Business Model

The Group operates in a market with relatively low consumer awareness. It is anticipated that this will increase over time as the industry matures. To date, despite the financial crisis in 2007/08 and the implementation of VAT in the UK on self storage in 2012, the industry has been exceptionally resilient. In the context of uncertain economic conditions, driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, the industry remains well positioned with limited new supply coming into the self storage market.

With more stores inside London’s M25 than any other operator and a strong position in central Paris, Safestore has leading positions in the two most important and demographically favourable markets in Europe. In addition, our regional presence in the UK is unsurpassed and contributes to the success of our industry-leading National Accounts business. In the UK, Safestore is the leading operator by number of wholly owned stores. With 92% of customers travelling less than 30 minutes to their storage facility (2021 SSA Survey) Safestore’s national store footprint represents a competitive advantage.

The Group’s capital-efficient portfolio of 161 wholly owned stores in the UK, Paris and Barcelona consists of a mix of freehold and leasehold stores. In order to grow the business and secure the best locations for our facilities we have maintained a flexible approach to leasehold and freehold developments.

Currently, around a third of our stores in the UK are leaseholds with an average remaining lease length at 31 October 2021 of 11.8 years (FY2020: 12.5 years). Although our property valuation for leaseholds is conservatively based on future cash flows until the next contractual lease renewal date, Safestore has a demonstrable track record of successfully re-gearing leases several years before renewal whilst at the same time achieving concessions from landlords.

In England, we benefit from the Landlord and Tenant Act, which protects our rights for renewal except in case of redevelopment. The vast majority of our leasehold stores have building characteristics or locations in retail parks that make current usage either the optimal and best use of the property or the only one authorised by planning. We observe that our landlords, who are property investors, value the quality of Safestore as a tenant and typically prefer to extend the length of the leases that they have in their portfolio, enabling Safestore to maintain favourable terms.

In Paris, where 38% of our stores are leaseholds, our leases typically benefit from the well-enshrined Commercial Lease statute that provides that tenants own the commercial property of the premises and that they are entitled to renew their lease at an indexed rent. Taking into account this context, the valuer values the French leaseholds based on an indefinite property tenure, similar to freeholds.

The Group believes there is an opportunity to leverage its highly scalable marketing and operational expertise in new geographies outside the UK and Paris. During 2019, a joint venture1 was established with Carlyle, which acquired the M3 Self Storage business in the Netherlands which has six stores in Amsterdam and Haarlem. In June 2020, the joint venture1 added the Lokabox business in Belgium, a portfolio of six stores in Brussels (2), Liege (2), Charleroi and Nivelles. In December 2020, the joint ventureacquired the Opslag XL portfolio in the Netherlands, adding a further three stores in Amsterdam, The Hague and Hilversum. The Group earns a management fee and a share of the profits of the joint venture1. The joint venture1 added a development site at Nijmegen in the Netherlands in June 2021 and it is anticipated that it will investigate further opportunities in due course.

Our experience is that being flexible in its approach has enabled Safestore to operate from properties and in markets that would have been otherwise unavailable and to generate strong returns on capital invested.

Safestore excels in the generation of customer enquiries which are received through a variety of channels including the internet, telephone and ”walk-ins”. In the early days of the industry, local directories and store visibility were key drivers of enquiries. However, the internet is now by far the dominant channel, accounting for 89% (FY2020: 88%) of our enquiries in the UK and 85% (FY2020: 79%) in France. Telephone enquiries comprise 8% of the total (10% in France) and ”walk-ins” amount to only 3% (5% in France). This dynamic is a clear benefit to the leading national operators that possess the budget and the management skills necessary to generate a commanding presence in the major internet search engines. Safestore has developed a leading digital marketing platform that has generated 63% enquiry growth over the last five years. Towards the end of 2015, the Group launched a new dynamic and mobile-friendly UK website, which has achieved its aim of providing the customer with an even clearer, more efficient experience. A similar website was launched in our Paris business at the end of 2016.

Although mostly generated online, our enquiries are predominantly handled directly by the stores and, in the UK, we have a Customer Support Centre (“CSC”) which handles customer service issues in addition to enquiries, in particular when the store colleagues are busy handling calls or outside of normal store opening hours.

Our pricing platform provides the store and CSC colleagues with system-generated real-time prices managed by our centrally based yield-management team. Local colleagues have certain levels of discretion to flex the system-generated prices but this is continually monitored.

Customer service standards are high and customer satisfaction feedback is consistently very positive. We have achieved over 96% customer satisfaction, based on “excellent” or “good” ratings as collected by Feefo via our customer website.

The key drivers of sales success are the capacity to generate enquiries in a digital world, the capacity to provide storage locations that are conveniently located close to the customers’ requirements and the ability to maintain a consistently high quality, motivated retail team that is able to secure customer sales at an appropriate storage rate, all of which can be better provided by larger, more efficient organisations.

We remain focused on business as well as domestic customers. Our national network means that we are uniquely placed to further grow the business customer market and in particular National Accounts. Business customers in the UK now constitute 42% of our total space let and have an average length of stay of 28 months. Within our business customer category, our National Accounts business represents around 617k sq ft of occupied space (around 13% of the UK’s occupancy). Approximately two-thirds of the space occupied by National Accounts customers is outside London, demonstrating the importance and quality of our well-invested national estate.

The business now has in excess of c. 80,000 business and domestic customers with an average length of stay of 29 months and 21 months respectively.

The cost base of the business is relatively fixed. Each store typically employs three staff. Our Group Head Office comprises business support functions such as Yield Management, Property, Marketing, HR, IT and Finance.

Since the completion of the rebalancing of our capital structure in early 2014, the subsequent amendment and extension of our banking facilities in summer 2015, the refinancing of all facilities in May 2017 and the issuances of a further £125 million of US Private Placement Notes in 2019 and £150 million in 2021, Safestore has secure financing, a strong balance sheet and significant covenant headroom. This provides the Group with financial flexibility and the ability to grow organically and via carefully selected new development or acquisition opportunities.

At 31 October 2021 we had 0.8 million sq ft of unoccupied space in the UK and 0.3 million sq ft in France, equivalent to c.27.5 full new stores, not including the 0.8 million sq ft in our development pipeline in UK, Paris and Spain. Our main focus is on filling the spare capacity in our stores at optimally yield-managed rates. The operational leverage of our business model will ensure that the bulk of the incremental revenue converts to profit given the relatively fixed nature of our cost base.

1 – The joint venture with CERF, which represents a 20% investment, has been accounted for as an associate using the equity method of accounting, as described in the “Investment in associates” note to the financial statements.

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