Shurgard Self-Storage (Shurgard) is the largest owner, developer and operator of self-storage centres in Europe. With more than 230 facilities spread across seven European countries, Shurgard is certainly leading the charge in this sector, which is increasing in profile as part of the real estate mix. But what is sure to make Shurgard stand out in the sector is their entrepreneurial mission to engage with their customers while remaining pragmatic in their approach to growth within the sector.
As Marc Oursin says: “We support people through the most significant moments in their life.” A company with a mindset that takes pride in the service it provides, Shurgard staff are committed to helping their customers – often at times of big life changes.
“We have found that most of our customers are aged between 25 and 70 years old and about to take that next big step in life, whether that be going to university, buying a first home, getting married, having children, divorcing or losing a loved one. We know that when customers come to us, it can be at a moment of stress and strain, so it’s essential that our colleagues give them a very good experience.”
With 80% of Shurgard’s customers being households and an approximate footfall of 300,000 individuals each year, understanding people is key to their business and something their years of association with the US’s largest self-storage provider, Public Storage, undeniably helped them to recognise.
But it’s not just in the face-to-face customer service that Marc Oursin highlights as key to growing Shurgard’s market share. This way of thinking has also led to the development of their technology. In the digital age, Shurgard has recognised that customer sales using smartphone technology has risen from 15% to 60% over the last five years. “We have incorporated a fully integrated automated pricing system in our online platforms, and greater investment in smartphone technology is a key focus for us.”
However, Shurgard is not taking a sweeping approach to the installation of tech. It’s very much a tailored vision focused on what customers want, and this hasn’t yet extended to innovation in the self-storage centres themselves. Operationally, on-site the traditional lock and key still reigns supreme as the mechanical method to safely securing customers’ belongings. Modern day electronic locks are still being questioned, with customers and businesses raising concerns about the reliability and accessibility of the electronic lock both from a business maintenance and a customer cost perspective.
“Communication tech is fine” explains Oursin. “We are investing heavily in our online customer service technology. The world is different than it was ten years ago and how we can meet, treat and talk to existing customers and new prospects on social media has opened up a whole new world of opportunity. But for security, customers still want a key up to now.”
The market potential for self-storage in Europe
The collaboration with Public Storage Oursin highlights as extremely positive, allowing Shurgard to understand the similarities between US and EU customer behaviours: “US and EU customer behaviours are very similar, yes, but that does not mean the European self-storage market can be as big as it is in the United States. We are still playing catch up, and there are challenges in Europe that the US doesn’t face.”
One of these is that the European self-storage sector was slow to get going, beginning 30 years after the US. Today there are just 2,500 centres in total, compared to more than 55,000 self-storage centres in the US, but the aspiration from a number of operators to increase this provision is there.
Why is this? He explains: “In the US, because it’s a much more developed market, you have a much larger existing inflow of money coming from external investors wanting to develop self-storage centres and then looking for third-party managers. In Europe, investors are only just seeing the opportunity in this market, which is reflected in our listing last October. It’s now attracting much more attention.”
The second challenge is the speed of development in Europe. “Unlike in the US, Europe has thousands of years of historic buildings in the cities where the demand for self-storage is often at its highest. The complexities associated with building in these historic cities in general and for large self-storage centres means development takes a much longer time.”
A density-driven industry, demand for self-storage increases in areas of high populations. With rising land values, and therefore rising house prices twinned with developers building smaller homes, people are pushed for space in day-to-day life, thus creating the perfect environment for self-storage demand across Europe.
“At the city centre level, looking at Los Angeles, London within the M25 and Paris within the A104, population density and level of income is relatively the same. But if we look at the number of self-storage centres each city has, Los Angeles has 650, London 250 and Paris only 100. The self-storage market in the EU will grow, and this view just shows the opportunity it has within Europe’s city centres.”
A city centre focus is crucial for Shurgard, ensuring they have sector dominance in Europe’s city centres before spreading further afield. “At present, we are the market leader in Paris with 36 centres, and we want this to continue. In the UK, the opportunity in London and the Thames Valley continues, where we hope to add another ten to 15 centres in this region. We are continuing to grow in Germany too.”
However, as with all development in the real estate industry, expansion takes time and the need to understand a country’s new laws, languages and people is vital before taking that next step. “We are, of course, looking at how we can grow our self-storage footprint, but it is not the only way we can grow.”
To tackle these challenges, Shurgard has outlined a three-pillar growth structure to ensure they become the front runner in the sector. Firstly, optimising their current buildings, making them more efficient and delivering more effective tools for their customers. The second is about finding new opportunities for building new self-storage centres in its existing markets across Europe. And finally, looking at targeted bolt-ons and acquisitions.
Through these pillars, Oursin sees Shurgard as a uniquely flexible, forward-thinking organisation with the opportunity to adapt their growth strategy to fit any European country. “Pragmatism is the driving force behind our strategy for growth, adapting one of our three core pillars to suit one of the seven countries we are in. We see it as 21 opportunities for growth – three growth strategies across seven markets – which is a pretty compelling prospect.”
It is these two approaches – engaged customer ethos and a pragmatic growth strategy – that are driving the success of Shurgard’s Self-Storage SA share price, which has increased by approximately 15% since the start of 2019. And with future development, optimisation and acquisitions already in the pipeline for Shurgard, their odds for success are only set to improve.