The Group’s proven strategy has evolved over the year with the creation of our joint venture1 with Carlyle and our acquisition of OhMyBox in Barcelona, but otherwise remains largely unchanged. We believe that the Group has a well located asset base, management expertise, infrastructure, scale and balance sheet strength to exploit the current healthy self storage industry dynamics. As we look forward, we consider that the Group has the potential to significantly further increase its earnings per share by:

  • Optimising the trading performance of the existing portfolio;
  • Maintaining a strong and flexible capital structure; and
  • Taking advantage of selective portfolio management and expansion opportunities in our existing markets and, if appropriate, in attractive new geographies either through our joint venture1 with Carlyle or in our own right.
1 – The joint venture with Carlyle, 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.

Optimisation of Existing Portfolio

With the opening of twelve new stores since August 2016, and the acquisitions of Space Maker in July 2016, Alligator in November 2017, our Heathrow store and Fort Box in 2019, we have established and strengthened our market-leading portfolio in the UK and Paris and have a high quality, fully invested estate in both geographies. Of our 150 stores as at 31 October 2019, 96 are in London and the South East of England or in Paris with 54 in the other major UK cities. We now operate 45 stores within the M25 which represents a higher number of stores than any other competitor.
Our MLA1 has increased to 6.47m sq ft at 31 October 2019. At the current occupancy level of 77.0% we have 1.5m sq ft of unoccupied space, of which 1.2m sq ft is in our UK stores and 0.3m sq ft in Paris. In total this unlet space is the equivalent of circa 35 empty stores located across the estate and provides the Company with significant opportunity to grow further. This available space is fully invested and the related operating costs are essentially fixed and already included in the Group cost base. Our continued focus will be on ensuring that we drive occupancy to utilise this capacity at carefully managed rates. Over the last six years, the like-for-like2 occupancy has increased from 63.1% to 78.5% i.e. an average of 2.6% per year. As of 31 October 2019, the like-for-like2 closing occupancy was up 3.4ppts year-on-year.
There are three elements that are critical to the optimisation of our existing portfolio.

  • Enquiry generation through an effective and efficient marketing operation;
  • Strong conversion of enquiries into new lets; and
  • Disciplined central revenue management and cost control.

Digital marketing expertise
Awareness of self storage is increasing each year but still remains relatively low with 52% (2018: 54%) of the UK population either knowing very little or nothing about self storage (source: 2019 SSA Annual Report). In the UK around 75% of our new customers are using self storage for the first time. It is largely a brand blind purchase. Typically, customers requiring storage start their journey by conducting online research using generic keywords in their locality (e.g. “storage in Borehamwood”, “self storage near me”) which means that geographic coverage and search engine prominence remain key competitive advantages.
We believe there is a clear benefit of scale in the generation of customer enquiries. The Group has continued to invest in its consumer website as well as in-house expertise which has resulted in the development of a leading digital marketing platform that has generated over 24% enquiry growth for the Group over the last five years. Our increasing in-house expertise and significant annual budget has enabled us to deliver strong results.
Online enquiries now represent 83% of our enquiries in the UK (FY2018: 83%) and 75% in France (FY2018: 74%). 54% of our online enquiries in the UK now originate from a mobile device (excluding tablets), compared to 50% last year, highlighting the need for continual investment in our responsive web platform for a “mobile-first” world. In addition, changing customer expectations has prompted us to test and deploy a new service channel, LiveChat, during the year. We continue to invest in activities that promote a strong search engine presence to grow enquiry volume whilst managing efficiency in terms of overall cost per enquiry.
During 2019, the Group further developed and successfully executed its ability to integrate newly developed and acquired stores into its marketing platform. The Group acquired three stores in London during the calendar year - Heathrow (acquired July 2019) and Chelsea and St John’s Wood (acquired November 2019). All three stores were successfully integrated onto Safestore systems within weeks of completion and rebranding will be complete by early 2020. New build stores at Peterborough and Merry Hill in the UK and Pontoise in Paris have made strong starts in terms of enquiry generation as we refine our approach to new openings. Safestore was also appointed to provide management services to the joint venture3 created to acquire M3 Self Storage in the Netherlands. These services will include the implementation of the full Safestore marketing platform (including use of the brand). This transition is underway and progressing on schedule.
We will continue to invest in activities that promote a strong search engine presence to grow enquiry volume whilst managing efficiency in terms of the overall cost per enquiry.

In 2019, Safestore once again achieved a Feefo customer service rating of 95% based on the customers who rated their experience as “Excellent” or “Good”. Having achieved this service level online, in the store and on the phone, Safestore was again recognised with a “Gold Trusted Merchant” award – given to businesses achieving over 95% – for the sixth year running.
Motivated and effective store teams benefiting from improved training and development
In what is still a relatively immature and poorly understood product, customer service and selling skills at the point of sale remain essential in earning the trust of the customer and in driving the appropriate balance of volumes and unit price in order to optimise revenue growth in each store.
Our enthusiastic, well-trained and customer-centric sales team remains a key differentiator and a strength of our business. Understanding the needs of our customer and using this knowledge to develop in-store trusted advisers is a fundamental part of driving revenue growth and market share.
Safestore has been an Investors in People (“IIP”) organisation since 2003 and our aim is to be an employer of choice in our sector as we passionately believe that our continued success is dependent on our highly motivated and well-trained colleagues. In April 2018, Safestore was awarded the Gold accreditation under the IIP programme, a significant improvement from the Bronze accreditation awarded in 2015. This puts Safestore as one of the top employers of 14,000 IIP accredited companies. In addition, Safestore was subsequently shortlisted as a finalist for the IIP Gold Employer of the Year in the 250+ employees category, putting us in the top ten of all companies that have achieved Gold accreditation. IIP is the international standard for people management, defining what it takes to lead, support and manage people effectively to achieve sustainable results. Underpinning the Standard is the Investors in People framework, reflecting the latest workplace trends, essential skills and effective structures required to outperform in any industry. Investors in People enables organisations to benchmark against the best in the business on an international scale. We are proud to have our colleagues recognised to such a high standard not only in our industry but across 14,000 organisations in 75 countries.
We are committed to growing and rewarding our people and tailor our development, reward and recognition programs to this end. Our IIP recognised coaching program, launched in 2018, was upgraded in 2019 to reflect the increase in the calibre and performance of our teams and was well received by our colleagues on its launch in January of 2019. Our internal sales training framework also received its 2019 enhancements to reflect the elevated performance of 2018 and target our high expectations of 2019. The program was rolled out in May 2019 in preparation for the third and fourth quarters’ selling seasons.
The training and development of our store and customer facing colleagues is an essential part of our daily routines. In 2019, we delivered a further 30,000 hours of training through face-to-face sessions and via our internally developed online learning tool and we continue to build on this commitment. This Learning Management System also provides the opportunity for team members to receive rigorously enforced health and safety, fire and compliance training, ensuring that our colleagues are up to date in relation to their technical knowledge and continue to operate a safe environment for both our colleagues and customers. These tools, systems and resources have allowed us to effectively communicate changes quickly and manage compliance robustly.
All new recruits to the business benefit from enhanced induction and training tools which have been developed in-house and enable us to quickly identify high potential individuals and increase their speed to competency. They receive individual performance targets within four weeks of joining the business and are placed on the “pay-for-skills” programme which allows accelerated basic pay increases dependent on success in demonstrating specific and defined skills. The key target of our programme remains that close to 100% of our store manager appointments are from within the business via our Store Manager Development programme, and we are pleased with our progress to date.
November 2016 saw the launch of our internal Store Manager Development programme designed to provide the business with its future store managers. The first group of trainees graduated in November 2017 and the second intake of sales consultants at the end of October 2018. We are proud to announce that our third intake of programme delegates have the opportunity to gain a nationally recognised qualification from ILM (Institute of Leadership & Management) at Level 3 and a further 10 new colleagues recently started the 2020 programme.
Our Store Manager Development programme demonstrates the effectiveness of our learning tools. In a spirit of constant improvement our content and delivery process is dynamically enhanced through our 360 degree feedback process utilising the learnings from not only the candidates but also from our training store managers and senior business leaders. This allows our people to be trained with the knowledge and skills to sell effectively in today’s market place. 2019 also saw the inaugural launch of our Senior Manager Development program (“LEAD”) which focuses on developing our high performing middle managers aimed at preparing them for more senior roles within the business. This program is built on the foundations of our Store Manager Development program and includes level 5 accreditation from the Institute of Leadership and Management upon successful completion.
Our performance dashboard allows our store and field teams to focus on the key operating metrics of the business providing an appropriate level of management information to enable swift decision making. Reporting performance down to individual employee level enhances our competitive approach to team and individual performance. We continue to reward our people for their performances with bonuses of up to 50% of basic salary based on their achievements against individual new lets, occupancy, ancillary sales and pricing targets. In addition, a Values and Behaviours framework is overlaid on individuals’ performance in order to assess team members’ performance and development needs on a quarterly basis.
February 2019 saw the launch of our “Make The Difference Forum” when 15 of our colleagues were voted to be the “people champions” and attend our people’s forum.
This new initiative allows our champions to be the representative voice for each of the 12 Regions and Head Office in order to influence change and drive improvement for “Our Business, Our Customers and Our Colleagues”.

People Champions will:

  • Consult and collect the views and suggestions of all colleagues that they represent.
  • Engage in the bi-annual “Make the Difference Forum”, raising and representing the views of their colleagues.
  • Consult with and discuss feedback with management and the leadership team at Safestore.

Our Values and Behaviours framework concentrates our culture on our customers. Customers continue to be at the heart of everything we do. Whether it be in store, online or in their communities. Our Gold standard Feefo customer service score along with our “Excellent” Trustpilot rating, reflects our ongoing commitment to their satisfaction.
Central Revenue Management and Cost Control
We continue to pursue a balanced approach to revenue management. We aim to optimise revenue by improving the utilisation of the available space in our portfolio at carefully managed rates. Our central pricing team is responsible for the management of our dynamic pricing policy, the implementation of promotional offers and the identification of additional ancillary revenue opportunities. Whilst price lists are managed centrally and can be adjusted on a real-time basis when needed, the store sales teams have the ability, in selected stores, to offer a Lowest Price Guarantee in the event that a local competitor is offering a lower price.

 Average rates are predominantly influenced by:

  • The store location and catchment area;
  • The volume of enquiries generated online;
  • The store team skills at converting these enquiries into new lets at the expected price; and
  • The pricing policy and the confidence provided by analytical capabilities that smaller players may lack.

 We believe that Safestore has a very strong proposition in each of these areas.

Costs are managed centrally with a lean structure maintained at the Head Office. Enhancements to cost control are continually considered and the cost base is challenged on an ongoing basis.

1 – MLA is Maximum Lettable Area. At 31 October 2019, Group MLA was 6.47m sq ft (FY2018: 6.37m sq ft).
2 – Like-for-like adjustments have been made to remove the impact of Heathrow, the 2019 openings of Peterborough, Birmingham Merry Hill and Pontoise, the 2018 openings of Mitcham, Paddington Marble Arch and Poissy and 2018 closures of Leeds Central, Merton and Paddington.
3 – The joint venture with Carlyle, 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.

Strong and Flexible Capital Structure

Since 2014 we have refinanced the business on four occasions, each time on improved terms, and believe we have maintained a capital structure that is appropriate for our business and which provides us with the flexibility to take advantage of carefully evaluated development and acquisition opportunities.

On 29 October 2019, Safestore extended its borrowing facilities with the issuance of new sterling and Euro-denominated US Private Placement (USPP) notes with the following coupons and tenors:

  • €70m 7 year 2026 notes at a coupon of 1.26%.
  • £35m 7 year 2026 notes at a coupon of 2.59%.
  • £30m 10 year 2029 notes at a coupon of 2.69%.

The USPP notes were issued to a group of institutional investors. The proceeds have been utilised to pay down the revolving credit facility under our bank arrangements, thereby providing further capacity for medium term growth.

The existing USPP notes and banking arrangements remain unchanged and consist of:

  • A £250m revolving credit facility of which £97m is drawn. The facility matures in June 2023.
  • A €70m revolving credit facility of which €39m is drawn. The facility matures in June 2023.
  • €50.9m of 2024 USPP at a coupon of 1.59%.
  • €74.1m of 2027 USPP at a coupon of 2.00%.
  • £50.5m of 2029 USPP at a coupon of 2.92%.
Including the US Private Placement debt of €195 million (£168.2 million) and £115.5 million, the Group’s borrowings totalled £414.3 million before adjustment for unamortised finance costs (FY2018: £370.9 million), the increase in debt of £43.4 million reflecting funding for the acquisition of Salus Services Limited and our store development programme, as well as ensuring cash was available for the Fort Box Self Storage acquisition which completed on 5 November 2019.

The average cost of debt of the Group remains broadly unchanged at c. 2.3% and the average tenor of our facilities has increased from 5.1 years immediately before the new refinancing to 6.3 years as at 31 October 2019. The Group’s LTV1 ratio under the new financing arrangements is 31% as at 31 October 2019.

This LTV1 and ICR2 of 8.9x for the rolling twelve month period ended 31 October 2019 provide us with significant headroom compared to our banking covenants. We have £179.7m of available bank facilities at 31 October 2019.

During the year we terminated £80m of our interest rate swaps at a cost of £0.6m. In addition a £55m forward starting swap was put in place for the period from June 2022 to June 2023, ensuring that our interest rate swaps are co-terminous with our bank facilities. Currently, 88% of our drawn debt facilities are either fixed rate or hedged until June 2023.

At 31 October 2019, based on the current level of borrowings and interest swap rates, the Group’s weighted average cost of debt is 2.30%. The weighted average maturity of the Group’s drawn debt is 6.3 years at the current period end.

Taking into account the improvements we have made in the performance of the business and the reduction in underlying finance charges of c.£10m over the last six years, the Group is capable of generating free cash after dividends sufficient to fund the building of two to three new stores per annum depending on location and availability of land.

The Group evaluates development and acquisition opportunities in a careful and disciplined manner against rigorous investment criteria. Our investment policy requires certain Board-approved hurdle rates to be considered achievable prior to progressing an investment opportunity. In addition, the Group aims to maintain a Group LTV1 ratio of between 30% and 40% which the Board considers to be appropriate for the Group.

1 – LTV ratio is Loan-to-Value ratio, which is defined as gross debt (excluding finance leases) as a proportion of the valuation of investment properties and investment properties under construction (excluding finance leases).
2 – ICR is interest cover ratio, and is calculated as the ratio of underlying EBITDA after leasehold rent to underlying finance charges.

Portfolio Management

Our approach to store development and acquisitions in the UK and Paris continues to be pragmatic, flexible and focused on the return on capital.

Our property teams in both the UK and Paris continue to seek investment opportunities in new sites to add to the store pipeline. However, investments will only be made if they comply with our disciplined and strict investment criteria. Our preference is to acquire sites that are capable of being fully operational within 18- 24 months from completion.

Since 2016, the Group has opened twelve new stores; Chiswick, Wandsworth, Mitcham, Paddington Marble Arch (all in London), Birmingham Central, Birmingham Merry Hill, Altrincham and Peterborough in the UK, and Emerainville, Combs-la-Ville, Poissy and Pontoise in Paris. We have also completed the extensions and refurbishments of our Acton and Longpont (Paris) stores adding a net 29,000 square feet of fully invested space to the estate. All of these stores are performing in line with or ahead of their business plans.

New Stores

In January 2019, we completed the acquisition of a freehold former retail building in Peterborough. The site is one mile east of the city centre. The existing building has been converted into a 42,000 sq ft self storage facility and opened at the beginning of October 2019.

In October 2017, we completed the freehold acquisition of a 1.34 acre industrial site at Merry Hill in Birmingham. The site is about ten miles west of the centre of Birmingham, in a very prominent location close to Merry Hill regional shopping centre. The new purpose-built 55,000 sq ft store opened ahead of schedule in October 2019.

In the second half of 2018, we obtained planning for and completed the acquisition of a site in Carshalton in South London. Construction is underway and we anticipate opening this 40,000 sq ft store in the first calendar quarter of 2020.

In August 2019, we acquired a long leasehold 1.6 acre site with an existing building in Gateshead, North East England. The lease has 130 years remaining. Planning permission has now been granted and we plan to convert the building into a 38,000 sq ft store and anticipate opening the store in summer 2020.

In September 2019, we acquired a freehold 1.5 acre site with an existing warehouse in Sheffield. The site is located in an accessible and prominent position on the northern side of the inner ring road (A61) which is close to the city centre in a densely populated catchment area. The site has planning consent for self storage (the upgrade and refurbishment of the external areas are subject to planning permission). The Group intends to convert the existing building into a 47,000 sq ft store which should open in the second quarter of 2020.
The Group has also acquired two additional sites in the UK in London at Morden and Bermondsey. Morden is a freehold 0.9 acre site in an established industrial location. Planning permission for a 64,000 sq ft self storage facility has been submitted and we expect a decision in 2020. Bermondsey is a 0.5 acre freehold site with income from existing tenants and is adjacent to our existing leasehold store which has 34,000 sq ft of MLA and 78% occupancy at 31 October 2019. Our medium term aim, subject to planning permission, is to extend our existing Bermondsey operations with the addition of a new self storage facility to complement our existing store.
In Paris, where regulatory barriers are likely to continue to restrict meaningful new development inside the city, we will continue our policy of segmenting our demand and encouraging the customers who wish to reduce their storage costs to utilise our second belt stores. We will also manage occupancy and rates upwards in the more central stores and ensure that pricing recognises the value customers place on the convenience of physical proximity. The strong selling organisation and store network established by Une Pièce en Plus in Paris uniquely enables it to implement this commercial policy to complement the strong second belt markets in which we operate.

In June 2018, we exchanged contracts on a freehold 4.2 acre site in Pontoise, North West of Paris and completed the acquisition of the site in December 2018. The existing building was converted into a 65,000 sq ft store opened ahead of schedule in August 2019.

In April 2018, we agreed a lease on a site at Magenta in central Paris. Subject to planning, we aim to open a 50,000 sq ft store here in the 2019/20 financial year.

We believe there will be further opportunities to develop new stores in the outer suburbs of Paris and are actively reviewing the market for new opportunities.

Lease Extensions and Assignments

As part of our ongoing asset management programme, we have now extended the leases on 21 stores or 60% of our leased store portfolio in the UK since 2012 and our average lease length remaining now stands at 13.1 years as compared to 12.5 years at FY2018.

In the year we extended the leases on our Edinburgh Gyle, Portsmouth Fratton and Edinburgh Fort Kinnaird stores.

At Edinburgh Gyle we extended the lease by ten years and secured a six-month rent-free period. The lease now has 17 years remaining and expires in 2036.

At Portsmouth Fratton, we extended the lease to 2042 and agreed a 12-month rent-free period as part of the negotiations.

At Edinburgh Fort Kinnaird, we exercised an existing option to extend the lease by ten years to 2030.

As announced in our 2018 Results, we closed our Merton store in July 2018 and consolidated the majority of customers into our new Mitcham site. The lease on the Merton store was assigned to a third party during the year.

Existing Store Extensions and Refurbishments

In the UK we have been redeveloping a small number of our older stores. Currently, our Leeds Central store is closed as part of this programme and most of the store’s customers have been relocated, mainly to our other two Leeds stores. We are also considering options for our Birmingham Sheldon store, as anticipated on acquisition of the Alligator portfolio.

The refurbishment of our Newcastle store is now complete. The store remained open during the course of the works.

During the period, we also received planning permission to extend both our Bedford and Barking stores.

Bedford has an existing MLA of 35,300 sq ft and occupancy peaked at 94% in 2018. We have now started construction of the additional storage building on land already in our ownership adjacent to the existing store. This will provide additional MLA of 26,000 sq ft which we expect to open in early 2020.

Barking currently has an MLA of 47,900 sq ft and its occupancy also peaked at 94% in 2018. The extension, which should be completed early 2020, will add another 5,000 sq ft of MLA. Both stores will remain open during the construction.

We continue to look at opportunities to add additional MLA to existing stores as we seek opportunities to enhance our return on invested capital.


Fort Box

On 5 November 2019, Safestore acquired 100% of the shares of companies owning Fort Box Self Storage, which comprises two stores in London, for £14.3m1 including costs.

The stores, in the affluent areas of St John’s Wood and Chelsea, have a total of 35,000 sq ft of MLA and are 79% and 69% occupied respectively at acquisition.

St John’s Wood is a long leasehold store (999 years remaining) and Chelsea is a leasehold store with 20 years remaining on the lease.

The acquisition will be immediately earnings accretive with the first-year initial yield anticipated at 4.4% rising to c.9% at stabilised occupancy levels.

The Group will rebrand the stores and has taken over operation of the sites with immediate effect.


In July 2019, Safestore acquired Salus Services Ltd, the owner of a 34,000 sq ft MLA freehold store from Rockpool Investments for £6.6m1 in cash (including costs), funded from the Group’s existing resources. The store was previously operated by Ready Steady Store and is located on the Parkway Trading Estate near Heathrow Airport to the west of London.

The store, which opened in 2015, is currently trading at an occupancy of 75%. The Group anticipates that the first year initial yield will be c. 5.5%.

The Group will rebrand the store and has taken over operation of the site with immediate effect.

Joint venture2 with Carlyle and Investment in M3

In August 2019 Safestore invested in a 20% stake in a joint venture2 with Carlyle to invest in carefully selected self storage opportunities in Europe. Safestore has developed a highly scalable platform in self storage, built on site identification, disciplined capital allocation and leading marketing and operational expertise. This platform is proven to work across geographies and Safestore sees an opportunity to leverage the platform in regions outside of its existing footprint in the UK and Paris.

Safestore’s initial investment in the joint venture2 was a €3.2m equity investment plus a €2.0m loan. Safestore will also earn a fee for providing management services to the joint venture2. The Group expects to earn an initial return on investment of 8% before transaction related costs for the first full year reflecting its share of expected joint venture2 profits and fees for management services.

M3, which had assets with an unaudited proforma book value of €21.5m at the date of completion, has six prime locations in Amsterdam and Haarlem. The three stores in Haarlem are all freehold whilst two of the Amsterdam stores are subject to perpetual Ground Leases. The third Amsterdam store is a leasehold store with nine years remaining on the lease. The construction of the sixth store has now been finalised and completion of the acquisition of M3 took place on 31 August 2019. The business has 25,700 sq metres (277,000 sq ft) of MLA and an occupancy of 68%.

The Dutch self storage market is the fourth largest in Europe with 303 stores and 9.6m sq ft of MLA. This represents 0.56 sq ft per head of population which compares to 0.68 sq ft per head in the UK, 0.19 sq ft per head in France and 9.4 sq ft per head in the USA.

The Group’s investment in the joint venture2 was immediately accretive to Group earnings per share from completion and will support the Group’s future dividend capacity.


On 30 December 2019 the Group completed the acquisition of OMB Self Storage SL (“OMB”), trading as OhMyBox, for total consideration of €17.25m on a debt-free and cash free basis, funded from the Group’s existing debt facilities.
OMB operates four very well located leasehold properties in the centre of Barcelona with an average unexpired lease term of 16 years and one option to purchase the freehold for €4.2m. The company was 30% owned by the current management, who will remain with the business, and 70% by a Spanish family office. The portfolio consists of four locations (Valencia, Calabria, Glorias and Marina) with an MLA totalling 104,000 sq ft. The occupancy of the business, at the end of the 2018 financial year, was 68% with the Marina store having been open for only eighteen months.
Barcelona and Spain are attractive markets for self-storage. Spain has lower penetration of self-storage operators than the majority of European countries and less than half of the penetration of the UK and Barcelona is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Only 14% of facilities in the Spanish market are operated by large operators, which presents opportunities for consolidation and growth.
Pro forma first year EBITDA after rent is currently anticipated to be €0.9m on turnover of €2.5m. At the consideration price, the OMB portfolio has an implied first year net operating income yield of circa 5.2% and we expect it to be immediately accretive to earnings.
Whilst our investments in the Netherlands and Spain represent interesting long term growth opportunities, the investment in the two businesses currently represents less than 1.5% of Group assets.

1 – The consideration paid for the Heathrow store on 29 July 2019 was £6.4m plus costs of £0.2m and for Fort Box Self Storage on 5 November 2019 was £13.6m plus costs of approximately £0.7m, both net of cash acquired and both are subject to customary working capital adjustment.
2 – The joint venture with Carlyle, 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.

Subscribe to our email alerts
Find a store & Get a quote
Complete your quote

You’re almost done!

Complete your quote at