SELF-STORAGE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND EUROPE is so new that many prospective customers have yet to hear of it. And as progressive as U.K. and European self-storage entrepreneurs are, they are still trying to convey the message to the public of alternatives to storing their goods besides a shed or garage. It is not surprising, therefore, that while self-storage is growing, the facilities are not marketing specialty storage as an additional service.
A case in point is storing boats or RVs during off-peak use. Although in the United Kingdom, there is nowhere near the number of RVs, boats, etc., as compared to the United States, people do have caravans, 10- to 20-foot campers that are towed by a car. Judging by the number of caravans causing traffic jams in the middle of summer, half the U.K. population must own one.
But where do they keep recreational vehicles when not towing them along highways or parking them at a beach or holiday camp? Rather than in the kind of secure storage found at many U.S. self-storage facilities, the U.K. public parks them in their driveways or a nearby farmer's field. Year round, these fields can be seen full of caravans ready for families' summer vacations.
One of the main reasons this type of specialty storage will not take off in the United Kingdom or Europe is the tremendously high cost of land. A facility operator pays top dollar for a site in a preferred location and is under pressure to maximize the available storage to make the project financially viable. The amount of additional space required to house recreational toys would increase the size of the site and obviously impact the site cost.
There is, however, one type of specialty-storage service not requiring site increases: specialist-document storage. Quite often at these facilities, access is restricted to employees only. Customers who require their material request it by box/consignment number, and a facility employee recovers it from storage for the customer.
Not allowing public access gives the facility advantages. It is partly due to public access that U.K. fire regulations are so strict. By prohibiting public access, construction methods can differ quite considerably. Before designing a new facility, the prospective owner may want to examine who his customers are, what options for present and future expansion exist, and what savings may be built into the design.
Graham Lomax is a founding director of Rabco Europe Ltd., based in Essex, England. Rabco Europe opened in August 2001 to expand The Rabco Corp.'s Orlando, Fla.-based operation into the European market. For more information, visit www.rabcoeurope.com.