By Marilyn Leslie
Thirteen years ago, self-storage was in its infancy in Hong Kong. At MiniCo Asia Ltd., we found it exciting and challenging to develop facilities in the region. Today we enjoy a thriving business and good reputation. Our experience has been eye-opening, and we’ve learned a lot about our customers’ buying habits. While we've benefitted from the many similarities between the Hong Kong and Asia markets, we've also had to adapt the established business model to find success.
Location and Amenities
The American concept of location as the most important factor in a successful self-storage operation is also true in Hong Kong. Initially, when there were fewer than 20 facilities in the region, location was not as critical. As more stores have opened, location has become a huge deciding factor for customers.
When we opened our first two facilities, we drew customers from all over Hong Kong and even from nearby areas of mainland China. Now our customer base has narrowed somewhat, as people have storage facilities closer to their businesses and residences. However, if you can create an atmosphere of service and ease of use, customers will come long distances to rent space at your store.
We discovered that the amenities our customers want most vary from those offered in the United States. We provide work areas and conference rooms for tenants at no charge. Customers use this space daily and schedule their time to use it. We’ve even had to referee arguments between customers! In one situation, we had to add another work area to meet the demand. Customers use this space to sort inventory, work on a computer, listen to music and even practice the violin. We also offer free Wi-Fi and tea and coffee at our facilities. This differentiates our services and gives customers a value-added reason to select us over a competitor.
Due to the lack of space of in Hong Kong, there aren’t many green lawns or inviting gardens. We created a "sky garden" on the roof of our Chai Wan store with lots of green and flowering plants. We provide tables and chairs for customers to use as a respite from the congestion of the region.
Ventilation is also a crucial factor to our tenants. In an area with high humidity, dense populations and little space, fresh air is an important health concern. We have fans mounted on the ceiling to keep the air moving and operate large dehumidifiers around the clock in areas that lack air-conditioning.
The Decision-Making Process
Compared to the U.S. market, the decision-making process is generally longer for Hong Kong self-storage customers. It usually starts with a phone call and then as many as three visits. Often the customer brings a family member to the facility to confirm his decision. Patience and follow-up are required to make a sale. It seems to be a very important decision, not to be taken lightly.
Hong Kong customers also stay for long periods of time. The average length of stay at our two oldest locations is more than three years.