Flexistore debuted four years ago as the United Kingdom’s first mobile self-storage operator. The Scotland-based company already boasts four sites—two in Edinburgh, and one in Glasgow and Manchester—with plans to aggressively expand throughout the country.
The concept of mobile storage is simple. Instead of using steel and concrete to subdivide a warehouse into rooms, the facility uses custom-built wooden vaults. All the vaults are the same size, allowing them to be easily stacked and stored. The containers are delivered to customers’ doors for loading, and then shipped back to the warehouse, eliminating the need for tenants to haul goods themselves.
Martin Chalmers and Keith Grant founded Flexistore after perceiving an unmet need in the industry. The two had been partners in a distribution and warehousing business and judged the transport element of the business as unsteady with storage the only constant.
“We knew then that we wanted to focus on storage, particularly self-storage, because the market was undergoing rapid expansion in the U.K. and Europe,” Chalmers said. “However, we felt self-storage didn’t provide much service to clients; offering storage alone solves only half the customer’s problem. We identified a need for a more comprehensive service that combined transport and storage into one simple solution.”
The partners decided to research storage systems in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. Research close to home revealed no such combined service existed, though there were many complaints from those looking to securely store their goods.
“We spoke to a lot of people who had used self-storage and found it lacking,” said Chalmers. “Many said their rooms were at the end of a corridor and often not on the ground floor. This, along with van rental and double handling, left a nasty taste in their mouths.”
Boston-based Store to Door agreed to let the partners see how its storage-transport operation worked. “They key difference between the Flexistore system and what we found in America is we use trailers to deliver the storage vaults and they use piggy-back forklifts,” said Chalmers. “They leave the vaults on people’s driveways, protected with waterproof covering. We use trailers for increased security, and because we don’t have the space in Europe to use the forklift-delivery system.”
Flexistore’s vaults are made from kiln-dried wood and measure 5 feet wide, 7 feet deep and 8 feet high. The front of the vault has a large hinged door, which can be padlocked by the customer. All containers are the same dimensions and, if more space is required, the customer rents multiples. “We selected this size because it’s the same one moving companies have been using for decades, allowing our trailer to comply with U.K. legislation,” Chalmers explained.
Customers may access their vault at the warehouse as many times as they wish, free of charge with 24-hours notice. The requested container is placed in the customer-access area. “This works really well,” Chalmers says. “The client’s vehicle can be backed into the access area, so there is no need for trolleys or lifts if they wish to remove something.”
A New Storage Model
Demand for the service has been strong, though the founders concede their biggest hurdle is creating awareness and getting people to understand the concept. “Once our clients experience the service, they love it. More than one-third of our domestic inquiries come through referrals. To my mind, that’s the proof,” said Chalmers.
In marketing its mobile-storage solution, Flexistore sends the message that it saves people time and money while providing total control and privacy to the customer. The company also says its rates are lower because the warehouses can be placed on remote, cheaper real estate.
In fact, Chalmers and Grant maintain the traditional self-storage model is 10 years out-of-date. Disadvantages include difficulty in finding decent sites; the unwillingness of customers to travel over large distances; and the frequent need for tenants to rent a moving vehicle or make multiple trips. As for customers wishing to access their units, an amenity of traditional stores, “Research indicates tenants generally do not visit their goods once in storage, returning only when it’s time to empty the entire unit,” Chalmers says.
Flexistore reports that 60 percent of its clients are commercial, many of which are businesses storing inventory and files. Flexistore offers full records-management services using shelved vaults. Each container holds 100 cartons.
“The records service has been far more popular than we envisioned at the outset,” Chalmers says. “Customers are very concerned about the sensitivity of the information contained in their archive cartons; they like the idea of having dedicated vaults. We also get involved in data-basing records if required.”
Flexistore anticipates it will open another six sites throughout the United Kingdom. Once the mobile-storage model is proven there, the company plans to conquer mainland Europe. “Business is steadily growing,” Chalmers said. “Our job is to continue to create awareness for this type of storage model.”