Self-Storage: Exclusive Interview with Rennie Schafer, CEO of SSA UK
Self storage is a booming business, which is continuing to grow at a rapid rate!
As the industry continues to expand, we have had the pleasure to interview the CEO of the Self Storage Association and FEDESSA, Rennie Schafer, to get an expert/unique insider's perspective into the industry.
How did you get started in the self storage industry?
I was running the meat industry association in Australia and was looking for a change. The opportunity came to run the self storage association in Australasia which was a real change moving from a very old, over regulated, consolidating industry to a self regulated growing industry.
Rennie Schafer - CEO of SSA UK
You are the CEO of SSA UK, tell us about what your typical day looks like?
One of the things I love about my job is that it is so varied and you are not entirely sure what each day will bring. At a strategic level I am working on budgets, governance issues and implementing the strategic plan. Operationally I am dealing with the more complex members' enquiries on legal and operational challenges they are having.
I work with the European associations on their events and growing their membership. I have my monthly webinar along with other online managers training. And of course there are all the events to organise from the FEDESSA conference down to regional meetings all over the UK and Europe.
How did the pandemic affect the industry & what did it teach you about the industry?
The industry was very fortunate during the pandemic in that they got to remain open during lockdown and there was a strong demand for the product. The pandemic caused many people to go through life changing moments that require extra space. Family members, young and old, returning home, making space for home offices, more online traders that could no longer rely on just in time stock deliveries, people spending more time in their homes and deciding they needed more space. This increased the demand for the product while existing customers were less likely to move out due to the lockdowns.
The pandemic showed us how important self storage is for both personal users and businesses. So many businesses rely on their self storage unit to operate.
There are crucial supplies being stored in self storage including medical equipment. Personal users valued the extra space that self storage gave them during lockdowns. It also further reinforced the resilience of the self storage industry.
What do you see as the factor that makes some self storage businesses stand out from the rest?
Some businesses have really made the most of their stores, made them iconic in their local area so everyone knows who they are. That building with the plane over it, or the one with the cool mascot that keeps moving around the building. Your store is one of the best marketing tools so make the most of it.
I am also seeing businesses get more innovative in the use of their website, focussing on the user experience and why people need self storage rather than the product itself.
Use of customised landing pages and information relevant to the particular customer that is looking for storage.
Is the self storage climate different in other countries? Do you see other countries rising as quickly as the UK?
The USA is clearly the leader in terms of size of the market.
I think they still have more self storage there than the rest of the world combined and are continuing to grow. There is enough self storage space in the USA to stand every single person in storage and have space to move. We are seeing real growth in the Eastern and Southern European countries as their markets mature, Portugal, Poland, Romania and the like.
If you had to pick the greatest opportunities and challenges inside self storage - what would these be?
The opportunities are the diverse customer base, so you are not reliant on an anchor tenant or a specific target market. If the economy changes then maybe one group of people will be less likely to use self storage, but another will be more likely. This was shown in the pandemic and the last recession.
There is also the opportunity to grow the market as awareness of the product in the UK is still relatively low so there are people that have a potential need for self storage that are not even considering it.
The challenges are to keep on top of your pricing policy to ensure you are maximising your revenue and to find suitable stores to expand into.
Fast forward 10 years from now, where do you see the industry heading?
Self storage has not changed much in the past 30 years, many of the stores opened in the 90’s are still operating today, are profitable and look great. However I think technology is changing the industry.
In 10 years it will be common to see stores with mobile phone access rather than keys or pin codes.
This will also allow more development of smaller unmanned stores and I think we will see less of the mega stores in cities. I also think there will be better proactive security using bio recognition and other technology to prevent criminals accessing the stores.
If I was a new site owner that was looking to get into the industry - what are your top 5 tips for getting started in self storage?
Do your homework and find the right site.
Manage your pricing from the start, don’t just fill the store cheap and worry about revenue management later.
Understand why customers need self storage and market to this.
Have a great management team that can deal with the customers that come to you during life changing moments.
Make sure you get as many customers insured as you can.
... and of course join the SSA UK to get all the legal and business support you will need.
Why is it important for any self storage site owner to invest in marketing?
One of the challenges in the industry it to improve awareness so more people are looking for self storage. You need marketing for this but not just marketing that is targeting people looking for the product. It's easy to get caught up with Google AdWords and other marketing programs that target people searching for self storage.
Operators should also be spending some of their marketing budget on growing the market and trying new marketing initiatives to build their brand and product awareness. This brings more people to self storage, rather than just fighting over existing customers.
As we are approaching a tough period in the UK, with saving costs - do you have any tips for site owners?
We know that self storage is resilient but it has never been tested in an inflationary recession. Pricing will become more important than ever.
You should also be looking at your expenses, reducing energy costs with LED lighting and the like. Understand that your customer base is likely to change so you should be considering how this impacts your marketing.
Long term customers are likely to become more valuable if demand for the product falls and the cost of acquisition of new customers increases.
The Self Storage Association UK Conference
Finally, if you are unsure about what event's to go to? This one is a must...
The Self Storage Association UK has a two-day conference dedicated specifically to the self storage industry in the UK.