Storage company Omni now lets users share their belongings with friends

On-demand storage startup Omni wants to make it easier for you to have access to your favorite items without them taking up space in your closet. But now the company is taking a huge step toward making those items available to your friends, and to other people in your local community.

Omni is hardly alone in the market for on-demand storage, with companies like Clutter, MakeSpace and Trove bringing those services online. But where Omni seeks to differentiate from other storage startups is in providing item-level categorization and access to its users’ stuff.

When you store your stuff with Omni, it doesn’t just sit in a box or crate collecting dust in a warehouse somewhere. The company goes through the process of photographing, identifying, categorizing and adding each item to an inventory that can be managed in a mobile app. Users can choose to take items out of storage at any time, so long as they give the company at least two hours notice.

That allows Omni users who like to surf or bike or golf on the weekends to keep their sporting gear in storage when they’re not using it and take it out only when they need it. But now that the company has accrued a kind of critical mass of items, it wants to allow users to make them available to friends and other people in their local community.

“What we’re launching is the ability for you as the item owner to make any of your items available to your friends or to the local community,” Omni VP of product and growth Ryan Delk says. For Omni, which has itemized more than 100,000 goods in the 18 months since launch, this was always part of its master plan.

“We positioned ourselves as a storage company knowing that was a Trojan horse,” Delk told me. According to him, Omni was able to accomplish this because “everything happens on the item level.”

In retrospect, the plan probably should have been obvious. After all, why go through the trouble of building infrastructure required to pick up items for storage, individually tag and categorize them, and add them to a cloud database of goods unless you would then allow users to actually do something with them?

Omni allows users to store small goods for $0.50 per item per month and large items for $3 a month. It also charges pick-up and delivery fees based on how soon a user wants to access something in their inventory. While it’s free to have goods picked up — unless it’s a real rush (3 hours or less) — Omni charges a $3 delivery fee for items that will be dropped off next day and $20 for items needed within 2 hours.

Due to the economics of its business, the stuff you store with Omni would probably not be the same type of thing you’d throw into a box and forget about at your local self-storage warehouse. Based on its own categorization, Omni says that 29 percent of items fall in the “home goods and tools” bucket, with apparel making up another 25 percent and sports and recreation accounting for 13 percent of all goods.

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From those three categories alone, you could imagine an Omni user making a set of power tools available to a neighbor, letting a friend borrow a dress for an event or sharing camping or other outdoor equipment.

Omni has already been testing this concept with a limited number of beta users in the Bay Area, and is now opening it up to others. All items a user has stored will by default remain private, but if they would like to share with friends or make their stored goods available to the community at large they can now easily do so.

If you’ve read this far — and God bless you if you’re still with me — you probably see where this is going. Omni is starting with “borrowing” and “lending,” but let’s be real — this is just one step toward giving users a way to make money off their unused goods, with Omni taking a cut of rentals.

Indeed, Delk acknowledges some people are already doing this, by hacking the system with peer-to-peer Venmo or PayPal payments when they borrow an item from a friend or neighbor. And you can imagine how the company would want to capture some of the commerce it already sees happening on its platform.

Anyway, that’s another product update for another day. Omni still has to prove this is the type of thing people actually want to participate in, and the only proof of that is time and traction. We’ll check back in in a few months and see how it’s doing with that.