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Storage World has seen an uptick in users using storage units as workspaces. Credit: via Storage World

IN FOCUS | The rise of the self-storage workspace

Gone are the days when a storage unit was where you just kept your furniture mid-move. The self-storage facilities of today have evolved into mini business parks filled with workshops and SME headquarters.

Self-storage companies offer the basics to business tenants: electricity, bathrooms, and security. They don’t have fancy interior design, yoga studios, or green walls. These are bare-bone units geared towards the occupier who wants cheap space without a long-term contract.

Self-storage offices are, to some extent, the antithesis of the current city centre office market. But that does not hold them back. On the contrary, the entire self-storage market – beyond just office offerings – is thriving.

The numbers

Nationally, self-storage facilities reached a record occupancy of 83% last year, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s Self Storage Annual Report for the Self Storage Association. That marks a growth of 6% from 2018.

The North West area has seen similar figures. Occupancy in self-storage facilities in Greater Manchester was at 81% in 2021, compared to 76% in 2018. In Merseyside, the 2018 figure was the same, but the 2021 number shot up to 87%. Self-storage properties in Warrington were also at 87% occupancy last year.

That level of occupancy is exactly what Marc Studholme, marketing director at Storage World, is looking for. Storage World operates three facilities in Greater Manchester, two in Manchester and one in Middleton.

“We never want to be full, because we never want to turn away the next customer,” Studholme said. “By the same token, we never want to have that strong availability.”

When 80% is hit, Studholme starts looking at expansions – which is exactly what Storage World has done with its 100,000 sq ft complex in Middleton.

Storage World, with the help of consultant P4 Planning, secured permission to add another 2,000 sq ft of floor space to the facility in May. At that time, the Middleton Storage World was at 85% occupancy.

While many of those who occupy units at Storage World in Middleton are using their spaces for traditional self-storage, Studholme has seen a growth in other leasers. Online businesses have taken space to act as mini-distribution centres. Others have turned their unit into a craft workshop or an office.

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Storage World in Middleton is expanding under plans approved in May. Credit: via Storage World

Office space

Storage World’s foray into offices was born out of convenience more than anything else. The company had purchased a building that already had some office space, so it set about leasing it to test the market.

It did not take long for the offices to fill.

“We saw there was a demand for them,” Studholme said. By not competing with serviced office offerings, the rent can be low and the contracts flexible. It also means that his target clientele is different.

Studholme is not interested in large companies, he is looking for the small business, the kind with less than five employees who are keen to work remotely or out in the field.

The key to the self-storage office offering is flexibility, Studholme said. Storage World’s offices start at £50 a week. Workspaces, including storage units converted into workshops, can be leased on a two-week basis if needed. The cost is fixed and there is always the ability for a company to take up more or less space as they need.

Studholme said: “I think with COVID a business is now saying, ‘I don’t know what size property I need. I can’t work from home because I need to employ people. How do I create a base?’

“More and more people have gravitated to storage as a result, because we’re not holding people to long-term commitments”

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Hannah Calvanese in her workspace at Storage World in Middleton. Credit: PNW

Security and access

A step away from the full-service office is exactly what Hannah Calvanese was looking for, which is what led her to Storage World in Middleton.

Calvanese is the founder of The Coffee Scrub Company, which manufactures skincare products. She needed space where she could have a controlled and secure environment.

“In Manchester, there’s a lot of coworking space and shared hotdesking – and I can’t do that,” she said. “I need my own space where I can lock it up and if I’m not here nobody can get to it or touch it.”

Calvanese can also access her unit whenever she wants, so she is not beholden to a 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday schedule.

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Gordon Filz in his unit at Storage World. Credit: PNW

That accessibility is also what led Gordon Filz, director of Union Leisurewear, to Storage World. When he downsized his business, he wanted a space that he could access easily and which provided security. Storage World did both, with its own set of cameras and individual locks on the units. Each person’s key fob is unique to them as well.

“They can identify who is in the building, when they’re in the building, when they access the building, and when they leave the building,” Filz said. “It’s a good system to have.”

He continued: “It is a secure place and a secure environment, which is what you need at the end of the day.”

Filz has liked his space so much that he has been leasing at Storage World for six years.

Another appeal for Calvanese and Filz is the ease of moving goods in and out of their units. Storage World also has an easy load-in process and has pallets that can help as they bring new materials in or ship out finished products.

“It makes everything much faster, much easier,” Calvanese said.

There are cons though, Calvanese admits. It’s cold. You can bring your own heater, but it’s not provided. There are no amenities, no luxury coffee, no spacious bathrooms. It’s utilitarian.

But for the customers of Storage World, the pros outweigh the cons.

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Dave Griffin of Cullis Engineering at his office in Storage World. Credit: via Luma Marketing

The flexibility

Like Calvanese, Dave Griffin is another tenant at Storage World in Middleton. A director at Cullis Engineering Services, Griffin is leasing an office as well as a 750 sq ft storage unit.

Griffin likes the flexibility Storage World offers him. He has a short-term lease, so he can easily expand and contract as needed. He also likes the semi-laissez-faire attitude of his landlord.

“Storage World allows us to do what we want within the unit, within reason,” Griffin said. “Everything is a discussion and that’s what I like about the space. The owners themselves are approachable, accountable, and open to ideas. If we need something we can go and speak to them and they’re open to it.”

Griffin’s own office space is filled with the essentials – a desktop computer, printer, small desk – and not much else.

“Do I spend loads of time in there?” Griffin reflected. “Probably not. I spend as much time as I need.”

That, he argued, is part of the appeal.

“People with large offices feel like they need to be there 24/7 to get their money’s worth,” he said. “With Storage World, I don’t need to be there 24/7 because I get my money’s worth anyway.”

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