European Storage: Services on the Side

Andrew Donaldson Comments
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I HAVE A GOOD FRIEND WHO IS A REAL GO-GETTER, and generally gets what he wants. If he says "Jump," people ask, "How high?" Why? Because he's a driver who gets things done—just like an entrepreneur in self-storage who spots an opportunity and grasps it.

If this friend of mine ran a self-storage facility, I'm sure he would offer plenty of services on the side, recognizing opportunities to generate more income from niche markets. If there was customer demand for a product or service his facility didn't offer, he would chase the opportunity down, run the numbers, and implement a change. That is how I imagine speciality storage developed in the United States.

Speciality storage exists all over Europe; but it is run by specialist companies, not self-storage companies. Before self-storage took off five years ago, if you wanted to store anything, you went to a company that specialized in storing your particular item. This includes specialties in areas such as as warehousing, removals and storage, archives, wine, boats, field trailers and more.

If a U.K. customer had never been offered self-storage, he would always have stored with one of these market-driven specialists. So when you talk about "services on the side," you need to remember that only three years ago, European self-storage operators were just beginning to grasp the potential income streams derived from added-value merchandising products. Speciality storage has mostly been left to the specialists. After all, they are good at it.

But here it is: an opportunity for U.K./European self-storage operators to diversify by taking market share from storage specialists. And why not? They've been complacent for decades, and we've got the best product—self-storage—by far.

Take the removals industry in the United Kingdom, for instance. This is where our domestic self-storage customer base has been storing for the last 20 years. I recently visited a forward-thinking, independent removals company that was in the process of closing on a six-figure self-storage conversion. Fortunately for the company, its decision-makers are wise enough to realize their best way forward is to specialize in both industries. As customer awareness of self-storage is increasing rapidly through South England, the removals industry will be the first big casualty. And it's not hard to see why: In a consumer-driven society, it has a 20-year-old product that looks its age when compared to self-storage.

For those of you who don't know, a traditional removals company visits your home and packs your goods into a timber container that sits on the back of a wagon. The wagon is taken away and your container is put into storage—deep storage—probably under three other containers and behind six more, with access by prior appointment only.

While I was visiting the company, I saw a husband and wife watching as the fork-lift operator maneuvered his beast of a truck back and to, back and to, until eventually there it was—the container, their pride and joy, wobbling 10 meters in the air under the total control of a grinning, toothless driver. (It's hard to believe you actually have to pay hard-earned money for this pleasure!)

Grinning myself, I walked out of the high-bay storage building into the yard and noticed a sales representative unloading products and samples from her storage container, which had been strategically positioned in the center of the yard by the toothless letch himself. At that moment, the heavens opened with rain. I ran to my car while the poor young lady ran for cover. That morning pretty much demonstrated what a great product we have in self-storage and just how much business is out there to be taken from all the complacent European storage specialists with their out-of-date offerings.

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 andrew@askactive.com; visit www.active.co.uk.

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