Our self-storage facility in Augsburg, Germany, is called RatzFatzPlatz!, which always makes people laugh. Of course, non-German speakers may not get it. The words “ratz fatz” are a German synonym for “sudden” or “fast,” while “platz” means “space.” So, you could translate our name as “sudden space” or “get more space really fast.” It’s the perfect message for our industry!
This was very important back in 2011 when we started our business. Awareness of self-storage in Germany was extremely low, and hardly anyone knew about the service and its benefits. Being a veterinarian in my first life, I wouldn’t have known about it either if not for an American friend who informed me about it. He’d been operating a couple of self-storage facilities in Boulder, Colo., for many years and wondered why the business scarcely existed in Deutschland. The discussion led to a new venture!
Due to a change in my personal circumstances in 2010, I suddenly had the time and opportunity to learn more about self-storage. I teamed up with four partners and founded RatzFatzPlatz! GmbH. We started by renting a 5,250-square-foot building in Augsburg, which is the third-largest city in the state of Bavaria, with 250,000 inhabitants. Ours was the first storage facility in the city.
This buildout was really exciting and felt like pioneering—which it was! We had knowledge from our American associates and investors, but we had to adapt it to the local market, learning about permits, fire-protection regulations, unit mix, management software, security and more.
Most important, we wondered if people would even like this new idea and rent our units. Fortunately, they did. It took a while to become known, but within the last few years, we’ve expanded several times. We’re now developing an additional 5,900-squre-foot facility in the same city.
Connecting With Customers
Today, we’re no longer the only self-storage business in town. Quite a few competitors have joined us, and awareness of the product in the country has increased. Even so, when speaking with new tenants, we still hear surprise that the service exists.
One of the secrets to our success—and the fun part—is we spend a lot of time on personal interaction with renters. This is especially true when they’re determining the right unit size for their needs. After all, for 99 percent of them, it's their first time storing stuff somewhere outside their home or business. It also takes time to explain and show the benefits of storage. It isn’t a product you can sell by price alone. Rather, we need to really listen to our prospects and explain how we can solve their storage problems.
Of course, we also help with everything else the customer might need—even if it’s a recommendation for a nice restaurant in the area! People appreciate this personal contact. I also love the variety of people who show up at our counter every day with different stories and reasons for renting. About one-quarter of our tenants are commercial, mostly craftsmen and salespeople storing merchandise that’s been shipped directly to our facility. They appreciate this service. Our residential customers come from all spectrums, from younger to older tenants, who still pay in cash and love coming into the office for a chat.
Self-storage is a young industry in Germany with a lot of growth potential. New developers and operators still have a “pioneer feeling.”
Michaela Gerst is co-founder and co-owner of RatzFatzPlatz!, a self-storage facility in Augsburg, Germany. The business also offers moving services, parcel acceptance, packing supplies and tenant insurance. To reach her, email [email protected].