THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF SELF-STORAGE FACILITIES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM—PRIVATE AND PUBLIC. Owners and prospective owners need to understand the difference between the two and what it takes to convert private storage to public. Private facilities do not allow public access to the storage area. But with the growth in popularity and profitability of public access, private self-storage facilities may want to consider a change.
There seems to be a fairly common misconception that, since private storage already stores goods on behalf of clients and falls under the correct zoning classification for self-storage, the conversion process will be reasonably simple and inexpensive. This is not so. While these facilities may already have mezzanine floors and, in some cases, a basic storage layout, they require a lot more than a lick of paint, basic security, and a hallway and corridor system.
One of the most expensive items in converting a facility is fire protection, which changes radically when the public has access to the building. It is important to have a good relationship with local authorities to find out all the rules and regulations regarding fire protection, detection and escape. Regulations are only a guide, generally used as a minimum requirement and left to wide interpretation. These regulations can differ from area to area. One authority may impose more stringent requirements than another in a nearby neighborhood.
If a private facility has mezzanine floors, it is quite possibly unprotected for fire, which is acceptable when the floors are used for storage only and are not trafficked regularly (different class of use). But once the public has access to the facility, the floors are considered "proper," with the same requirements for protection and detection as an office building, for example. Every column supporting above floors have to be encased in a fire-protective sleeve from floor to ceiling. Ceilings need to be fire-proofed to protect the floor above. The layout of storage units may need modification to reduce the distances from any given point on a floor to the nearest fire exit. Staircases may also need to be retrofitted for fire exits.
This may sound like a "beware and avoid" message to private facility owners, but it shouldn't. Proceed with caution, and be sure of all your costs upfront. Additional steps may be required to meet current regulations, but there is a good chance a lot of the otherwise expensive items are already in place and just need expanding for a profitable conversion.
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.