The birth of the modern self storage industry…

In 2013 we’ll be celebrating 20 years in business. So while we think about how we gear ourselves up for that, we thought we’d take a quick look at the history of our industry – after all it’s not that much older than we are…

Back in the 60’s storage meant back street lockups, removal company warehouses or an unsecured corner of a mate’s workshop. if you wanted something kept secure then Bank vaults were the way to go. Self storage as a professional industry in the UK wasn’t even getting started – in fact it was still 20 years away.  Across the pond though things were different. In Odessa, Texas, a fledgling company – set up by Russ Williams, an angling mad oil baron to store his boat and equipment – was just starting out.

Russ’ first purpose built facility was completed in 1964. Located in an industrial area it was 100 x 30 ft and each unit 10x30ft to accommodate a 24ft boat trailer.

He called it “ A-1 U-Store-It U-Lock-It U-Carry the Key”. These first storage ‘units’ were initially rented to business customers (mostly in the Oil industry) but he quickly realised that residential customers  were just as interested in renting extra space.

By 1966 he had built a third larger facility and was Midland, Texas, and was rapidly expanding across west Texas.  It didn’t take long for other entrepreneurs to spot the fledgling market and by 1970 storage facilities were popping up across America.  The first use of the term ‘self storage’ came in 1969, when Melvin Ehler and his business partners named their facility in texas ‘A1 Self Storage’. There’s now over 53,000 self storage facilities across the USA.

The concept of purpose built or purpose adapted buildings for self storage didn’t reach UK shores until the mid-1980’s. As you’d expect London was the first area where the market got going.

Self storage has expanded rapidly across the UK over the past 25+ years. There are now more than 350 companies operating over 800 facilities. The industry employs over 2,700 people serve over 235,000 customers and generate revenues of about £350million.

Of course, when it comes to service and value not all storage companies are the same – so it is worth doing your homework.

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