The self-storage industry is growing in Scandinavia. The region continues to have substantially less storage space per capita compared to countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though the urbanization rate, buying power and cost of property vs. revenue are all higher. This signals strong growth potential, making Scandinavia a widely untapped market.
Simultaneously, “smart” technology is emerging in the area. Our company, Flexistore Minilager, which operates three facilities in Norway, is taking advantage of it. We’re currently the only fully automated self-storage option in the Nordics. We believe that by investing in technology, we’ll enjoy sharper growth than operators in other European countries.
The Flexistore Solution
We make it extremely easy for customers to rent with us. All a person has to do is download the Flexistore app and create an account. The app shows the user available units nearby and helps him choose the right unit size for his needs. He then completes the reservation and has immediate access to the storage space, using a digital key on the app. He can use the app to book transport to the storage location.
Once the customer moves in, he can use the app and his phone camera to make an inventory list of items being stored. He can share digital keys with friends or family to give them access to the space. He can even use the app to monitor real-time temperature and humidity inside the building. All locations are equipped with video surveillance and security.
The Flexistore app
Pivoting in the Pandemic
Much like other self-storage businesses around the world, those in Scandinavia were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, our adoption of smart technology minimized the impact considerably. Automating the rental process meant customers didn’t need to meet with staff face to face to fulfill their storage needs.
An automated approach also means minimal staffing, which allowed us to keep our sites open safely. Because everything is operated through technology, we’re able to let employees work from home without too many logistical issues or time constraints.
Running a company online has its challenges, of course. The increased use of information-technology solutions and learning to interact via video conferencing has become critical to good communication and staff motivation. We recognize that working from home might not be easy for everyone, so we’ve taken measures to support our employees during these difficult circumstances.
In the Scandinavian market, customers expect a self-storage solution that’s tightly integrated with their daily life, one that’s easy to operate and allows them to share unit access with service providers and individuals when they choose. However, we need to broaden the public’s view that self-storage is only something you need during a transition phase. Right now, it’s still largely associated with moving and storing goods for a limited period.
By using technology, self-storage can better accommodate an everyday use. People will use it for business storage, sports equipment or making space in a small apartment. Operators need to educate their customers about the possibilities of smart storage, which provides the ultimate convenience.
A rendering of Flexistore in Økern, Oslo, which opened in 2019
Another challenge for self-storage operators and developers in Scandinavia is keeping up with sustainability criteria and making sure their facilities are as green as possible. There are only a handful of companies with comprehensive eco strategies, and the industry still has some way to go to ensure everything—from project management to the building process to the final product—is based on sustainably sourced materials and work force, and the principles of recycle, reuse and reduce.
As long as urbanization and minimalistic living are increasing in the region, smart storage solutions will continue to expand. Moreover, the industry is expected to become ever more automated. The Scandinavian countries continue to promote shared economies and upcycling habits, and when done correctly, smart storage can play an important role. It should offer simple ways for users to share access as well as to recycle, sell and donate items they might not need. We need more sharing in a consumerist society like Norway.
The Franchise Option
Because demand for self-storage is increasing quicker than supply in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, there’s an opportunity for us to franchise our automated self-storage model. The cost of developing an end-to-end solution with an integrated brand approach is too strenuous for many. A franchise option in which the property owner takes some risk but increases yield dramatically is favorable in our competitive urban market. With a franchise, everyone can become a self-storage owner, which will increase supply.
While keeping with the times and leveraging technology, we must also have a sustainability strategy as part of our business model and company vision. Smart storage offers great opportunities in “greening” our industry, but we have to make decisions that put the environment first.
Camilla Danielsen is project manager and Mia Strand is marketing and sustainability manager for Flexistore Minilager, which was founded in 2018 by Geir Tellefsen and operates three locations in Norway. Danielsen has been with the company since its inception and was integral to the company’s goal of creating Norway’s first fully automated self-storage solution. Strand aims to educate customers on how smart self-storage can simplify the process of recycling, reusing and upcycling. To contact them, email [email protected] and [email protected].