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Flatiron Business Stores Baggage for Tourists and Shoppers

By Mary Johnson | November 4, 2011 7:11am

FLATIRON — Shaun So, 31, got the idea for his first entrepreneurial venture after helping his wife schlep bags around Manhattan one night.

“She was complaining about the bags, and I was like, ‘It would be really nice if we could store these, like, around the corner,’” So recalled. “That was basically where we saw the problem.”

So was aware of baggage storage places in foreign countries, where tourists and residents can leave their shopping totes or suitcases while they go about their day and then pick the luggage up again when it’s needed. He thought the same concept could work in New York City.

So, who was an MBA candidate at Baruch College at the time, brought his budding idea to his friend and classmate, Paul Harrison, 27, who agreed it had potential.

The pair graduated in May. On Sept. 16, and opened Cubby on Park Avenue and East 23rd Street.

Cubby charges $5 to store a small, carry-on sized bag for up to 24 hours and $8 for a large bag. Customers can retrieve their items themselves, or they can make use of Cubby’s delivery service, which costs about $10 or $20 more, depending upon the destination.

The prices seem fairly low for basic storage, but both business owners agreed they have to be.

“The competition is people’s shoulders,” So explained.

“It’s about growing volume,” Harrison added. “The goal is to branch it out and have five locations in Manhattan.”

The store itself is small, about 300 square feet, and temporary. Cubby is technically a pop-up shop right now while the owners look for more funding to find a permanent home.

But so far, the spot in the Flatiron district fits their vision. The façade is all windows, and the design is clean and simple and well-lit.

Although an earlier version of their plan proposed storing things in lockers, they have since evolved from that to store bags and other items on shelves in plain view of anyone passing by.

“People like that we’re storing their bags out in the open because they can see it,” Harrison said.

That high-visibility is part of the security plan in which “everyone who walks by is basically like your security guard,” said So, who has worked as an intelligence analyst at the Pentagon and served as a special agent in the Army Reserves.

“Security is a very large concern, for rational and irrational [reasons] obviously,” So added.

Cubby staffers don’t go through any customers’ bags, Harrison explained, but there are four security cameras installed throughout the tiny storefront. Also, Cubby only accepts credit cards, meaning that there is a record of every transaction. 

“If something happens, we have you on camera. We have your credit card number,” Harrison said.

“It’s not worth it [for people to target Cubby],” So added.

After just six weeks in business, So and Harrison said they have garnered a five-star rating on Yelp.

“I think the response from both New Yorkers and tourists has been amazing,” So said.

“People love us so far,” Harrison added.

Now, it’s about growth.

Cubby has built iPhone- and Android-compatible applications that allow people to reserve storage space before they arrive.

That gives the business a bit of a tech slant, which is seen as a coveted quality among investors, So said. And the entrepreneurs are actively seeking venture capital funds to nab a bigger, more permanent location.

More space will also mean a larger staff, So added.

“We’re helping the economy. And if we get more money, we’ll continue to help the economy,” So said with a smile. “We’re ready to grow.”