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Asia: A hotbed for self-storage growth


“People anywhere need storage… you just need to make them aware of it!”

Angus Miller, Big Orange Self Storage

Asia is a hotbed for self-storage growth and we’ll take a look at the similarities, differences and investment opportunities in this region.

Similarities

When operators first entered the currently established Asian markets like Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan in the early 2000's, they would’ve used some general guidelines to figure out if self-storage was a viable option. They’d have looked at percentage of middle class population, high population density, small living spaces, suitable areas to build and/or buildings to convert to self-storage. All are valid data for market entry and certainly information needed for a business case that involves a sizeable investment. But a little over 10 years later, many operators in the Asian market realize that self-storage is no different than anywhere else in the world. Sure, all of the standard guidelines for setting up a self-storage business apply, but the simple fact of the matter is that in Asia people also need:

  • temporary storage driven by life events such as marriage, a new baby, death, renovation, house moves, etc.;
  • more permanent storage for their sports gear, hobbies, collector’s items, wine collections, winter or summer clothes, you name it;
  • and businesses find it a convenient solution for storing excess stock and business records.

All of them like the 24-hour access, the high standard of security, the choice of storage sizes and the simple convenience of having storage available when they need it. So the consumer need is there, but there are also some notable differences in the Asian self-storage market compared to its western counterparts.

Differences: store size

For all its similarities there are just as many differences when you compare self-storage in Asia to self-storage in the USA. When you compare the first 10 years of self-storage in Asia to the first 10 years of self-storage in the USA, one difference is glaringly obvious... Asia hardly has any mom-and-pop stores.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong comes closest to the concept of America’s earliest self-storage pioneers, because it has quite a number of small stores run by individual operators. Small stores are pretty much the norm in Hong Kong, which also applies to its larger operators like StoreFriendly (79 stores), SC Storage (43 stores), Apple Storage (19 stores) who run multiple stores but many of their stores consist of only one or two floors in a multistory building that have been converted to self-storage. With nearly 200,000 square feet of rentable storage area, Big Orange Self Storage Hong Kong is a giant among its peers and a marked exception to the norm in this country.

Singapore

Big Orange also operates four sizeable stores in Singapore, where - until last year - the average size of a facility offered 60,000 square feet of rentable storage. Other Singapore operators like Extra Space Self Storage (5 stores), Lock+Store (2 stores) and StorHub Self Storage (5 stores) an additional four single-store operators operate under the same superstore model. But over the past year or so a number of smaller facilities have been set up, which is reducing the average storage size to around 45,000 square feet of rentable storage per facility.

Japan

Japan’s storage model is different from other Asian countries as the storage can often be found in former office blocks right in the center of town. The total rentable storage area per block is not much different to that in Hong Kong, but storage spaces are relatively smaller, floors are often carpeted and many Japanese use their storage space for longer periods as it becomes an extension to their home. Using storage as an additional wardrobe and swapping winter and summer clothes depending on the season is quite popular. There are approximately 250 operators of storage in Japan, however the top five operators hold around 60% of the Japanese indoor self-storage market. With 45 stores equaling 20% market share, Quraz is the largest indoor self-storage operator in Japan as measured by revenue, followed by Hello Storage (16%), Reisebox (12%), Kase Soko (8%) and Terrada Soko (5%).

New markets

Aside from the three established markets mentioned above, self-storage also exists in new markets like China, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. China is certainly one country to keep an eye on. Take Shanghai for example, a city with 23 million inhabitants. Of the 12 facilities now operating in this modern and - for all intents and purposes - capitalist Chinese city, nine were established in the past 12 to 18 months. Such growth does not go unnoticed and there is a lot of interest among local investors as rapid growth seems inevitable.

Differences: unit size

Getting your space mix right is a top priority for every operator. In America you cannot apply the same space mix to every State, as the average unit size in Texas does not remotely compare to the average unit size in New York. Asia is no different in the sense that you cannot simply apply a space mix that is right for Singapore to a facility in Hong Kong or Japan. A good guideline here is that people won’t rent more than 10% of the size of their homes. And as Asian homes being much smaller than American homes, logically the unit sizes are much smaller from an average of 58 square feet in Singapore to an average of 27 square feet in Japan.

Differences: brownfield

Another striking difference when comparing Asian to western self-storage is that pretty much all facilities were built in existing buildings that were suitable for conversion into self-storage. Purpose-built facilities in Asia are rare. The reason for this is that most locations where self-storage is a viable business option are usually found in built-up areas, so there simply is no land available to build a facility. Commercial and industrial buildings that have outlived their original purpose, were once located on the outskirts of a town and are now situated in residential areas are perfect for a self-storage conversion project.

Where an operator buys a building, it is not unusual that he only converts one or two floors of the building into self-storage keeping the existing tenants on other floors. This means rental income from day one and it gives the owner time to fill up his facility. When a certain percentage of self-storage occupancy is reached, another floor may be cleared of tenants and in this manner the facility is expanded floor by floor.

It is also not uncommon for operators to lease a building or floor for their self-storage facility, usually on a long-term basis. What happens when their lease runs out? Either they manage to renegotiate or they move to a nearby location.

Self-storage market statistics

Self-storage data USA Australia United
Kingdom
Europe
(excl.
the UK)
Japan Singapore
Number of operators - 925 400 - 246 14
Total number of self-storage facilities 50,048* 1,425 815** 882*** 1,898 28
Average number of units per facility 566 186 534 - 72 725
Average facility net square footage 51,119 19,375 36,319 40,000 2,990 3,836
Total number of units 28.32
million
265,000 435,294 - 136,318 19,600
Total rentable square footage 2.55bn 27.6m 29.6m 35.3m - 1.07m
Average unit size in square feet 90 102 68 - 27 58
Average rentable square footage per person ※ 7.41 1.2 0.48 0.08 0.029 0.22
Population 314.4m 22.7m 63.3m 420.7m*** 127.6m 5.2m
* US self-storage sector’s top 10 players control only 11% of the market and the top 50 control 15%. The top players have largely grown via a mix of acquisition of small to mid-size operators and organic (start from scratch) development. The US self-storage industry is mostly mom-and-pop stores.
** Of the total number of self-storage facilities in the UK, 320 are large operators (managing 10 or more stores).
*** Spread over 20 countries.
Sources:
1.[USA] 2012 Self-Storage Almanac
2.Self Storage Association of Australasia (2012)
3.The Self Storage Association UK Annual Survey 2012
4.Market research undertaken by Quraz, Ltd. (2011)
5.Steel Storage Asia Pte Ltd (estimate September 2012)

Investing in self-storage in Asia?

When you just look at the statistics, the investment and growth opportunities are there. Merger-and-acquisition activities are now taking place in Asia’s established markets with $100s of millions in transactions already completed. The hardest part of starting up a self-storage business in Asia, especially in new markets, is creating awareness. The need is there, how you benefit from it is up to you.

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