The Self Storage Association (“SSA”) stated in its May 2021 report that in relation to Covid-19, the self storage industry “held up well during the pandemic”. Previous downturns have presented opportunities for self storage and the report suggested that increased working from home, online retailing, a potentially greater tendency for home improvements and the government’s stamp duty holiday in the UK have complemented the already broad range of demand drivers. The pandemic seems to have once again demonstrated the resilience of the self storage industry.

The self storage market in the UK and France remains relatively immature compared to geographies such as the USA and Australia. The SSA Annual Survey (May 2021) confirmed that self storage capacity stands at 0.74 sq ft per head of population in the UK and 0.25 sq ft per capita in France. Whilst the Paris market density is greater than France, we estimate it to be significantly lower than the UK at around 0.36 sq ft per inhabitant. This compares with 9.44 sq ft per inhabitant in the USA and 1.89 sq ft in Australia. In the UK, in order to reach the US density of supply, it would require the addition of around another 17,000 stores as compared to c. 1,400 currently. In the Paris region, it would require around 2,400 new facilities versus c. 95 currently opened.

While capacity increased significantly between 2007 and 2010 with respondents to the survey opening an average of 32 stores per annum, new additions were limited to an average of 19 stores per annum between 2011 and 2016 (including container storage openings).

The volume of new store openings increased in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, the SSA reported 70 stores as having been opened across the industry in 2017. However, our own analysis of these openings shows that many were container-based operators and only c. 30 of the sites represent self storage sites that are comparable with Safestore’s own portfolio. In the 2019 SSA Survey, it was estimated that c. 40 traditional self storage stores were opened in 2018 (excluding container storage) with less than half competing directly with Safestore. The 2020 and 2021 reports do not give detailed indications of the level of openings in 2019 or 2020 but our own estimates are also that around 40 were opened in each period.

The 40 comparable sites represent around 3% of the traditional self storage industry in the UK. These figures represent gross openings and do not take into account storage facilities closing or being converted for alternative uses. We estimate that only around 25% of these sites compete with existing Safestore stores.

The SSA 2021 Survey also reported that operators’ expectations in terms of new store openings and site acquisitions remained relatively consistent with previous years. For 2021, operators are estimating the completion of around 44 developments and around 48 in 2022. Traditionally, operators have opened or acquired far fewer stores than originally estimated. Based on these estimates, and adjusting for historical inaccuracy, we estimate that around 20-25 stores per annum will be developed over the coming years. If that supply is not within a relatively narrow radius of a Safestore store, it does not represent a competitive threat.

New supply in London and Paris is likely to continue to be limited in the short and medium term as a result of planning restrictions and the availability of suitable land.

The supply in the UK market, according to the SSA Survey, remains relatively fragmented despite a number of acquisitions in the sector in the last four years. The SSA’s estimates of the scale of the UK industry are finessed each year and changes from one year to the next represent improved data rather than new supply. In the 2021 report the SSA estimates that 1,997 self storage facilities exist in the UK market including around 598 container-based operations. According to the 2021 survey, Safestore is the industry leader by number of stores with 128 wholly owned sites followed by Big Yellow with 102 stores (including Armadillo), Access with 57 stores, Lok’n Store with 37 stores, Shurgard with 34 stores and Storage King with 30 stores. In aggregate, the top six leading operators account for almost 20% of the UK store portfolio. The remaining c. 1,600 self storage outlets (including 598 container-based operations) are independently owned in small chains or single units. In total there are 998 storage brands operating in the UK.

Safestore’s French business, UPP, is mainly present in the core more affluent and densely populated inner Paris and first belt areas, whereas our two main competitors, Shurgard and Homebox, have a greater presence in the outskirts and second belt of Paris.

Our Spanish business operates in Barcelona and has recently announced its future expansion into Madrid. The metropolitan areas of Barcelona and Madrid have combined growing high density populations of 12m inhabitants and significant barriers to entry for self storage.

Consumer awareness of self storage is increasing but remains relatively low, providing an opportunity for future industry growth. The SSA Survey indicated that 50% (52% in 2020) of consumers either knew nothing about the service offered by self storage operators or had not heard of self storage at all. Since 2014, this statistic has only fallen 12ppts from 62%. Therefore, the opportunity to grow awareness, combined with limited new industry supply, makes for an attractive industry backdrop.

Self storage is a brand-blind product. 56% of respondents were unable to name a self storage business in their local area (54% in 2020). The lack of relevance of brand in the process of purchasing a self storage product emphasises the need for operators to have a strong online presence. The requirement for a strong online presence was also reiterated by the SSA Survey where 77% of those surveyed (73% in 2020) confirmed that an internet search would be their chosen means of finding a self storage unit to contact, whilst knowledge of a physical location of a store as reason for enquiry was only c. 25% of respondents (c. 26% in 2020).

There are numerous drivers of self storage growth. Most private and business customers need storage either temporarily or permanently for different reasons at any point in the economic cycle, resulting in a market depth that is, in our view, the reason for its exceptional resilience. The growth of the market is driven both by the fluctuation of economic conditions, which has an impact on the mix of demand, and by growing awareness of the product.

Safestore’s domestic customers’ need for storage is often driven by life events such as births, marriages, bereavements, divorces or by the housing market including house moves and developments and moves between rental properties. Safestore has estimated that UK owner-occupied housing transactions drive around 10-15% of the Group’s new lets.

The Group’s business customer base includes a range of businesses from start-up online retailers through to multi-national corporations utilising our national coverage to store in multiple locations while maintaining flexibility in their cost base. 

Group Business and Personal Customer Split

Safestore’s customer base is resilient and diverse and consists of around 80,000 domestic, business and National Accounts customers across London, Paris and the UK regions.

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