Words of Wisdom

A conversion of an existing building.

There is a common misconception among new self-storage investors that Europe is one big untapped market with great opportunities, common requirements and regulations. While it is true there is great potential and the sector is growing at a phenomonal rate, new developers should beware.

Before investing, developers will need an experienced guide to lead them through the potential mine field. Our company, Australia-based Steel Storage, was thrown into the deep end when it arrived in the United Kingdom to create a new self-storage base. In the past five years, however, we have managed to become one of Europe's "fitting-out" self-storage specialists.


First, it is essential to appreciate the challenges involved in developing new facilities in Europe. Planning is necessary in regard to many issues. In our experience, we realized restrictions and regulations vary from country to country and district to district. For instance, Holland places greater emphasis on fire compartments, while France stresses smoke extraction and the United Kingdom focuses on means of escape in compartments.


A new 120,000-square-foot facility built on a reclaimed site in Reading, United Kingdom.

When it comes to planning criteria, keep in mind local town planners are under pressure and have several social issues to consider. For that reason, job creation is one of the biggest hurdles for self-storage operators to overcome. Similarly, there are regional preferences for different building materials. While Spain prefers masonry and concrete, the United Kingdom uses brick and heavyweight steelwork.


In all markets, location is everything. Operators want to create a new facility with high visibility on a main road, providing easy access for consumers with potential commercial interaction. But finding the right space with planning approval is a supreme challenge, particularly in the United Kingdom, where there is resistance to any new development on the outskirts of major cities.

Redeveloping so-called "brownfields" or former factory sites is a possibility. The high cost of land can, however, restrict low-density development. We recently completed a new 120,000-square-foot facility in Reading, United Kingdom, west of London, on a site between two railroad lines. The "contaminated" land was inexpensive and the fact that it had been "filled" meant it was well-suited to the construction of the new lightweight structures.

In searching for suitable sites, self-storage operators will need to compete with retail warehouses, logistics companies, etc., to find the best property available with existing high-bay, portable buildings on established industrial estates. We have been involved in the conversion and refurbishment of older buildings, and found that mezzanine floors, lifts and storage units can be installed to maximize space utilization.

A conversion of an existing building.

We have completed projects in Belgium, France, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom for some of Europe's leading operators: Access Storage Solutions, Homebox, The Big Yellow Self Storage Co., City Box, Shurgard and Spaces. We now have 3 million square feet of successful storage space using specialized self-storage products and construction systems.

While there are still some significant differences between the mature United States market and the burgeoning European self-storage industry, things are certainly heating up in the European market.

Jonathan Perrins is the co-founding director of the London sales office of the Steel Storage Group, which designs, manufactures and ships self-storage partitioning systems and buildings to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Portugal, France, Austria, Japan and European countries. He can be reached at at [email protected]. For Steel Storage Australia/New Zealand, contact Rodger Giles at [email protected]. For Steel Storage France, contact Marc Le Delliou at +33 6 08 51 46 24. International inquiries can be made to Brian Perry at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.steelstorage.co.uk.

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