Why these 100,000-square-foot warehouses are designed like hip coworki
The company’s transition to e-commerce is almost invisible. Simple website templates and apps that handle payments and taxes remove virtually all barriers to turning a brick-and-mortar business into an online store.
But on the back end of e-commerce is the actual shipping of all these products, which are easily sold online: a space- and labor-intensive process that can quickly become unwieldy. That has some entrepreneurs swimming around cardboard boxes in garages, chasing delivery vans for last-minute pickups.
Operating from a couch or garage can quickly become impractical for a company of a certain size. But these companies are still small enough to not need the often huge space that most warehouses offer.
“If you’re looking for a 1,000-square-foot warehouse, it doesn’t exist. Or 500 square feet, or 5,000 square feet,” said former e-commerce business owner Tyler Scriven, who has been looking for such a good-sized space.This challenge led him to discover salt box, which turned a large warehouse for a single operator into a segmented space tailored to the more modest needs of emerging e-commerce businesses. The co-working space built into Saltbox offers all the amenities WeWork offers, giving businesses a space for smooth online sales and cluttered order fulfillment.
Saltbox, one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies of 2022, now operates five of its spaces in cities including Dallas, Denver and Atlanta, with warehouses ranging from 45,000 square feet to over 100,000 square feet. The company has more than 300 members operating from these segmented warehouses, sharing resources such as loading docks, racks and forklifts, while also having their own space to store products and process orders.
Scriven says design is an important part of the company’s product. Co-working spaces at Saltbox locations are a logistical version of a co-working space with modern furniture, easily accessible meeting rooms, bright colours, plenty of daylight and free coffee. Scriven said he wanted to bring some of the amenities found in typical coworking spaces into warehouses as a way to validate the work of the people who run these businesses — people he says are often pushed to the fringes of the housing market. “Why do we think it’s okay to have all digital entrepreneurs working in the beautiful WeWork, while brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs have to work in warehouse slums? I don’t think it’s good,” he said.
Instead, Saltbox focuses on what Scriven calls human-centric logistics, or creating spaces that can both store merchandise and feel comfortable. Typical warehouses often have poor air conditioning — they’re either 50 or 100 degrees — and simple necessities like a bathroom can be located in a corner of a building larger than a city block, Scriven said. Scriven did the opposite, adding bathrooms, kitchens, windows and air conditioning. The space within the Saltbox location has been fenced off and can be used as a simple 200 square feet of warehouse space or more office suites with thousands of square feet of storage space. “We tried to create these spaces that are both comfortable and functional,” says Scriven.
More Saltbox locations are planned this year, from Arizona to Florida to Virginia. The demand for this type of space is huge, Scriven said. “There are 710,000 B2C e-commerce companies with less than $5 million in revenue,” he said, which represents about 15 percent of the e-commerce market. “This segment of merchants will likely double again in the next decade.”
Jessica Spazak is one of these new e-commerce merchants, albeit by accident.she founded in denver Kimchi Town Flower Company In 2019, on a converted van, intended to operate as a mobile flower studio. Then came the pandemic. “We started shipping nationwide, which is not what I intended for the company,” she said. “So, I’ve been figuring that out for the past few years.”
As a small company with different shipping needs every day, getting boxes out the door has always been a pain point: pickups from major shipping companies are unreliable, and sometimes employees have to travel to several drop-off locations to catch delivery trucks. “We waste hours running around every day,” Sparzak said.
When she learned about Saltbox earlier this year, she was intrigued. Her husband happened to be near Denver that day, so she asked him to visit. Watching the FaceTime video call, she said she was quickly convinced. The fact that the price includes daily pickup from FedEx and UPS is a boon. Within two days, she had signed a 700-square-foot lease.
The design of the space is not the deciding factor, Sparzak said. “All the other amenities you can find in a co-working space are perks. Those are not high on my list. But they are,” she said.
Even more important to Sparzak, whose nearly all employees are women, Saltbox prioritizes safety, including safe locations and well-lit spaces inside and out. “It was critical to me to find a place where I knew without a doubt that everyone was safe,” she said. “For a small company like us, the cost of being there is definitely a burden, but I just thought to myself, it’s okay, I’ll make it work.”
Spaces in Saltbox locations are rented out on a monthly basis, although prices vary by location and size, but start at $300 Denver and $500 Atlanta Suitable for warehouse space up to 200 square feet.
Another Saltbox member is silent home, a luxury home improvement company that leases approximately 200 square feet in Atlanta. Jay Banks, who founded the company with his wife Camille in 2020, said Saltbox has been instrumental in growing the company during the pandemic. “They run like a well-oiled machine,” he said. Saltbox’s warehouse also lives up to The Muted Home’s design aesthetic, with a focus on simplicity, clean lines and artisan-led craftsmanship. “From a design standpoint, we fit in with each other,” Banks said.
Scriven said the design of these spaces is constantly evolving. The company has begun adding what he calls “oasis spaces” throughout, where members can use meeting rooms, workstations and bathrooms. “As these facilities get bigger, it becomes less ideal for members to walk through a 100,000-square-foot facility to the nearest meeting room or make a quiet phone call,” he said.
Such human-centered design concepts are likely to become more prevalent in warehouses and logistics, especially as e-commerce becomes a big part of how the world shoppers, Scriven said. “These spaces need to be carefully designed,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re going to be Class A offices or even Saltboxes, but I do think we’re going to see some meaningful evolution in the role these spaces play for the people who work in them over the next few years.”