2021 has been just as eventful as the last, we look to European reports indicating trends and attitudes throughout 2021.
As we turn towards the next year, we wanted to leave 2021 with a yearly review that focuses on industry stats and key takeaways. This year marked many countries’ return towards normalcy, and away from the pandemic restrictions that limited their activity the year before. Here, we’ll look at key conclusions from both the Self-Storage Association UK and FEDESSA’s 2021 reports, while highlighting the most important points that influenced this past year.
The impact of COVID-19 on self storage
Just like the year before, 2021 was equally impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, although in different ways. While 2022 saw large-scale societal lockdowns, 2021 had many countries return to public life, as well as the vaccine rollout allowing for certain restrictions to be eased. According to FEDESSA, occupancy levels in Europe are now higher than they were pre-pandemic, meaning before February 2020, and having increased 1.7% in the past year. The same report did find that business clients across Europe dropped from 32% to 27%, which they believe could be a result of contractions of GDP in various countries near the start of this year.
The SSA UK report also found the highest single-year increase in occupancy, with a 6.1% bump, since they started producing their report in 2004. They attributed this to a larger frequency in the changing of people’s circumstances, whether that be children returning earlier from university or transitioning to working from home, both meaning they required more space at home. While it’s been proven the self storage industry has been resilient throughout the pandemic, a resounding 80% of respondents in the SSA report believed that the pandemic had helped the industry, with 18% thinking it significantly aided business.
The continued trend towards technology
We’ve written at length about how the industry continues to move towards software solutions to help their business run more efficiently, and industry surveys support this view.
FEDESSA found that 7% of facilities across Europe were completely unmanned, being entirely run through automated processes. Further, the average number of full-time workers in a facility has dropped from 1.77 to 1.34 in 2015, both as a result of automation and growth in the gig economy. The SSA report found that the leading form of first contact for consumers was a company’s website, with 69%, and that 79% of customers used online services in some form or another to help them in their purchase. This could be browsing their website or finding a quote online. Perhaps confusingly, walk-in customer conversions increased, but the number of walk-ins decreased. Importantly, the SSA report finds that the public is much more comfortable using automated services in their self storage needs, with a net 6% increase in willingness. The SSA attributes this to customer behavior in the pandemic, with more ‘shopping around’ online, and only walking into a facility or office when they are ready to make a purchase.
The main drivers of self storage rentals in 2021
As mentioned, the pandemic continues to increase the demand for self storage. 39% of respondents in the SSA report had large changes to circumstances in the past year, which include moving homes, adding a home office and unexpected population increases, etc. Among these, a further 13% were using or considering using self storage. While a higher percentage than those who did not experience a large change in circumstance, this response shows that there is still a large bulk of this subset that are not using self storage, and could be an untapped market. Out of the 4 D’s of self storage demand, death remained the largest driver, with 30% reporting this to be their main reason for needing a storage solution (SSA, 2021).
A positive outlook
As the year winds down, where do operators believe the industry is trending towards in 2022? The answer is resoundingly positive. No operators in the FEDESSA survey thought there would be a drop in either profitability or occupancy rates in 2022. Further, when asked about the biggest threat to the industry, the most common response was oversupply, with the pandemic and labor shortages placing much further behind than in 2021. The respondents in the SSA survey were equally positive, with only 5% expecting a downturn in business. The vast majority believed that the following year will be better for business, with 18% thinking that next year will be significantly better.
Overall, 2021 has been quite a year. While the pandemic continues to play in the background of everyone’s minds, operators in Europe are optimistic for the year ahead, and expect a year of increased business and growth in the self storage industry. With that in mind, we wish you a happy new year, and look forward to helping alongside you in 2022!