Self-Storage as a Niche Product

Sabrina Tordo Comments
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Although it developed slower than in the United States, the demand for "niche self-storage" in Italy and Switzerland has become a matter of fact, supported by statistics and data monitored by the most important associations and magazines in this business sector. The service is becoming increasingly popular among the public, and the high population density creates a growing need for space and ongoing self-storage development. Self-storage became a reality in Italy in 2000, when Casaforte Self-Storage, a developer in Italy and Switzerland, opened its first facility in Varese, Italy.

Analyzing Demographics

The business model used by European operators follows the example set by major American players. But entering a new market requires adapting the product to fit local consumers' needs. In Italy and Switzerland, the decision to open a facility in a certain location and offer specific services requires careful profiling of target groups in the area. It’s necessary to identify all potential customers in terms of age, mobility, income, marital status, and social and cultural condition, which means analyzing the key factors of consumer demand.

When defining target groups, it’s important to remember mobility is primarily related to occupation (including retirement), marital status, education and family growth. Marital status and age are particularly important for identifying potential customers, as singles and individuals between 18 and 40 years of age are the most likely to move and change their lifestyles. Even housing conditions influence people's behavior. For example, those who rent have fewer ties to their homes and are more inclined to relocate and use self-storage.

The survey and study of the local population's habits, lifestyle and housing conditions are important. When a facility is opened in a particular location, it can be beneficial to align with cultural and social foundations of the community: universities, social-research institutes, schools and public-information centers. These can provide data on consumers' needs, assisting in the customization of the storage service.

For a concrete analysis of data regarding various groups, it’s useful to study the official demographic findings of local census and administration offices and organizations in charge of urban planning and estate matters. Census data helps us identify the existence and range of different groups and verify the relative importance of each compared to others.

For example, administrative data allows us to compare the number of residents who rent vs. homeowners and, depending on local urban planning, evaluate the commercial potential of each group. For new businesses, the census can be equally useful in verifying the types of enterprises in an area, the sectors of greater importance, and their distribution. Other business-data sources include local industry organizations and associations, training centers and trade-administration offices.

Niche Service

Offering a "niche service" that suits the needs of a particular group can provide a competitive advantage, especially in countries like Italy and Switzerland, where the market is smaller and the constant increase of operators and structures is approaching the saturation point. In these areas, storage operators have had to diversify the product to satisfy the demand for a unique, high-level service. The demand comes from segments of the public that, although a minority, create an excellent opportunity to establish specialized, exclusive offerings within self-storage.

In Italy, a call for luxury space comes from the fashion and art industries. Particularly in Milan and Rome, famous and less-notorious stylists and designers in the fashion, accessories and interior-design sectors use self-storage to stock old collections and store surplus, pattern books and equipment. Art collectors, connoisseurs, dealers, antiquarians, importers and exporters also need special environments in which to store art and related objects.

In Rome, high prelates and politicians are increasingly turning to self-storage to preserve their goods, which aren't necessarily of great value. Most of the time, stored goods include personal items that only have esteemed status because of their sentimental value. Customers’ need to store these prized possessions is answered by self-storage, including elegance and complete customer care.

The same specialty markets are also being served in Switzerland, where the high incomes of a large portion of the population define the demand for distinctive, luxury self-storage. Switzerland is one of the most politically stable and economically efficient European countries. The Swiss are a linguistically and culturally diverse group that demonstrates national pride and an adherence to values. All of this must be taken into account when considering how to approach the self-storage market. Customer service must be superlative, and staff must be perfectly fluent in the language. Of all the services that can be offered through a self-storage facility, transport and removals has the greatest impact.

In Italy and Switzerland, self-storage structures are multilevel. Interiors are extremely tidy and provide climate-control. When possible, old, prestigious buildings are renewed, remodeled and converted to a self-storage use. Their architectural refinement satisfies functional and space-optimization standards as well as design criteria.

To succeed in the diverse and demanding Italian and Swiss markets, you have to be observant, pragmatic and trustworthy, but also stylish and refined. You have to take into consideration the needs of the public majority, but also those special expectations of exclusive target groups.

Sabrina Tordo is the marketing and communication manager for Casaforte Self Storage S.p.A. For more information, visit www.selfstorage.it.


Casaforte: A Leader in Luxury

Casaforte Self-Storage's primary objective is to supply private citizens and businesses with storage space of varying size in which to store goods for flexible periods of time. In terms of structure, management and technology, the company operates its facilities according to methods created by the major U.S. and European players, but manages to maintain its Italian flair. In addition to two Swiss storage sites, it has facilities in the Italian cities of Basel, Corisco Milan, Florence, Foggia, Lugano, Milan, Padua, Rome and Varese. Casaforte is also planning facilities in Bergamo, Busto Arsizio, Genova, Pistoia, Sanremo, Saronno, Treviso, Verona and Vicenza.

Current occupancy rates range from 60 percent to 90 percent, depending on facility maturity. In light of this data, it appears self-storage is becoming more of a social phenomenon in Italy. When developing facilities, Casaforte decision-makers cooperate with professors in the fields of communication-science, history and literature. This collaboration has become vital to obtaining fundamental information on people's taste for the service and the best way to communicate and convey promotional messages to the public.

Casaforte refers to its facilities as "hotels for things” to communicate the level of service the company provides. Its fashionable and professional staff has impeccable manners and is capable of accommodating every kind of customer. Managers personally visit their most important clients at their homes, where they explain and describe the service and stipulate the contract. Facility visitors are welcomed by helpful, friendly employees who are always available to answer questions and find the best solutions for customers’ needs.

To complement its self-storage offering, Casaforte provides specialized services. For example, the company hosts on-site art exhibitions, featuring young artists in the local area. While visitors appreciatethe works of art, they associate them with the context of self-storage. Thanks to Casaforte, many works have been moved from dusty attics and dark basements to bright, pleasant environments where they may be enjoyed by their owners and visitors alike.

Through its strategy of analysis and development, Casaforte is becoming more prevalent, not only as a leader of the self-storage sector, but as a skilled operator providing a luxury service. The company's product satisfies the needs of those markets interested in brand image and style in addition to efficiency and security.

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