UL: Let’s start with the history and activities of the association. What do you do? How do you support your members?
The organization started with the initial drive of Jon Perrins, the founder of Steel Storage, now part of Janus International. Jon helped to get the association started in Australia, then the UK, and the FEDESSA in Europe. We met in Hong Kong. When he discovered I used to run The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, he asked me if I could help him establish a business association in Asia. “Of course”. The founding Board members provided the support and commitment that made it possible to give rise to the Self Storage Association Asia in 2004.
Luigi La Tona was the first Executive Director of the SSAA and quickly grew the membership across the region. The RSA in Japan was already well established, and the two organizations established close ties.
We have members all over the world. But our core members are in “our Asia”, which we define as being from Japan to West Asia, including Dubai and Jordan, and south to Indonesia. We have members in Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, Estonia, and other places participating as “Overseas members”. We deliver the same within our region as many other high-functioning business associations: education, market intelligence, and networking – both at events and ad hoc, direct member-to-member networking.
Of course, we work to maintain solid government relations. That can occur behind closed doors, speaking directly to policymakers, or through educating the general public. We promote awareness of the industry so that people understand better what we do and the value we provide to our communities.
Something that other associations maybe don’t do is to provide standard documentation that we have created and vetted with lawyers. New companies can avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees by joining the association to access standard operating procedures, standard contracts, hygiene posters, and certified posters informing customers what are forbidden and hazardous materials. New operators quite often miss a lot of the details that could get them into trouble later. Our documentation is like insurance that helps them avoid problems later on.
UL: You have an upcoming conference that will be happening in September. Who are the speakers? What are the topics that they will cover? And what should visitors look forward to?
The Self Storage Expo Asia is the biggest storage event of the year in Asia. We welcome visitors from all over the world. Everybody comes to reconnect with people in the industry, meet new players, share best practices, and learn from each other. It is the best opportunity to get in contact with suppliers that are bringing new technology and to learn new ways of doing business. This year we are hosting it in Bangkok, and the theme is “MAX OPP1: The Asian Self Storage Revolution”. You can maximize your revenue, maximize your cost savings, maximize your profits, and maximize your growth. It’s all max, Max, MAX!
One of our superstar speakers is Michael Fogelberg, the founder of Shurgard in Europe. He partnered with Shurgard to quickly create continental Europe’s biggest operator. After a successful exit, he founded self-storage and technology companies serving in the industry with one thing in common: rapid, dramatic growth trajectories. He will discuss accelerating growth, acquiring properties, and moving quickly to drive returns and beat the competition. We will also hear from the CEO of LEO Global Logistics and LEO Self Storage, Kettivit Sittisoontornwong, about their operations in Thailand and from Helen NG, the CEO of General Storage, a multinational self-storage leader in the industry in Asia.
UL: What do you foresee in the near future of the self-storage industry?
People have said that the industry, broadly speaking, is recession-proof. Over the past years, I would say that self-storage in Asia passed the test. Companies did very well because they provided a desperately needed service, including flexible space solutions. Whether it was due to working from home, homeschooling, or often both, people needed space. Self-storage was there to help them out. Many small businesses also experienced difficulty during this time, and self-storage there to help them survive. They often needed a place to keep their furniture and inventory and retain easy, flexible access. Traditional warehousing cannot deliver that. Even big institutions like governments and hospitals had to ramp up to store all manner of inventory; they had to find a place for it too.
The future of self-storage in Asia looks bright. Most companies are in a fiscally solid position. Also helping, the public’s general awareness of the industry in almost every country across Asia has skyrocketed. Institutional investors have been driving the expansion of self-storage over the last couple of years. Self-storage, as the operational business within the real estate sector, is doing exceptionally well, making it very attractive for those organizations.
UL: What notable differences do you see between the member markets in your region – with a particular focus on Japan?
Japan is the biggest, most established, and most mature market in Asia. They are really good at unmanned facilities. Most of Asia is still trying to get its head around it. I think it’s because labor in Japan is expensive, and crime is low: It’s a high-trust society. They’ve been able to use technology to give customers 24-hour access to self-storage sites. Other markets are more advanced in other ways. For example, the adoption of robotics in Hong Kong and Singapore means we have multiple sites now where a robot brings your locker to you. It’s expensive regarding infrastructure for wireless communications and robots, but you can get more efficiency out of the real estate and return on the tech investment. In Hong Kong, where real estate cost is a significant factor, the tradeoff is worth it.
Different economic and cultural factors differentiate Japan and other parts of Asia. In some parts of Asia, consumer awareness is low, but labor is cheap. They can afford to have staff on-site at all times. We see very different market structures in different places. There are also always a couple of quirks. In places like Thailand, in addition to the typical individual and business customers, they have a third category of travelers: tourists and backpackers. Instead of carrying the big luggage across the country for several weeks or keeping it in hostels which might not be safe, they put it in storage and take only what they need for a specific trip.
UL: What thoughts do you have about the role of technology providers like Unwired Logic and their mission to bring more automation and efficient processes to the business – Like their new app(Smart Storage)?
There are a couple of different things at play. Number one is the cost of capital versus labor. In many developed economies, labor costs have been steadily increasing; unemployment is at rock bottom, and companies struggle to find staff. The push towards capital and using technology is smart for many companies. The capital versus labor equation has changed.
Number two, customer tastes have changed. Not many customers under 40 need a tour of the storage before they sign up. They are comfortable doing it all digitally. So I think the kind of technology that Unwired Logic is bringing – the combination of their app with the back-office software - is dynamite for operators that are answering that desire from customers.
It’s not necessarily because potential clients have a rush-rush mentality. Customers want to have ease of use. Instead of carrying around cards and keys, you can use a low-memory app on the phone when needed. Nowadays, even when you change phones, the automatic backup loads all your apps during the initial setup. It’s one less thing to carry around your pocket and mind. Clients say, “Please, put it in my phone!” – whether in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, or urban China. And Unwired Logic is delivering that.
UL: Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time, and good luck with the conference.
Thanks! It’s September 26-28 at the Okura Prestige Hotel and people can find out more at https://www.selfstorageexpo.asia/ Cheers!
You can see the highlights of the expo2022 from HERE.