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Operating Self-Storage in Norway: Technology Paves the Way for OK Minilager AS

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By Fabian Sobak 

The self-storage industry has gained momentum in numerous countries in recent years. In each, it’s obvious the business is developing in its own way, due to national differences such as consumer preferences and awareness, legislation, zoning, the real estate market, etc. In Norway, we’ve built our self-storage company, OK Minilager AS, in our own way, with the use of technology as the key to success. 

The Beginning

I got started in the self-storage industry by coincidence. In 2009, I was 23 years old and studying marketing at the university. I was also running a part-time business, importing and selling specialty trailers; but business was slow. I had rented a parking lot to store the trailers, and the rent was eating up a lot of my profit.

I had a few vacant parking spaces and decided to buy a couple of shipping containers. The idea was to rent out the containers and cover some of my costs. I put up a banner on the containers and a few fliers in the neighborhood. In a couple of days, the containers were rented out and I was still getting calls. I instantly understood I had to get rid of the trailers and get started in the self-storage business instead!

I filled up the parking lot with containers and rented a second property after just two months. My father soon bought 50 percent of the company’s shares, and within the first year, we were renting out containers at five locations. At this time, we knew we wanted to grow nationwide; but we had to get a system up and running that was scalable. The answer was to implement technology. 

Using Self-Service

Today, OK Minilager has more than 40 locations across the country. Each site contains an average of 80 units.

Norway is a small market with just 5 million people, and the population density is among the lowest in Europe. With relatively low consumer awareness, Oslo (the capital) is the only city that can support several self-storage facilities with 500-plus units. One of our competitors already operates 10 facilities of that size in the area. However, all of our facilities are self-served, which has enabled us to build sites in smaller cities and towns.

With smaller facilities, we’ve also been able to grow faster than our competition in the bigger cities, which have proved to be our best markets. A great benefit of self-service is we can obviously reduce our labor costs. Even unskilled labor is expensive in Norway, so the self-service storage model is almost a no-brainer in our market. 

Using Technology

First and foremost, it’s technology that has enabled us to operate nationwide. It’s part of all our operations. For example, most of our marketing is done through the Internet. As the only self-storage company in the country with a national presence—and with a commitment to and investment in search engine optimization that spans several years—we benefit from organic rankings in Google. We also use AdWords extensively to bring visitors to our website.

OK Minilager in Oslo, NorwayWe’ve also focused on creating a user-friendly website with a professional design and layout. Prospects can find all the information they need, and all bookings are done online. We offer a chat function that’s really popular. It provides great customer service and saves us a lot of time. Tenants also pay their rent online with a credit/debit card. The card is automatically charged each month until the tenant cancels the rent.

New tenants are provided with an access code to the main gate as well as their unit, which is locked with a combination lock. This way, they can access their unit on their own, at their convenience—our facilities are open 24/7. Access to the main gate is administrated through a Web application. We also have a lot of cameras on each site that we can access live through the same application. With our system, new tenants can get instant access to the facility any time of day, any day of the week.  

Recent Development and the Future

In 2014, we opened our first facility with conventional, climate-controlled units. The response was overwhelming, even though we knew they would be popular. We already have 11 climate-controlled facilities, with more in the loop. Our strategy is that all new facilities will either be 100 percent climate-controlled, or a mix of climate-controlled and containers. We’re now able to meet most of the demand in the market, and the combination gives us a competitive advantage.

I still see great opportunities in the Norwegian market, as the industry is still in its relative infancy and consumer awareness is steadily rising. This year, we also plan to open our first facility in Sweden. The self-storage market in our neighboring country is more developed; however, with our self-service model and experience with building new facilities, we’re confident we can take market share in the growing Swedish industry as well.

For the first time, in this advent of international expansion, we’re looking to team up with investors. We hope to find some with experience in the industry who are just as eager to expand in the European self-market as we are.  

Fabian Sobak is the co-founder and owner of OK Minilager AS, a self-storage company based in Oslo, Norway. The business was founded in 2009 and specializes in containerized storage. It has more than 40 sites comprising more than 2,500 units and is the second largest self-storage operator in the country based on revenue. For more information, visit www.ok-minilager.no.

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