Demand for Self Storage Space in the UK Remains Robust

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Demand for self storage space in the UK remained robust in 2019 and the sector is well placed to deal with the impact of COVID-19, according to new research into the sector’s major operator and customer trends from Cushman & Wakefield and the Self Storage Association UK (SSA UK).

The 14th annual industry report examines a range of data points and surveys on the growth prospects for the sector in 2020.

The findings reveal the self storage sector may be more resilient in comparison to other industries in dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, as previous economic downturns have presented opportunities for the sector. This includes demand from smaller retailers expanding their online presence and requiring space for additional stock, increased demand as house sales pick up once the lockdown ends and, more people engaging in home improvement projects and requiring additional storage space.

Self-storage businesses have been allowed to remain open during the government-imposed lockdown but restrictions to travel have meant far fewer customers are visiting sites and most operators are reporting that enquiries are down by 30-50%.

The findings of the report also revealed that although occupancy levels for the industry dipped marginally for the first time in eight years by 1% to 76.2% in 2019, this was largely due to significant growth in supply as many new stores are not at full occupancy yet. Annual turnover for the industry increased to £766 million in 2019.

The UK makes up around 41% of the European self storage market and has the most storage per person of any country in Europe. The report estimates there are now approximately 1,900 self storage sites in the UK, offering around 49 million sq ft of space with an average store size of 25,700 sq ft. Of these stores, 563 are predominantly container-based storage, typically converted shipping containers.

Safestore Self Storage is the largest operator with 124 UK stores offering a total of 5.29 million sq ft of space followed by Big Yellow which has 75 UK stores and total available space of 4.7 million sq ft.

Elsewhere the report revealed that the UK average net rental rate is £22.82 per sq ft per annum, down slightly from last year’s figure of £23.11. The survey showed that occupancy rates in mature stores dropped in London, the South East and East but increased in all other markets. This could be attributed to Brexit uncertainty but also a significant decline in house sales in the South East in comparison to the rest of the country. However this decline in occupancy rates was offset by a 22% increase in rental rates in London, more than any other region in 2019.

Rennie Schafer, Chief Executive, Self Storage Association UK, said:

“While the COVID-19 situation will create challenges for the industry, self storage is well placed to adapt to the changing conditions. Most stores remained open during lockdown with customers continuing to pay their storage rental fees. Past economic downturns have shown that while the mix of customers may change, demand for self storage is maintained.  Already we are seeing enquiry levels increase towards normal levels as people with a storage need created by the COVID-19 crisis contact self storage stores looking to take space once lockdown restrictions are eased.”

Philip Macauley, Partner, Valuation & Advisory at Cushman & Wakefield, said:

“As we have witnessed in previous years, and particularly in these uncertain times, the underlying attributes and resilience of the sector are driving the investment market. Appetite continues to emanate from a wide range of sources, including private equity, institutions and private wealth. Demand continues to outstrip supply, resulting in investors willing to pay premium prices for individual assets as well as portfolios. Investor preference continues to be for prime assets, but given the restriction around supply, they are willing to consider secondary locations as well as development sites.”

In addition to interviewing operators, the report’s findings are also based on in-depth surveys with self storage customers as well the general public to understand usage trends and general awareness.

Key findings include:

  • 69% of self storage users are 40-79 years old
  • 72% of businesses that use self storage have less than 10 staff
  • 86% of people travel less than 30 minutes to their self storage unit
  • Divorced or separated people are twice as likely to use self storage
  • 32% of self storage customers are involved in moving house
  • 48% of the public have good awareness of self storage

The report also looks at the self storage market across Europe and the US. In Europe the sector has grown rapidly over the last decade and there is estimated to be over 4,610 facilities providing almost 10 million sq metres of self storage space, the majority of which is spread over the more developed markets of France, Germany and Spain.

In comparison, the US self storage market is considerably larger and more mature than the UK or Europe. The report looks at trends and forecasts for 2020 and whether we can draw comparison with UK and European forecasts.