Christchurch mates build student storage empire with no money and little experience

Co-founders Henry Stuthridge and Omri Kepes.
Co-founders Henry Stuthridge and Omri Kepes. Photo credit: Supplied

Two mates equipped with a couple of beers, little money, no experience and just some good ol' Kiwi ingenuity have built a student storage empire.

Despite being warned by experts in the industry they were entering a bad market two Christchurch teens faced the odds in pursuit of their legacy project.

Now after just one year, the pair, now in their 20's, have expanded their storage company across the country.

Mates since primary school, Henry Stuthridge and Omri Kepes said all they talked about was business.

One day, sitting in the backseat of the car, Stuthridge overhead his older sister discussing her struggle to find storage over summer in Wellington with their dad.

While it may have been a passing comment at the time, a couple of months later the issue resurfaced over a couple of beers at Kepes flat.

The pair said they have heard countless stories of people having their stuff stolen from empty flats over the summer. 

They also heard some landlords were prohibiting students from leaving items in their flats over summer in their tenancy agreements to stop thieves.

They decided to "pull the trigger" on their idea and registered the business that night and Kepridge Storage was born.

"We are not selling an idea or a brand or a vision, we are selling something that actually helps people."
"We are not selling an idea or a brand or a vision, we are selling something that actually helps people." Photo credit: Supplied

Kepridge Storage is a storage facility targeted at students to store their items over the summer. It is a more affordable option and transports the furniture to and from the facility itself.

Stuthridge said the company aims to kill three birds with one stone by keeping items safe from theft over summer, while being more affordable and simple for students.

"It's something that people need… It's a real problem which makes it really easy. We are not selling an idea or a brand or a vision, we are selling something that actually helps people."

The next morning it dawned on them they had the business but could they actually make it work.

"Once we registered the business, at that point we thought what do we do now? We don't have land, we don't have vehicles, we don't have movers, we don't have customers, we don't have money - where do we start," Kepes said.

The moment of truth

The pair initially contacted numerous real estate agents and brokers to find land for a warehouse, but then took a step back and came up with a cheaper alternative to run the business.

Kepridge Storage subleases units from a commercial storage firm and got transport contractors on board to help transport the items to the storage facility in other cities.

The business is run cash flow positive, with students purchasing storage earlier this year having the option of using a payment plan to help with the costs.

But a struggle to secure transport contractors in Wellington almost saw the business crumble and customers refunded.

"The moment of truth, we were sitting there and thought 'Are we just going to pull the pin and refund them or can we make it work'," Stuthridge said.

They hit the phones and called hundreds of people and a couple of days later found a transport contractor.

The business made over $40,000 in sales revenues during its first year and this financial year the pair are expecting 10 times that.

They have already passed last year's sales, despite being yet to hit peak sales time, and with 98 percent of customers saying they will return this year, hundreds of people on their website daily, coupled with expanding into Dunnedin they are confident their revenue will be in the hundreds of thousands.

But none of the money goes into their own pockets. The pair have been putting 100 percent of the revenue back into the business and don't plan to pay themselves for the next couple of years.

"The idea is we won't take any money out until we buy a warehouse or put on a serious lease because that is the security for us," Kepes said.

This means Kepes is juggling a full-time job on top of co-running the business, while Stuthridge is studying at Canterbury University and working a part-time job.

Creating a legacy

 For them, this business is a legacy project.

"We are not going to leave until we have fully served this market. Until we can confidently say a student can buy affordable storage and not do any work and that's from us," Kepes said. 

The business opened in Dunedin this year and is looking to expand to Auckland and Palmerston North.

While the pair have "constructive arguments", they chuckled, at the end of the day they were friends before business partners and their vision remains the same: "To dominate this market and if it goes well we won't stop."