Learn about storage unit services
The service offered by self-storage operators is fundamentally very simple. If you choose a dedicated, indoor site, as most do, all that really varies is the size of the unit and the length of occupancy. Customers tend to overestimate how much space they require and underestimate how much it will cost. But once they’ve settled on a unit, they can move their belongings in quickly — that same day, even. If you need to move out, you might only need to give a notice. Access to the site itself varies: typically, customers are be able to enter to their unit anytime in the day or night but some of them offer during the daytime hours only, when staff are present there.
In the early days, sites tended to be converted buildings away from main roads, in everything from old abattoirs to bowling alleys. Increasingly, however, the industry has come to prize new, purpose-built warehouses. Location has changed too: Big Yellow pioneered prominent sites, painted yellow and emblazoned with a giant logo. “By getting a high-profile site on a main road, you’ve got free marketing,” James Gibson, its founder, told me. “That’s your billboard.” Signs remind customers that they can’t store living animals and plants, and it’s hard to imagine anything surviving, cut off from fresh air and natural ligh
t Stepping inside a storage unit feels like entering a vacuum: cool, sterile, sealed off from the world.
It’s easy to walk around without seeing anyone — according to this year’s SSA survey, just 23 per cent of customers visit their unit weekly — which gives the spaces an eerie quality. Signs remind customers that they can’t store living animals or plants, and it’s hard to imagine anything surviving, cut off from fresh air and natural light. Still, Tom Hayward, the manager of the Nottingham Big Yellow, told me that one of the most common questions is, “Can I stay the night?” Last year, an American man posted a video, showing how he had lived in his unit for two months by installing a bed, sofa and kitchen; he was kicked out after he was discovered. If self-storage sites tend to blur into one, an independent firm in York, Inner Space Stations, stands out.
A large model of the Optimus Prime character from Transformers stands beside the entrance of its main store, on a busy road. A Dalek is visible through a window; a model of a Star Wars stormtrooper guards the reception.
The sizes of the units correspond to planets in the solar system: the smallest lockers have an image of Mercury on the door, while the biggest show Jupiter. “It’s just making it fun,” says Graham Kennedy, the owner. “Quite often there’s a stressful reason for going into storage. So I’ve tried to lighten it.” There are plenty of triggers for putting things in storage.
“We deal with the three most stressful things: moving, death and divorce,” says Susie Fabre, who runs A&A Storage, an independent firm in north London. Of those three, it’s moving that’s at the heart of self-storage: it accounts for 39 per cent of personal (as opposed to business) customers, according to the SSA survey. This can be as straightforward as a student locking up their possessions for the summer, but it can also be a painful experience.
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