Self storage has become quite a phenomenon in the UK. According to a 2016 UK Self Storage Association report there are now 1,077 self storage sites in the UK and the industry is valued at around £440 million. With all of us increasingly pushed for space, self storage can often provide a money saving alternative to office rentals, moving home, extending your home or paying unnecessary rent.
The UK loves self storage
Ten years ago few people really used self storage, or even understood what it was for. Today, 90% of us are aware of it as a service and 37,600,000 of square footage is dedicated to the industry. That actually makes the UK the largest self storage market in Europe, followed by France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Sweden.
Where did self storage come from?
The ancient Chinese might have invented self storage but the industry, as we know it today, was developed in the US in the 1960s. The first self stores were created by those with…well, something to store (although some believe it was a concept designed for servicemen during the war). For example, US oil industry worker Russ Williams, who was looking for somewhere to keep his fishing gear, was one of the first known self storage unit owners. The self storage phenomenon hit the UK in the 1980s and the market here is now made up of a combination of global and home grown UK names.
What is self storage for?
That might seem like an obvious question but the use of self storage facilities has become quite innovative – no longer just for hoarding boxes. The units can provide somewhere for students to leave possessions during summer holidays offer a cheaper alternative to paying rent on a room at home while away travelling. Some people use self storage as a warehouse for a fledgling business or to store products being sold on eBay. The most creative self storers even turn the space into somewhere unique – from games rooms, to martial arts training spaces, music schools and shops, self storage spaces have proven themselves to be very versatile indeed.
What’s the appeal of self storage?
It’s simple, low cost with very little commitment and the space is all yours. As our homes get smaller, divorce rates soar, we all become hoarders of ‘stuff’ and business rents go through the roof it’s not hard to see why the extra space appeals.
Self storage in the UK
The largest operators in the UK self storage market are Safestore, Big Yellow, Access Self Storage, Lok’n’store and Shurgard. The average UK unit size is 67.5 sq ft but the space available varies widely, depending on location. Prices also vary quite considerably, even in the same city, so it’s always worth shopping around when looking for self storage. The average cost of a London Safestore 10 sq ft unit is around £13 a week, for 35 sq ft it’s around £30. Most operators will have discounts and offers to entice customers in and these can be good value, such as getting the first eight weeks free.
What are the risks with self storage?
In theory, there shouldn’t be any. A secure self storage unit should only be accessible to you and anyone you give the key to. However, there have been a fair few fails since the industry started to get popular.
Losing the key/forgetting the code – it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a way to access your unit, as the provider will be able to cut the padlock off the door – just bear in mind that you’ll have to pay for the privilege.
Theft – unless someone steals your padlock key or code this really shouldn’t happen. That’s not to say there haven’t been stories of unscrupulous staff handing over master keys to potential plunderers.
Fire – most self storage businesses will have a lot of fire protection in place. There is, however, a small risk that you could lose everything in a fire.
Rising costs – the longer you stay with a self storage business the more they will put up their rates. Sometimes the hassle of transporting all that stuff seems less onerous than just paying the cost uplift, which can be costly.
Insurance – in case the worst should happen you need to make sure that the storage company’s insurance is “new for old”.
How can you save money with self storage?
There are plenty of easy ways to use self storage as a money saving tool:
Clear out all the rubbish from a spare room and put it into storage. Rent the spare room out for some extra cash.
If you have an eBay or online business, use a storage unit as business space, rather than paying business rates on an office.
Clear everything from your attic and put it into self storage. Invest in a loft conversion and add significant value to your home.
If you’re going away for an extended trip put your possessions in storage and rent out your space/give up your tenancy to save cash.
Alternatively if you are considering self storage because you have too much stuff at home the other option is to sell it rather than store it – after all what sense is there is paying to keep something you don’t really need. Sell it and get space back as well as the cash!
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley