The very first Italian self-storage facility opened in 2000. Since then, a considerable number of stores have arrived on the scene, and public awareness of the service has increased accordingly. Back when the self-storage market was an undiscovered country of unknown potential and risk, Casaforte Self Storage S.p.A. forged ahead and offered the product in Italy. Today, the company has 10 active facilities in the country, another four slated to open, and two already operating in Switzerland.
Cesare Carcano, a Casaforte director, was among those first explorers who witnessed the birth and growth of the European industry. He shared his insights and experiences on the industry frontier with Inside Self-Storage.
Is self-storage a product or a service?
We think of self-storage as a public-utility service. In the future, we expect every town will have at least one facility, just as today they all have nurseries, schools, hospitals and so forth.
What is it about this sector that attracted and motivated you to become involved?
From a business point of view, the most interesting thing is certainly the novelty factor—the presence of a fresh market waiting to be conquered. There is a lot to be done, which is stimulating and motivating. Our group decided to try out a move into self-storage because we felt that with the sturdy competences we had already built up in the logistics sector—and given the useful synergies it could potentially provide—we were in a really good position to establish a self-storage company with a strong national presence.
Which factors would you say have the greatest relevance to self-storage success: space, people, possessions or security?
Without a doubt, we put most of our efforts into ensuring the quality of the space and the efficiency of the security systems. But we can’t afford to ignore people and things. It’s essential to be hospitable and considerate toward our customers and their possessions, especially in the case of private individuals. Things often take on an enormous emotional significance for their owners, and we have to demonstrate respect and care for objects.
What is the state of the self-storage market in Italy, and what are its long-term prospects?
The Italian market is not moving as fast as the other markets in Europe, even though every day we see evidence of a growing public awareness and appreciation of the service. The prospects are interesting, but I think Italian players are going to have to keep pouring their energy into public education if they want to catch up with European growth rates.
In any case, it is certain the Italians tend to appreciate branding and networking; they respond to the ubiquitous presence of a visible logo and consistently high-quality service associated with it. These are all things in which we firmly believe, and in which we invest.
What starting point do you recommend for those wishing to start a self-storage company in Italy?
Begin with a business plan that is broad and well-structured. The players succeeding at the moment are all large companies that already possess a lot of facilities. It is unlikely, given the level of awareness of the service on the part of the general public, that anyone can have any success just by setting up a single facility. In Italy, the brand and the network count for a lot more than they do in other European countries as symbolic guarantees of quality.
How does the average Italian customer rank the following aspects of self-storage: efficiency of the structure; pleasant and attractive atmosphere; customer care; security; price; and flexibility?
All of these are equally important, with the possible exception of price, which might be said to be the least important. All of the others definitely come at the top.
How has the Italian public’s perception and understanding of self-storage evolved?
Public awareness of the service only increases in very small steps. Let’s keep in mind, though, that the very first self-storage facilities in Italy are only 4 years old, and there are only about 30 facilities in the whole country. In order for the service to be understood and exploited to the fullest—which would obviously benefit the providers but would benefit the consumers even more—there needs to be an ongoing investment in promotion of self-service and public information about it.
What, in your experience, is the most effective medium for conveying the self-service message to the Italian market?
Every place in Italy is different with regard to the variety of channels and media available and how attractive these are to the public. You have to look around and observe what people do, watch, listen to and like. The one thing that has to remain constant and coherent, even if it is realized through a different mixture of media, is the aim of the promotion—that is, to invite and persuade the public to visit the facilities.
Self-storage is a new idea, and we are not yet accustomed to it in this country. Before the Italians can fully understand it, they need to be helped in getting familiar with the service. But all it takes to really understand the usefulness and convenience of self-storage is to see one of the facilities at close quarters, and to talk to someone who can explain in detail what kind of spaces are offered and how the service works.
What ideas do you think should be emphasized in telling the Italian market about self-storage?
Perhaps two ideas should stand out: “flexible space” that you can take up for as long as you need it, and “space just like at home,” where your privacy is respected and the surroundings are comfortable.
How would you explain self-storage to a 5-year-old child?
I’d present it as an adventure. I’d take him to one of the facilities and let him explore it and look all around it. There wouldn’t be any point in trying to explain it until he’d had a chance to look around. Self-storage is a service that needs to be tried out.
Sabrina Tordo is the marketing and communication manager for Casaforte Self Storage S.p.A. For more information, visit www.selfstorage.it.