Business Model

Safestore’s proven business model remains unchanged from our previous annual report.
The Group operates in a market with relatively low consumer awareness. It is anticipated that this will increase over time as the industry matures. Historically, despite the financial crisis and the implementation of VAT on self-storage in 2012, the industry has been exceptionally resilient. In the context of uncertain economic conditions as the UK approaches 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.
Our capital-efficient portfolio of 134 wholly owned stores in the UK and Paris (146 stores including Alligator acquired on 1 November 2017) consists of a mix of freehold and leasehold stores. In order to grow our business and secure the best locations for our facilities we have maintained a flexible approach to leasehold and freehold developments.
Currently, (excluding Alligator) approximately one-third of our stores in the UK are leaseholds with an average remaining lease length at 31 October 2017 of 13.3 years (FY2016: 13.7). 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 42% 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 National Construction 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.
Our experience is that being flexible in its approach has enabled Safestore to operate from properties 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.
The Internet is now by far the dominant channel, accounting for 82% of our enquiries in the UK and 72% in France. Telephone enquiries comprise 11% of the UK total and 19% in France, and ‘Walk-ins’ amount to only 7% (UK) and 9% (France).  This key change 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 a leading digital marketing platform that has generated 40% enquiry growth over the last four 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. In December 2016, a similar website was launched in our Paris business.
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 now handles 18% of all enquiries, in particular when the store staff are busy handling calls or outside of normal store opening hours.
Our pricing platform provides the store and CSC staff with system-generated real time prices managed by our centrally based yield management team. Local staff 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. Over the last 12 months 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 49% of our total space let and have an average length of stay of 30 months. Within our business customer category, our National Accounts business continues to grow with storage revenue increasing by 102% compared with 2013. The space let to National Accounts customers has increased by 57% compared with 2013 and, at 385,000 sq ft, constitutes 12% of our total occupied space in the UK business. 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 (excluding Alligator) now has in excess of 55,000 business and domestic customers with an average length of stay of 31 months and 22 months respectively.
The cost base of our 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 and the subsequent amendments and extensions of our banking facilities in Summer 2015 and May 2017, as well as the May 2017 refinancing of our US Private Placement Notes, 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 2017, prior to completion of the Alligator acquisition, we had 1.3m sq ft of unoccupied space in the UK and 0.3m sq ft in France, equivalent to over 40 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.

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