The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 15, 2021 1:00 am

Warehouse space for startups

Indianapolis-based RISE Commercial filling void in local market

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Cam Cheetham had specific requirements when looking to lease space.

The local franchisee for Smash My Trash wanted to keep his 32-foot diesel truck out of the sleet and snow, so he needed space with a garage door at least 14 feet high. He also wanted internet access, a spot to set up an office and a restroom.

There weren't many options when Cheetham started his search late last year.

Jim Sapp, founder of Indianapolis-based RISE Commercial District, also noticed a void in the Fort Wayne market.

Sapp seized the opportunity by building his fifth co-warehouse at 4310 Illinois Road, near Target this year. Since launching in 2010, the business has grown to 10 locations across Indiana and Ohio.

Economic development experts say successful communities support startups by making mentors available and providing opportunities to share resources such as the office and meeting spaces needed by technology firms.

A 2017 evaluation of Fort Wayne's support system for startups gave the city the lowest possible score for its entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Among consultant Chris Heivly's recommendations were an increased focus on the roles of Electric Works, the development underway on the former General Electric campus.

RISE Commercial uses the co-working concept to create a space where other types of businesses can grow.

“It's just a very low-risk way for entrepreneurs to get all the things they need to run their business,” company spokeswoman Allison Barber said late last month.

Successful model

RISE Commercial's co-warehouse is climate-controlled and includes free forklift use, 24/7 access and video surveillance accessible from customers' smartphones. The building has a loading dock with ample space for semi shipping and receiving.

The gated and fenced facility offers internet access, electrical outlets and gives businesses an address where they can receive mail. Some spaces also include restrooms.

“We basically put the training wheels on these businesses,” Barber said during a phone interview.

Monthly rates start at $490 and vary depending on the amount and type of space leased. Rental spaces range from 300 to 3,000 square feet, she said.

RISE originally stood for Revolutionary Industrial Space for Entrepreneurs, but the organization has transitioned to the shorter name.

Typical tenants are window, liquidation and moving companies, Barber said. The spaces, she added, also attract landscaping, roofing and bathroom remodeling contractors.

Sue Schaefer is co-owner of Jack's Pallet Liquidation, a company that buys and sells reclaimed goods.

Often, it's a matter of an item being mislabeled. Jack's recently had “an absolutely beautiful royal blue sofa” in stock because the customer ordered it in gray and rejected the delivery, Schaefer said. 

Selling the items to a liquidator is cheaper for retailers than shipping them back to the manufacturer. Her company buys truckloads of goods from Target, Lowe's, Wayfare, Costco and others.

Jack's leases three spaces from RISE Commercial to allow consumers and discount retailers to sort through its inventory before buying.

“I love RISE,” Schaefer said. “If I were going to build a complex, it would be exactly what RISE has built.”

She appreciates having security and utilities included. And having access to smaller spaces is a big deal.

“There's a real lack of warehouse space in 10,000 square feet and under,” she said. “Fifty thousand square feet is available, but if you need 5,000 square feet, you're screwed.”

Being able to sign a 12-month lease instead of committing to a 10-year agreement is another perk RISE Commercial offers small business owners.

“You don't know if you're going to get bigger or get smaller” over time, Schaefer said.

Getting rolling

Cheetham is now a satisfied tenant in RISE Commercial's 110,000-square-foot local facility, which opened in March. He launched his business in April.

Smash My Trash uses a 6,000-pound roller to compact the contents of an industrial-sized dumpster by 50% to 70%, Cheetham said.

“We pretty much save our customers money by reducing the number of hauls a hauling company makes to the landfill,” he said, adding that his firm splits the savings with its customers.

Cheetham's biggest challenge now is explaining the concept to potential clients, especially building contractors who don't want to take time away from the job site to hear a sales pitch.

“So far, so good,” he said. “We're getting some good traction.”

Added benefits

Tenants often get more than they bargained for when they move into the co-warehouse, Barber said.

“The customers come in looking for a space for their business, but they end up becoming comrades,” she said.

It isn't unusual for them to refer business to each other, she said. A client might ask a roofing contractor for a landscaper recommendation, for example.

The entrepreneurs also socialize and bounce ideas off each other, Barber said, describing what RISE Commercial has seen happen in other markets.

“It kind of gives the business owners a community that they might not otherwise have,” she said.

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