European self storage facilities move into the digital age

Self storage facilities in Europe are getting increasingly innovative to cater for growing numbers of consumers and small businesses.

October 30, 2018

An ongoing boom in demand for self storage is driving European facilities to incorporate new technology that offers customers better accessibility and higher security.

“The self storage business model has been hugely successful and we are seeing new operators look at innovations that can challenge the more dominant players,” says Ollie Saunders, Lead Director of Alternatives at JLL.

Many of these innovations are centred on technology that gives customers more control over their use of self storage spaces – from improved websites for reservations, to dedicated apps for viewing storage facility cameras, making payments, and organising the pickup and delivery of items to and from homes or offices.

Where one in five facilities offered 24-hour access in 2017, over a third now allow customers anytime entry. Near field communication (NFC) tech allows customers to access storage units by tapping their smartphones to a door plate, rather than via a PIN or fob which can be forgotten or lost, enhancing security by authenticating customers via their personal devices.

Doing more efficient business

Operators are also benefiting; automated technology helps to reduce staffing costs for self storage providers – for example, some facilities are offering remote receptionist service over Skype

When the fixed costs of staff are lowered, smaller facilities can be built, allowing operators to set up in premium, central locations where space is more limited – but the demand higher from concentrations of homes and offices. “We are seeing metro stores of around 500 square metres being developed,” notes Saunders.

Self storage providers are also enhancing their online experience, with the majority of European operators now posting pricing on websites, and 60 percent allowing potential customers to book units online.

“Today, it’s all about online marketing to come up first in search results,” Saunders says. “The ability to sell space online and reach the consumer means that investment in website is massive, particularly for larger operators, who experience better economies of scale with a single website for dozens of facilities.”

One major enhancement has been to introduce more dynamic price quotes based on availability of storage spaces, similar to hotel or flight pricings. “This methodology is helping operators better drive rental growth,” says Saunders.

Making a better building

About a third of self-service tenants are now commercial businesses, using self storage as a flexible solution for stock overflow as well as a base for salespeople and retail distribution.

The design of self storage buildings is evolving in response. “We are seeing much more consumer-led design in self storage facilities, with a greater focus on catering for commercial customers,” Saunders says.

For example, facilities are likely to be built with small serviced offices, or incorporate drop-down workstations near storage units. Many are also including hubs for the collection of customer deliveries, such as Amazon drop-off points, streamlining the purchase process for corporate users.

“The high-tech self storage building could effectively become an enterprise and innovation hub of a digital economy,” Saunders says.

Sustainability is another key feature. Nearly half of self storage facilities use energy-saving LED lighting, while a small but growing proportion are incorporating sustainability measures such as motion detectors and recyclable packaging to court consumers who are increasingly choosing sustainable brands.

The spread of self storage

With increasingly mobile populations, more people living in cities, shorter rental leases and smaller living spaces becoming the norm across Europe, high-tech self storage facilities are set to feature more in modern living in years to come.

The UK already has by far the largest amount of self storage available per person, followed by the Netherlands but this still lags far behind mature markets in the U.S. and Australia. As Saunders points out, there’s still work to be done in raising awareness of the benefits of today’s self storage facilities.

“Uptake across Europe is likely to increase as more facility providers make their online experience even easier for consumers – there is a relatively low awareness of self storage facilities,” he says.

While many people turn to self storage for a short-term need such as renovating a house, divorce or going travelling, many end up keeping on using the service for a longer period of time, Saunders notes. “The demand is there for self storage in many different aspects of modern life – and with new technology making facilities more convenient and secure, the outlook is positive for Europe’s self storage market.”