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, the implementation of VAT in the UK on self storage in 2012, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry has been exceptionally resilient. In the context of uncertain economic conditions, driven by inflation and the war in Ukraine, 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 85% of customers travelling for less than 30 minutes to their storage facility (2022 SSA Survey) Safestore’s national store footprint represents a competitive advantage.

The Group’s capital-efficient portfolio of 179 wholly owned stores in the UK, Paris, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium 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 as well as being comfortable with a range of building types, from new builds to conversions of warehouses and underground car parks.

Currently, around a quarter of our stores in the UK are leaseholds with an average remaining lease length at 31 October 2022 of 12.7 years (FY2021: 11.8 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 that 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 41% of 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 a rent that is indexed to the Indice des Loyers Commerciaux (Commercial Rental Index) published by the state. Taking into account this context, the valuer values the French leaseholds based on an indefinite property tenure, similar to freeholds but at a significantly higher exit cap rate.

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 had six stores in Amsterdam and Haarlem. In June 2020, the Joint Venture1 added the Lokabox business, a portfolio of six stores in Brussels (2), Liege (2), Charleroi and Nivelles. In December 2020, the Joint Venture1 acquired the Opslag XL portfolio adding a further three stores in Amsterdam, The Hague and Hilversum and opened a store in Nijmegen in the Netherlands in January 2022. The Amsterdam store has subsequently been closed as planned following lease expiry. After three years of learning about and understanding these markets, the Group acquired the remaining 80% of equity in the Joint Venture1 owned by Carlyle in March 2022.

In 2019 the Group entered the Spanish market with the acquisition of OhMyBox. Our Spanish portfolio currently consists of five stores in Barcelona, and two recently opened Madrid stores. We have a further six stores in our development pipeline situated in both Madrid and Barcelona. We consider both of these cities to have attractive characteristics in relation to self storage and intend to continue to seek further expansion opportunities.

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 cash-on-cash returns.

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 90% (2021: 89%) of our enquiries in the UK and 85% (2021: 84%) 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 search engines. Safestore has developed and continues to invest in a leading digital marketing platform that has generated 54% enquiry growth over the last five years.

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. Safestore invites customers to leave a review on a number of review platforms, including Feefo, Google and Trustpilot. Our ratings for each of these three providers in the UK are between 4.6 and 4.8 out of 5. In France, Une Pièce en Plus uses Trustpilot to obtain independent customer reviews and In HY2022, achieved a “TrustScore” of 4.6 out of 5. In Spain, OMB collects customer feedback via Google reviews and has maintained a score of 4.6 out of 5. 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 26 months. Within our business customer category, our National Accounts business represents around 623,000 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.90,000 business and domestic customers with an average length of stay of 28 months and 22 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, £150 million in 2021 and £89 million in 2022, as well as the recent establishment of a new £400 million unsecured multi-currency Revolving Credit Facility, 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 2022 we had 1.0m sq ft of unoccupied space in the UK, 0.2m sq ft in France and 0.2m in Spain and Benelux, equivalent to c.35 full new stores. 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 – On 30 March 2022, the Group acquired the remaining 80% of the Joint Venture with CERF. Prior to acquiring the 80%, the Joint Venture with CERF, which represented a 20% investment, was 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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