The self-storage industry is an example of an industry that is, on the face of it, incredibly simple, but one that didn’t emerge in the UK until surprisingly recently, despite the clear need for it for many decades before.
The History of Self Storage
The story of the origins of the modern self-storage industry in the UK begins on foreign soil: in Texas, USA. The first company in the US to offer self-storage was founded in 1850 by a man called Martin Bekin who wanted to provide migrants with a place to store their possessions while they built new settlements along the Mexican border.
Martin Bekin died and passed ownership of his company to his family who expanded and improved on the idea. By the early 1900s, it became clear that the people wanted more secure facilities to store their possessions and so the family constructed the first ever self-storage facility made of reinforced concrete and steel in Los Angeles, followed by a second in San Francisco.
Over the course of the twentieth century, the popularity of self-storage soared in the US, with many new businesses entering the sector, offering options for people to store their goods regionally. The original concept of self-storage was for firms to keep their excess inventory until they could shift it at market, rather than for private citizens to store their possessions.
The self-storage market in the UK was a late starter. Although there had been self-storage facilities in the country before 1980, it was only during the Thatcher era that the country experienced a boom in the popularity of self-storage with dozens of new companies entering the market.
In the early days, the most popular product was self-storage for business. Companies growing under Thatcher’s policies needed a place to store their output safely and securely. Instead of relying on their silos and warehouse facilities, they trusted their products to self-storage companies which began popping up all over the place. It was often cheaper for firms to pay for a container on a storage site than it was to keep goods on their premises, despite the additional transportation costs.
But businesses weren’t the only market that was to benefit from the self-storage boom: private homeowners did too. In the UK, the average size of a residential property is only 81 square metres, less than half the 201 square metres of the average home in the US, or the 181 square metres of the average Canadian household. Despite earning similar incomes to people in those two countries, Brits generally don’t have the space to keep lots of possessions in their homes. In the early 2000s, the market for furniture storage took off, offering people living in the UK with the additional space that they needed to store large, bulky items, without having to either sell them or have them cluttering up their homes.
The self-storage industry, therefore, has had to change significantly. It must now focus on tending to the consumer, rather than the business market, for continued growth and expansion. And this is largely what it has done: companies in the sector now offer a range of consumer-friendly services, such as small unit sizes, access to facilities 24-hours-a-day, and intuitive security procedures.
Why Is Self-Storage Growing In Popularity?
Data from the Self-Storage Association show that the self-storage industry is booming, year after year. But why? What’s driving the change?
The standard explanation for the self-storage boom in the UK is the lack of space: the small home size, and the high population density. But there’s more to it than that. The rise in self-storage usage reflects the changing demands of modern life: people need to move more often for work, relationship breakdown is leading to an increase in self-storage for keeping possessions safe, and the ageing population is leading to demand for storage for people who have passed away.
Divorced couples, according to the Self-Storage Association, are 100 per cent more likely to use self-storage units compared to the rest of the population. And the fact that relationships tend to change more frequently is leading to the need for people to use self-storage to keep large items, like fridges and freezers, until they find a new place to live.
Although influential factors are driving the growth of the consumer-side of the self-storage market, there’s data to suggest that the demands of business are also playing an increasing role. The number of firms in the UK has grown from around 3.5 million in 2000 to more than 5.7 million in 2017. This has led to increased demand for space to store office furniture and equipment as businesses start up, move to new locations.
The result of all this is a boom in the self-storage industry. It’s growing fast.