If, like me, you have recently been gripped by the strangely compelling show Storage Hunters, you may have become curious about the self-storage industry and the characters behind it.
Like many businesses, self-storage is an American concept, becoming popular across the US in the 1960s. It is only in the past few years, however, that it has emerged here in the UK.
I caught up with entrepeneur Marc Studholme of FLEXiSPACE, one of the first people to bring the self-storage revolution to Britain.
I asked him how he got started and his future plans for expanding the business in this burgeoning market.
Q) Can you tell us how the business got started, where did the idea come from?
A) The UK self-storage market is growing and set to double in size over the next 10 years. It provides a flexible property solution to businesses and Individuals that is relevant and aligned to modern day living – we all have more “stuff” our lives are faster moving and space can be an issue.
Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?
Converting a large warehouse into lots and lots of small rooms (like a hotel layout) that customers rent and use to store items or as a place to work.
Q) What does your team look like?
A) Each Store has an Operations Manager, a Sales Manager with central Financial and Marketing controls.
Q) How have you funded the business?
A) The business is funded by personal investment by the directors and modest bank support.
Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?
A) The concept is location centric, so the majority of research is in selecting sites that provide the best demographics, visibility and access. Once the sites are located, each are individually project planned and costed alongside comprehensive research as to customer potential, competitive threats and so on.
Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?
A) Today FLEXiSPACE has competition (both direct and indirect) yet the pace in which awareness is increasing is greater than the expansion of competition. We stand out against our competitors due to our branding, modern appearance, staff recruitment & training, our entrepreneurial flair and commitment to ensure our business is as compelling and relevant as possible for our customers.
Q) What does your typical customer look like?
A) The simple fact is that anyone can use our services, however depending on life events some are more likely than others. Typically or services are used be people who are moving home, decluttering, operating a business – storing stock, equipment, documents, running an event close by, going travelling or simply need more space in their life
Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?
A) Finding the correct locations and the significant construction project that follows. Thereafter, ensuring we maintain a steady stream of enquiries from individuals and business that have a need for our service.
Q) What is your advice to anybody who is considering starting a business?
A) The best advise is “Just Do It!”, plans are great but reality will always be different. Work out the basic principles ahead of time and then just jump in the deep end and learn how to swim!
Q) Who has inspired and helped you in starting your business?
A) The inspiration for starting the business emerged from the business partners, however there has been a number individuals and businesses that have inspired us along the way. These include: Active Supply & Design, Lustalux, Westwood Fire & Security, The Self Storage Association, Blue Van Hire and Fat Media.
Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?
A) Multiple, although the drive by and online channels typically provide the most activity.
Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?
A) The outlook is to open additional stores where sites and supporting demographics support, whilst maintaining our USPs and brand values.