With only about 50 facilities countrywide, the Italian self-storage industry is young compared to other European markets that boast hundreds of sites. Still, the service has been embraced by the country’s consumers, and a handful of operators are enjoying great success.
One reason is the guidance of the local self-storage association, Associazione Imprese Selfstorage Italiane (AISI). Acting as the voice of the local industry, the organization aims to promote best practices and facilitate development. Inside Self-Storage spoke with AISI Business Developer Vanessa Digoncelli about the state of the market, new development, challenges and more.
What’s the state of the self-storage industry in Italy?
The Italian market is extremely interesting, and the possibility to open a self-storage facility is tangible. One needs desire, courage and expertise to invest. Between 2000 and 2006, the industry saw good numbers coming through; then the 2008 economic crisis changed that. However, in the last two years, we've seen a positive comeback of those initial results, and we foresee that it’s only going to get better.
What’s happening with new development?
In July 2017, Boxintown opened its doors a few steps from Vatican City. Located within a historical Roman building—with marble floors and 32 video cameras to survey just a little over 600 square meters—it really represents the first high-end Italian facility. It allows Roman citizens who don't own a cellar or extra room in their tiny city-center apartments to keep their belongings nearby.
This September we also expect a new self-storage operator to join the market. The facility is coming to life in L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region, just 120 kilometers from Rome. The fact that someone is building self-storage in an earthquake zone shows how much Italy is changing shape and the strong willingness to grow.
The project is an interesting one. It’s a smart combination of 66 storage units, 300 square meters of open space for offices and shops, and a remarkable 1,500 square meters of guarded parking. The owner strongly believes this will help grow Italians' awareness of self-storage as a very versatile industry where one can take risks and come up with new business concepts. Obviously, like all changes, this requires time and consciousness before turning into reality.
On the heels of this opening, Casaforte Self Storage has a new entry, its 23rd, expected to open in late 2018. It’ll be in the postcard-perfect city of Bolzano, not far from The Dolomites, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. Architects are working on a multi-functional center, combining ground-level shops featuring big windows facing the main street as well as self-storage units.
Is the look and design of facilities evolving? How so?
Just like shops invest greatly in their look to give customers the best first impression, the self-storage industry takes this into account. Therefore, it’s giving more importance to its design and image.
On the other hand, though, Italy is a country with great rooted history where buildings can't be turned into extremely modern ones. Unlike in the United States, it's hard to find land to build something new. What operators can do is renovate old buildings and turn them into more attractive and clever ones.
What challenges is the association helping operators to overcome?
The legal aspect of the Italian self-storage contract is still something we're working on. Also, there’s the importance of insurance, so we’re spreading awareness of why it’s so critical.
What role does technology play?
Just as in the rest of Europe, technology plays an important role in the Italian self-storage industry. Facilities use video cameras and access-control systems.
A big change perhaps is the introduction of kiosks, which allow clients to sign a contract at a satellite facility without an operator present. With an ID and a credit card, anyone at a kiosk can communicate remotely to a self-storage operator and will be guided through the process of renting a unit. This will allow more flexibility and easier access to a self-storage solution for those working office hours or in an emergency.