23rd March 2011
WAKING UP TO SELF STORAGE - AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD ALLEN FOR REMOVALS & STORAGE MAGAZINE
ACTIVE SUPPLY AND DESIGN IS ONE OF THE UK’S LEADING SELF STORAGE ﬁT OUT COMPANIES TRUSTED BY MOVING COMPANIES THROUGHOUT EUROPE TO BUILD THEIR SELF STORAGE FACILITIES AND ADVISE ON HOW TO MAKE THEM SUCCESSFUL.
The company has grown from virtually nothing in 1991 to a multi-million pound turnover and is celebrating its twentieth year in business this year. Here Steve Jordan interviews the company’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Richard Allen, to ﬁnd out more about the company and the industry it serves.
Andrew Donaldson founded the company in 1991 ﬁnanced by a grant from the Princes Trust. Andrew already had much experience in the shelving and racking business and decided to go on his own. His new company specialised in shelving, racking and mezzanine ﬂoors and soon won a series of business awards both for itself and for Andrew as an entrepreneur. It was around 1998 that Andrew had his ﬁrst brush with the self storage industry. “We were asked to quote for a mezzanine ﬂoor installation in London,” explained Richard. “It was at the very early stages of self storage in the UK but even then it was clearly a business we needed to be involved in.
We still do some industrial ﬁt out now but since then we have concentrated mainly on the self storage market.”Seeing the opportunities that self storage offered as a business proposition in itself Andrew soon committed himself to building his own stores. He developed two self storage companies – Storage World and Rent-a-Space – which were eventually sold to the UK’s largest self storage company Safestore. Today Andrew is a joint owner of Big Storage, with Paul Fahey of P. Fahey & Sons Removals, which includes one of the UK’s largest self storage facilities.
Today the company’s management and operational team consists of Gareth Williams, Scott Woodcock, Martyn Dickinson and Richard Allen all of whom have much industry experience and the necessary expertise to ensure that self storage will prove a valuable addition to your core business. A dedicated design team will maximise your available space to enable you to make the best return on your investment.It should be reassuring to anyone contemplating moving into self storage that the CEO of one of the country’s biggest ﬁt-out companies is also involved in the business for itself. It does rather demonstrate that Active are prepared to practise what they preach. More signiﬁcantly, Andrew has clearly shown that he knows how to make self storage work and is prepared to share that knowledge with any company wishing to set up its own operation and employing Active for the ﬁt-out. What better way to demonstrate that you are giving best advice than to have already proven its success.
That is a principle that has been adopted by Active Supply and Design. Richard explained that they don’t just build a facility for anyone who asks. “First we do a feasibility study. We look at the building, where it is, the access, its visibility and suitability as a self store; the demographics of the surrounding area including statistics on age groups, average incomes, etc.; and we look at the competition in the area. There’s no point in us building a facility that will fail, we’d rather people be successful and come to us for the ﬁt-out of their subsequent phases.”But, strangely, it seems as if even now the moving industry hasn’t really worked out the beneﬁts of integrating self storage into its business.
Richard explained that only about 10% of his company’s business is for moving companies and only a very small percentage of all the moving companies in the UK have self storage facilities. “The UK is far from saturation. There are about 700 facilities in the country but that’s only about one tenth of the coverage per capita than the USA.”“The removals industry needs to look seriously at self storage and realise that this is the best possible add-on to their current business. It dovetails with it so perfectly, creating revenue and a constant ﬂow of business that movers have just not been used to,” he said. “Clients have often told me that it’s only the self storage business that has kept them bouyant through the recession.” If you look at the trading ﬁgures of the major self storage companies in the UK it’s clear that they too suffered during the recession but they have emerged strongly. The industry has long thought itself to be recession resilient and its performance through its ﬁrst down turn does appear to support that view.Perhaps it’s the up-front investment that puts moving companies off starting self storage facilities. But with an average return of around £25ft2/annum it doesn’t take long to get the money back.
Richard conservatively predicts three years to see a net return but many moving companies maintain they have returned a proﬁt much faster – 18 months in some cases. The view that location is the holy grail of self storage success seems to be subsiding. Yes it’s better to have an ideal location with passing trafﬁc than be stuck in some backwater but the emergence of the Internet as the main source of business has made that less important. “You need good Search Engine Optimisation and marketing, drive-by business is still important, but we have customers who have done very well in rural locations. Not having an ideal building is no longer a show stopper.”
Self storage units are not, it appears, used only as a place to abandon unwanted household items. Today people use the handy units for a whole range of purposes: as substitutes for garden sheds where dad can indulge in his passion for model aircraft making or stamp collecting; as depositories for companies selling goods on eBay; even as business units where a small business can be run from. “But we are still a nation of hoarders,” said Richard, “and when the housing market is unpredictable people will often sell up, store their goods and see how far the market will fall.”In Europe the UK has been something of an early adopter in the self storage business. France and Germany are fast on our heels with the Netherlands and Scandinavia growing too. But the potential, both here and abroad, is still huge for those with suitable buildings, a little capital and an adventurous spirit. Could you be one of them?