The Booming Market of Self-Storage Facilities

February 28, 2020

THE GREAT RECESSION OF the late 2000s and early 2010s caused many families to either be displaced or have to downsize their homes. Because of the economic decline, commercial real estate development took a hit. One sector that happened to thrive because of the housing collapse was the development of self-storage facilities. In no small part because of death and divorce, it’s been a real estate sector in escalating demand over the last 10 years and that demand only appears to be growing.

According to a Bold Business article in February 2019, there was over 2.3 billion square feet of total rentable self-storage space nationwide, and the business has demonstrated steady expansion with a 7.7% annual growth since 2012. When homeowners downsized their homes during the economic downturn, they looked for temporary storage facilities to safely store their belongings
while they moved into smaller dwellings.

Another factor is that the aging boomer population, looking to down-size to a smaller condo or urban loft, needs space to store their furnishings that are too large for their new dwellings. Land is the biggest challenge for self-storage companies and private developers who see opportunity in this commercial real estate segment. In suburban or near-urban areas zoned by right, dense resident development and/or planned future developments are the most sought after and hardest to secure.

Everyone has seen the outskirts of the city, single story facilities - and the uninspiring impact they have on roadsides and nearby development. Now, we’re being challenged by local jurisdictions and residents to create architecture that enhances the area and provides support to local economic development in which these facilities are to be built.

In a product type that emphasizes economic the value of material and construction methods, we’re constantly pushing the design envelope. The challenges involve taking a simple 10x10 structural grid that reflects a four-sided box and creating artistic envelopes that cities want on display and also allow for density and tax bases while not fostering neighborhood opposition. By making use of the storefront in specific visible areas, the design can enhance the entry and create a positive customer experience from afar. Other design factors such as punched windows to bring daylight into lobbies but not expose the function of the interior, insulated metal panel, single skin metal panel systems, stucco, stone, masonry and use of other readily available and easily attainable materials compliment the site. Implementing these simplified construction materials in interesting and creative ways is giving clients, cities, customers and operators the opportunity to be accepting and excited about what self-storage development can bring.

The design envelope produced by Merriman Anderson/Architects is custom to each self storage project because of location. Yet, it also needs to present the brand and character of the operator of the facility. For example, one self-storage facility is located in the center of the capitol corridor in downtown Austin. Due to the many design restrictions, there were many unique and interesting design elements incorporated into the project, such as placing two of the seven floors of the facility below ground to comply with building height restrictions.  In addition, the ground floor includes 3,000 gross square feet of retail space. And within the storage facility itself-1,500 square feet of temperature-controlled space designed for wine storage. In order to blend in with its surroundings, the facade features a modernistic metal panel and stone façade which is designed to break up the long, expansive facades of a so-called storage box. Completed in 2018, the project operated by CubeSmart is an excellent example of converting a design of an unoriginal and mostly intrusive structure, to a structure that seamlessly integrates with its surroundings, offers additional amenities, is functional and meets a growing demand. Creating amenities for customers such as wine storage, or specialized storage like lockers for unique needs, and providing value add components such as shell retail to retain and enhance the street front are two examples of the ever-changing development of self-storage and the architecture being created for it.

Speed to market is a critical component for all developers, and self-storage is no different. The timing of getting self-storage to market is critically based on neighborhoods – such as school calendars, local weather and other factors – typically from concept and site design to opening = about 16 months.

Urban Land Institute’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2020 report references future development trends including vertical warehouses that require less space. Nationally, “CBRE expects the average self-storage rental rate to continue growing at a pace of 3.5% as it did this year, no longer accelerating but not declining either”, which should allow for continued and competitive development in this exciting sector.