By Steve Spohn
Whenever I introduce Japanese self-storage to overseas operators, I find it useful to highlight some of the differences between self-storage in Japan and the United States. One of the most obvious distinctions is the name.
In most countries, the product is referred to as “self-storage” or “mini-storage." In Japan, it has multiple names, including “trunk room” (borrowed from the English) and “kashi soko” and “rental soko,” both of which translate to "rental storage." Trunk room is the most commonly used.
Trunk rooms first appeared in Japan in the 1970s. At that time, they were generally offered by warehouse operators and were, in fact, little more than a warehouse service for consumers. The operator took possession of and was responsible for a customer's personal property, and the customer was given a receipt for his "deposit." The operator was subject to and regulated by modified warehousing laws. These early trunk rooms never gained significant traction, likely due to the industrial nature and inconvenience of the product.
In the 1990s, regulated trunk rooms eventually gave way to a more customer-friendly and unregulated product similar to self-storage in other parts of the world. Although there is no reliable historical data regarding the size and growth of the Japanese market, a recent supply survey conducted by Quraz, Japan's largest self-storage operator, estimates the market at approximately JPN ¥24 billion, or approximately US $300 million, and growing at approximately 10 percent per year.
The Japanese self-storage market likely ranks fifth in the world behind the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, respectively. Based on third-party research commissioned by Quraz in 2009, if the market continues to grow by 10 percent per year and ultimately reaches 5 percent penetration among the top 15 cities, or 2 percent penetration nationwide, it will grow to US $2.1 billion over the next 20 years. (Penetration compares the number of storage units to the number of households. A 5 percent penetration means there are five storage units per 100 households.) In comparison, the U.S. market is approximately US $22 billion, with approximately 10 percent penetration nationwide, according to the U.S. national Self Storage Association.
The driver of this expected growth is simply an increase in awareness of the modern trunk-room service. Only about 15 percent of the Japanese public has used self-storage or knows the service well, based on local penetration and awareness research commissioned by Quraz in 2008 and a 2011 research report produced by the Yano Research Institute. Although many consumers may claim to know of the trunk-room concept, most neither know the benefits of the product nor can identify the primary reasons to use it.