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U.K. Self-Storage Operator SureStore Shares Key Takeaways From Paris FEDESSA Conference

SureStore Director Paul Whittaker shares his perspective on the Federation of European Self Storage Associations Conference, which took place in Paris in September. He offers key takeaways from the event, including insight to industry growth.

This year’s Federation of European Self Storage Associations (FEDESSA) Conference in Paris was a record-breaker. More than 600 people from all over the world converged on the Paris Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel & Conference Center to attend a host of presentations, enjoy breakfast with the stars, visit the tradeshow, and network into the early hours of the morning.

I recently spoke with Paul Whittaker, director of SureStore and ambassador of the Young Leaders Group for the Self Storage Association of the United Kingdom, to gain his perspective on the event. SureStore launched earlier this year and has since secured eight sites in the Midlands and Northwest England. Three have opened in Bolton, Cannock and Northwich, with another three scheduled to open within the next few months.

This is the third time you’ve attended the FEDESSA Conference. Why is it important for you to be here?

Having been in the industry for a number of years, I’ve seen a lot of changes, and the rate of change is now growing exponentially. Demand for self-storage in the United Kingdom has skyrocketed, and customer expectations have become more and more demanding. There’s always something new to see, and being here provides me with a unique opportunity to interact and exchange best practice with industry experts.

Equally important, though, is that I have the opportunity to find the time—all too often in short supply in our day jobs—to meet up with suppliers, other operators and, most of all, friends. Having started my storage career in a store role, I wouldn’t have survived this long in this industry without the support of such a phenomenal community of people, and it’s great to see how others have grown as the European market has taken off.

Why do you think this year’s FEDESSA Conference was particularly popular?

The brilliant thing about this industry is we are all here to learn from one another. The guest speakers have been exceptional and all the hype around them before we came over is totally justified. I couldn’t commit to attending them all, but I thought Bill Hobin, CEO of StorQuest, was exceptional. The other keynote, Lord Mark Price (former U.K. Minister of State for Trade and Investment and former managing director of Waitrose) gave a really lively insight into the current political situation and how that is likely to impact our industry.

I also particularly appreciated the fact that we had more international visitors to the conference than ever before. I believe over 50 countries were represented, sharing through networking their experiences of some more developed and startup markets.

What are your key takeaways from this year’s conference?

Self-storage is still a niche part of the property market in Britain, despite funders having a much clearer understanding of its performance as an asset class. I was surprised to discover that despite solid growth in the industry, recent research from JLL shows that only 10 percent are fourth-generation facilities.Paul Whittaker, Director of SureStore

Having recognized this at the beginning of our company journey, we’ve ensured that all our new freehold facilities, ranging from new brown-field developments to retail conversions, are fourth generation. Each one has electric-car charging points for convenience and solar paneling to keep operating costs and, therefore, customer rents as low as possible. We’ve also developed our own sophisticated quick-quote and online-booking system, which is proving incredibly popular.

Although the maxim “location, location, location” still drives the best-performing facilities, the technology hot potato was very much in the spotlight at this year’s conference, with Janus International’s SecurGuard security lock and app taking center stage. Presented with the Innovation Award at this year’s gala dinner, it certainly got everyone talking. I’ve never been a fan of technology for technology’s sake, but anything that saves time, hassle and frustration and adds to the overall customer experience and satisfaction, like this, can only be a good thing.

The conference has reiterated that a deep understanding of customer engagement and customer service is absolutely key for us as front-facing retail operators. Nick Meinertzhagen of Experiential Consulting shared his thoughts on the need for us all to evolve a culture where we cannot just communicate to but engage and share positive and memorable experiences with our customers. He also reminded us that any customer-centric organization is nothing without a team of people who drive the business forward with an authentic, shared vision.

It was really interesting to hear from Christel Land about the importance of a real and sustainable emotional connection in marketing activity. She highlighted that consistent, emotional marketing focus for three years or more is proven to be up to 10 times more effective, while, in the short term, emotional campaigns are twice as effective as rational ones. It’s obvious when you think about it, and this is very much the direction we’re taking.

I’m personally excited to be at the forefront of the industry, working with colleagues to create a Generation 5 blueprint, and cannot wait for next year’s FEDESSA conference, when 800 delegates are predicted to descend upon the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. We will be there!

Julie Whyman of U.K. public-relations consultancy Progeny PR has been in the communication industry for 30 years. She’s worked with organizations as diverse as British Aerospace Airbus, Grosvenor Estates and Liverpool Football Club. She’s currently working with the Self Storage Association of the United Kingdom, and is the final year studying for a Ph.D. at the University of York. For more information, e-mail julie@progenypr.co.uk; visit www.progenypr.co.uk.

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