by Mark Lusky
By now, most self-storage operators know about some the more creative uses of space-climate-controlled wine storage being one current favorite. But, in an industry where imaginative uses can often find easy expression, the list of novel uses is growing by leaps and bounds. Those leaps and bounds may present a valuable promotional opportunity for forward-thinking self-storage operators.
Adding to the variety of offbeat and avant-garde possibilities are a changing economic landscape, shift in attitude, and technological empowerment. For example, the trend toward remote workforces has opened new possibilities for off-site business storage and even satellite offices. Armed with an Internet hotspot, computer and phone, workforces can do business almost anywhere-including a storage unit.
A New York Times article addresses some of the growing popularity of self-storage due to economic hardship. Many units contain items that needed to be relocated because of home foreclosure. The article points out, "Others were being rented by endangered businesses, like a coffee shop and a tea room whose owners were forced to shutter their storefronts...and move everything into storage while they plotted their next moves."
Regardless of what the storage space is used for, it's being used longer. And, that's not just a US phenomenon. The UK-based Independent reports that, "Like the US, self storage is now becoming less of a temporary solution and more of a permanent satellite for many households. The average customer uses a unit for five years and friendships are built between people with neighbouring units."
Social uses, both lawful and illicit, also are on the rise. Reports the Independent, "One storage facility owner in Bristol reports that a customer uses her unit as a living room, complete with sofa, and invites her friends in for coffee. Others have reported clients using their units for illicit sexual liaisons. In an industry built on the proposition of flexibility and adaptation, it's perhaps no wonder then that self storage is undergoing an unanticipated evolution."
Other creative uses of self-storage have included:
- A martial arts gym, with training cage, weights, cardio-vascular equipment, lockers and a studio area;
- A charity startup that assists amputees by distributing used prosthetic limbs housed in a self-storage facility;
- Warehousing for everything from enterprises selling merchandise online to pharmaceutical reps to landscapers;
- A "distribution center" of sorts for Little Debbie cakes-with large trucks dropping off shipments, which are then picked for local distribution via smaller trucks;
- Incubator space for newly-launched small businesses;
- A place to house and showcase an art exhibit;
- A central closet and safe deposit box for people who live temporarily in multifamily homes and/or find opportunities to "camp out" on the couches of friends and relatives, and the like;
- A "man cave" where a bunch of guys go to watch sports on the weekends;
- A fully operational music academy with a complete recording studio, housed in 1,500 square feet of self-storage space and employing half a dozen people;
- Operational and inventory hub of a line of sustainable fashion wear that is sold mostly online, and shipped from a post office next to the self-storage facility;
- A place for the homeless to stash their belongings while they sort out their lives.
By opening prospects' eyes about the many ways self-storage can be used-both in personal and business applications-self-storage owners may discover new, colorful, and attention-getting ways to bring in new business as well as expand present customer commitments.