The billion pound opportunity

Feb 13 | 2023

Gavin Shields, Founder of StoreStuff in Northern Ireland and CEO of Stora, an online booking platform for self storage, presented his thoughts on self storage at The Movers & Storers Show last year.

Gavin Shields presentingHe painted a picture of ain industry with untapped potential that was ripe for disruption.  He also gave potential entrants into the market some good advice about how to do it.

Gavin said that in the USA, where self storage is more widely used, there was around eight times as much available storage space per capita than in the UK.  Although the two markets could not be compared directly this did suggest that the market in the UK was a very long way from saturation.  Another statistic was, if anything, even more emphatic: there are 182 self storage facilities in the US per million people; in the UK there are just ten.

Gavin said self storage was a great business model as it is a recurring income stream and customers stick around for a long time.  It is a great opportunity for three main reasons: 1) there is an undersupply of storage space (as shown by the figures above); 2) many self storage units do not publish prices and have no way of booking online; 3) the level of efficiency in the industry is low with many opportunities for automation.

“There are 750 towns in the UK with between 5 and 50,000 people,” he said. “I checked 50 of them and none had any indoor self storage.” He estimated that 20 million people in the UK had no practical access to self storage.

Gavin has two self storage facilities in which he has used automation to the full.  “We never meet customers face-to-face and only speak to 20% of them on the phone,” he explained. “Every door has an electronic lock and the whole process is automated.”

This level of efficiency has allowed him to make smaller sites economically viable.  Sites have to be much larger if they are to support staff.  But a fully automatic site can be much smaller and still be profitable.  He said his sites are around 9,000 sq ft net lettable.  “This has only been possible in the last few years.”

He didn’t believe that operators would have much choice than to automate to achieve greater efficiency. “In the next 10 to 15 years, as the economy changes as the competitive environment changes, it's going to be really important to run an efficient business to maximise sales and minimise costs. It’s those businesses that are going to win in the long term.”

He then offered advice to anyone wishing to open a new self storage facility.  This included: choose local town with 15 – 50,000 people (the more the better); check out the competition; find out the availability of land and property; spend a day in the town checking out the shops to see how prosperous it is; build a relationship with local estate agents; make to place as visible as you can; and hold an opening event.

Photo:  Gavin Shields, Founder of StoreStuff in Northern Ireland and CEO of Stora, presenting at The Movers & Storers Show.