In this great industry, we mostly compete within a micro market. A store in California and a store in Florida are not competing on a daily basis with a store in Virginia. The business has matured at such a rate, however, that exploring national trends can be helpful in piecing together a competitive strategy to overcome and compete with the stores that strive to reach our same prospective tenants.
In this article, you’ll find some key trends in the industry as a framework for defining the “direction” of future self-storage development.
A Brief History
In almost every market, there’s a strata of stores and operators. Not all competitors are created equally. The guy who built those 100 units in 1980—the genius he may have been 30 years ago—in most cases is falling behind the rest of the market in terms of site features and benefits, manager quality and curb appeal. Three decades ago, self-storage was uncharted territory, and first-generation owners took the risk of investing in a business that was somewhat unknown.
The developer who built that store in 1980 was the early innovator, laying the groundwork, and willing to risk mistakes for success.
By learning from what those first self-storage developers did right and wrong, the industry gained traction and form, and improved. Second-generation stores began adding more complex management protocols, better security features, and a different array of unit sizes.
From there, the industry began maturing by adopting newer technologies in management and security, studying tenants’ habits, adopting best practices borrowed from other industries, and attempting to perfect its approach to development and management. Originating with the risks taken by those early leaders, self-storage has flourished as a result of constant innovation.
Current Development Trends
What’s propelling new development trends? Customer demand. Your tenants want something clean, safe, secure, easy to access and dry. If you have good competitors, they’re trying to meet those demands. If you’re not doing things right, it opens up the door for a new store to come in and better serve your customers.
We know your tenant is dealing with some level of elevated stress simultaneous with needing storage. So your office, manager, systems, etc., must be professional and efficient. These considerations increase the cost of development, but they enhance the viability of the store from a sustainable economic perspective.
Using customer-demand traits as a guide, certain markets may have the opportunity to add additional services to their development. There is, and always should be, periodic buzz about “the next new thing.” Facilities with wine storage, mailboxes, shipping centers, band-rehearsal units, locker-style units, and other ancillary products or services have all had varying levels of success.
However, these may not be long-term development trends that work in every market. Kiosks also work in some storage, but may not in others. Likewise, management methods will vary. Some developers may build onsite housing, while others prefer managers to live off site. Developers should take a hard look at the needs in their market, and then find a way to meet those requirements.