In these turbulent times of accounting scandals and plummeting stock markets, thank goodness for self-storage. Our industry is solid, safe and secure compared to the rest of the world. Our investments—in property, fixtures and fittings—are under our control. We all are still masters of our own destiny, whether in the United States or Europe. The dependable world of self-storage would appear to be one of the best ports in the current financial storm.
Although self-storage in Europe suffers from lack of product awareness, financial support and credibility, we are harbored in a relatively protected environment. Just as our customers choose to use our services because of high levels of security, our industry offers us a secure investment in uncertain times. Just as our clients use self-storage to keep control over their goods, we are in control of our assets and, therefore, our future.
Because of what is happening around the world, self-storage in Europe will continue to expand as it is perceived by investors to be a low-risk investment. It strikes me that over the next year or so, the industry has the potential to offer better returns than just about any other investment. Serious investors will recognize this as their traditional sources of return hit rock bottom or swing wildly in the hurricane.
With the exception of initial slow fill-up rates, the only barriers to entry for the European market are working/fit-out capital and availability of suitable properties at the right price. On this basis, the more money that comes into the market the better. If some of that money comes with property connections, then expansion via new sites will continue at or above its current rate.
Entrepreneurial operators have managed to fund their expansion via normal money-raising routes—bank loans, overdrafts and their own capital—over the last two to three years. But they have also taken on leasehold sites as opposed to freehold acquisitions due to finance restrictions. This offers further proof that even in a new, cash-starved market sector, self-storage can still grow. When these restrictions are removed, expansion should eventually develop to U.S. proportions.
Some people say I'm far too optimistic or always trying to turn the negative to a positive. However, the more stock-market horror stories I hear, the better our "safe as houses" investment appears. Soon an investment in our sector will be perceived as low-risk.
In last year's Inside Self-Storage Europe supplement issue, I predicted the Internet would be instrumental in raising the profile of self-storage throughout the pioneer marketplace of mainland Europe. This year I predict a fragile, low-level stock market and worldwide confidence crisis will help new and existing operators in Europe raise the money they desperately need to further their expansion. Once one of the three U.K.-listed, Plc, self-storage-only operators turns a profit, the pace of progress across Europe will have gathered sufficient momentum and nothing will be able to stop it.
Speaking of raising the self-storage profile, I received an invitation in the post to meet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. And as you read this, I may just be mentioning "self-storage" to Her Majesty. I've just got to keep raising the profile of the industry to anyone who will listen!
Andrew Donaldson is the founder and chief executive of Active Supply & Design (CMD) Ltd. of Cheshire, England. He is also the founder of the Self Storage Sentinel newsletter, Rent-A-Space Ltd. (now a multi-site operator) and selfstorage.uk.net. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.active.co.uk.