVESPACE is a door-to-door service serving the whole of the UK, we have avoided locating our warehouses in prime London locations in order to be able to pass on the significant cost savings to all our customers. However, we get a high degree of brand visibility on a daily basis from our fleet of LOVESPACE branded vehicles driving around the country collecting and delivering to customers.

Partnerships have also been very important to our success in customer acquisition and reputation building. Our partnership with Mothercare allows expectant parents to store their purchased items with us until the baby arrives and they want the items delivered to their door. We also have partnerships with many universities across the UK, providing a cost-effective and convenient end of term storage solution for students.

The future is spacious

There’s still a huge amount of growth potential for LOVESPACE within the UK, but international expansion is definitely part of our plans. There are many cities across the world with similar characteristics to London – densely populated, with shrinking living space per person.

Considering potential future risks, maintaining the pace of growth that we have experienced will certainly be a challenge. With a service such as LOVESPACE it is incredibly important for us to continue to innovate, as by-the-box storage is still such a new concept, and we expect the way in which people think about storage to change significantly over the coming years.

Crowdfunding success

When it comes to thinking about proudest moments, we had an incredibly successful crowd funding round in spring 2014 on Crowdcube. It took just 24 hours for LOVESPACE to secure its business target of £600,000, and we went on to exceed our original target by 167%, attracting an impressive mix of crowd-funded and mainstream equity from both UK and European VCs and a significant number of industry expert angel investors.  It was so successful that we went on to win Crowdfunded Business of the Year at the UK BAA Investment Awards in 2014, and were named as one of the UK’s most oversubscribed equity crowdfunding projects by Real Business.

Embracing the challenge of growth

There’s no denying that we’ve had to scale up our team rapidly in order to meet demand, growing from 7 to 25 full-time employees in just 12 months. Expanding so rapidly means that it is sometimes all hands on deck when it comes to operations – as Managing Director I am still seen out and about on the road in a LOVESPACE van during busy times, collecting and delivering customers’ items in order to ensure that they still receive a consistently great service.

It’s all about sharing a vision

Prioritise recruiting the best people who share your passion for the business.  When you are a start up with a small team around you, everyone needs to be bought into the vision for your business, and willing to get stuck in beyond the bounds of their standard job description. Team commitment also really helps when it comes to developing your business offering – when your team are obsessive about getting the service right for your customers it can lead to some excellent innovative ideas with wider implications for your company.

Find out more about Steve Folwell and LOVESPACE by visiting: www.lovespace.co.uk

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub