Kein Platz?(No Space?)

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Five years ago, a small group of pioneers realized the Austrian and German populations lacked space to store their possessions. Having the vision to see self-storage as the natural solution, they boldly launched Self Storage-Dein Lager GmbH. The troupe—consisting of Martin Gerhardus, an independent consultant and general manager for a paper-merchant group, and long-time entrepreneurs Heinrich Hoyos and Herbert and Harry Hild—is banking on the industry's economic potential. Austria's population is just over 8 million and Germany's is 82 million, yet storage facilities in these countries are few and far between.

Dein Lager (translation: "your storage"), headquartered in Vienna, Austria, opened its first facility in 1999. Since then, the company has opened five additional facilities: one in Graz, Austria, another in Munich, Germany, and three in Vienna. The storage operation is managed by Gerhardus and Hoyos.

Each facility has a net-rentable area of 6,000 square meters. Customers receive their own keys and security codes and can access their units from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year. Security measures include video surveillance, alarms and a security service. Facility corridors are designed to be wide and well-lit, allowing customers to easily and safely handle their goods.

Good-Site Hunting

As in all EU countries, suitable storage sites in Austria and Germany are difficult to find, Gerhardus says. "Our sites were selected for visibility, accessibly and our assessment that the locations were good." Except for one, all Dein Lager facilities are in residential areas, making them attractive to local communities. Newer facilities are on major streets with a minimum traffic count of 20,000 cars per day. Only one is in a warehouse area.

Five of the company's stores are new builds and one is a conversion. The greatest challenges to constructing a new facility are time, money and nerves, Gerhardus says. "When we find a location, it takes us four to six months to open the store," he adds.

Regulations, too, can be an obstacle. In Austria, rules governing development are very specific. In Germany, however, which has four levels of self-government—state, federal state, district and municipal—guidelines can be unclear. For the most part, municipal agencies govern matters related to local communities. "Of course, we follow all regulations and, therefore, have high costs—but no real problems," Gerhardus says. It was to his group's advantage that local residents did not object to the projects.

Though local architects are not familiar with the requirements of self-storage, Gerhardus and his partners were able to assemble an experienced design team. Their partitions and doors were furnished by Steel Storage Systems Inc. Locks, security systems and lifts were supplied and installed by local companies.

Drawing Customers

Though there are no contending self-storage businesses in its market, Dein Lager faces a lot of competition from the transport and storage industry, Gerhardus says. The company’s primary marketing mediums include leaflets, signage and the Yellow Pages. Its website, www.selfstorage.at, is another good customer draw.

To expand its base of potential customers, each Dein Lager facility offers ancillary products and services, such as the sale of popular retail items like boxes and tape. The West Vienna facility offers upscale storage for wine. In addition to temperature and humidity control, it features a separate entrance, and each unit is individually alarmed. The East Vienna facility offers business storage, called "self office."

Future Growth

The founders of Dein Lager have one driving philosophy: to be the market leader. Growth and development of the company and the industry as a whole is necessary to bring that objective to fruition. "We plan to establish another four facilities to reach our final goal of 10," says Gerhardus, who intends to build one more facility in Vienna and three more in Munich.

"The growth of self-storage in Austria and Germany will be slow," Gerhardus admits. Nevertheless, Dein Lager sees the potential of the industry and hopes to break even after seven to eight years as it educates the market on the service self-storage provides. For more information, e-mail martin.gerhardus@selfstorage.at.

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