What Is Self Storage

Self Storage is a business that provides storage rooms and lockers to domestic and commercial customers. These rooms are different sizes and maybe inside a building or drive up units. They maybe as small as a locker or up to 300 sq ft and sometimes even bigger. Generally, all sizes in between are offered. The principle is that you only rent as much space as you require for as long as you need.

The other main feature with self storage is that the contracts are flexible, generally month to month. But they can be as short as a day or a week.

How Did It Start

Self Storage was started in the USA which is by far the largest market around the world, fueled by the USA’s consumer culture. It is estimated that there are up to 55,000 self storage facilities in the USA.

It first started in Texas and was used as a way of creating income on long term development sites. The real growth in the industry was in the 1990’s, when there was an explosion of development across the USA. There are now approximately 2.3 billion sq ft of self storage in the USA. This is an industry that is worth $38 billion.

Self storage is an industry that has grown to multiple countries around the world. In Europe there are approximately 3000 facilities. With around 1000 in the UK. Australia has approximately 1100 facilities.

Who Uses Self Storage

All sorts of people use self storage, but generally the common denominator of why there is a demand for is transition in the customer’s personal or business life. This could be a death, divorce, moving, upsizing or downsizing. It maybe that two households have moved in together and have duplicated the furniture they need and therefore rather than sell it have decided to store it for a period of time.

What Else Do They Offer

Some self storage businesses also offer ancillary products and services, such as selling moving supplies, for example moving boxes, bubble wrap, tape and other useful items when moving to a new house.

In many cases they also provide a moving truck. Often this is provided free of charge or at a discounted rate as an incentive to store with a particular business. These are generally self-drive vehicles.

Another addition that many self storage facilities provide is contents insurance. Generally, it will be the customer’s responsibility to insure their goods while they are in store. They may add this to their household insurance, or they can take out a separate policy to cover the value of the goods in store.

In many cases this will be available through the self storage company. Alternatively, self storage insurance can be purchased through a third party and many options are available online.

Another feature is the customer provides the padlock to secure their individual storage room and they will hold the only key. The company, although having the right to access the space, will not have access to the room on a regular basis. They will only access the room in the case of an emergency, or if they need to take a Lien on the goods, for non-payment of the rent.

What Are You Renting?

A self storage facility is basically constructed from demountable steel partitions and doors. Generally, the doors are a bright colour to give the facility a more retail / branded feel to it. The doors may be swing or roller doors. Generally, with drive up facilities the doors with be spring loaded roller doors.

Every self storage facility has a variety of sizes. The mix of sizes will depend on the location for the facility. For example, in a densely populated urban area, more smaller units will be offered as the demand will be from apartment dwellers, where they have a requirement for extra space because there is no storage in their apartment. In more rural areas, of in smaller towns the demand is generally for larger units, i.e. to provide storage for people moving home. The units generally do not have windows or lights. The doors are secured by padlocks although some modern facilities will have electric locking systems.

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What About Security

Security is paramount with any self storage facility. Therefore, most facilities will have a door or gate access control system. Customers will be provided with an individual PIN code to access the facility. Some systems operate with a fob system.

In more modern facilities each individual door is alarmed. If the unit is tampered with then the alarm will sound. Many of the door access control systems are integrated into the Property Management Software, therefore enabling the operator to monitor the customer’s access to the facility. Also, if the customer fails to pay then they can restrict access until the customer settles their account.

Types of Unit

Some facilities offer a mix of unheated and climate controlled units. Some even provide specific storage units for niche requirements such as wine storage.
Most urban self storage facilities are in multi storey buildings. They will have a loading area and the operator will provide trucks and trolleys to help customers move in and out of their storage unit. The facilities will have goods and freight elevators to enable access to upper and lower floors. With drive up units customers can drive up to the door of their unit and unload.

In the UK many of these facilities are conversions of buildings that were originally built for other uses. These maybe old supermarkets and other types of factory and warehouses. There are generally located in highly visible locations and can be easily seem from main arterial routes. This acts as a huge advert for the business. And many are painted and clad in bright branded colours of the specific business.

Self storage is very fragmented in it’s make up. There are some national operators in the UK such as Big Yellow and Safestore, but many of the operators are small single site operators or may a handful of sites.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay

Unfortunately, in some cases customers fail to pay their rent. Most facilities will provide a period where they will chase delinquent customers to pay their bill. However, if the customer still fails to pay the company will restrict access and take a Lien on the contents of the storage unit and will eventually sell the goods at auction.
This maybe a physical auction or it can happen online. The lock will be cut after a specific number of days and the goods will be videoed and photographed and then listed for sale. If more than the debt is recovered the balance will be returned to the customer. This process is set out in the Terms and Conditions that are signed at the time of renting.

This article provides just a brief overview of what self storage is and how it came about. If you would like to know more then Stop and Store will be writing more articles on specific elements of the industry over the forthcoming weeks and months.