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Can Your Self Storage Business Thrive in a Recession?

January 3, 2023

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5 min

The self storage industry gained a lot of attention from “succeeding” in the Great Recession when a lot of other real estate industries struggled.

Some people even said self storage thrived during that extended economic downturn. 

But is that true? And if it is, does that mean we’re going to thrive a second time?

“Thriving” during a recession doesn’t necessarily mean we had a boom and everyone made a lot of money. There were plenty of self storage operations that went under during the slowdown.

And those that did well didn’t always do well relative to prior years, just better than other industries,

The good news is that yes, self storage is expected to do well in a coming recession. 

That doesn’t mean every self storage business is going to do well. Here we’ll lay out some reasons self storage might do well - and how you can help your business to be one of the success stories!

 

What Sets Self Storage Apart?

Before we start plotting our recession strategy, it’s important to understand why self storage might be different from the real estate investments that struggle. 

One of the reasons self storage did well in the Great Recession was the 4 Ds - Death, Divorce, Downsizing, and Displacement. The latter two especially aided the industry. As the housing market collapsed, people were forced to downsize or move with greatly increased frequency.

This drove up demand for self storage units, as portable assets like furniture were still valuable even if there wasn’t room in the house for them. 

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Self storage becomes more valuable when life is turbulent - children moving back in with parents, families consolidating into smaller homes, people moving for new jobs, etc. Anything that upsets the rest of the country tends to drive demand for storage.

But not all demand is equal. Self storage was simpler during the Great Recession - lots of metal boxes with locks on them. Today, the industry has matured into a tech-savvy, amenity-filled, premium-demanding business, which has been a major driver of growth.

Premium self storage units may not do as well during times of economic difficulty. If your tenants are struggling to pay their mortgage, they may not have the money to afford a smart storage unit.

There are also two big reasons a new recession won’t be exactly the same as the Great Recession:

  • There is no housing crisis. The Great Recession was driven by a collapse in the housing market. This meant that the economic pain forced an inordinate number of people out of their homes, increasing the demand for self storage (Displacement and Downsizing). Absent that element, there’s no way to know how demand will fare in the coming years.
  • The industry has grown. After the explosion in demand over the last ten or so years, self storage has gotten a lot bigger. The REITs have expanded, independent operators have expanded, and the supply is catching up with excess demand. While the forecast is still for the industry to grow, there could be areas where supply outstrips demand.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

While no one knows for certain whether we’ve headed into a recession or not, there are some steps you can take that will benefit your business no matter what.

Want to up your game with the latest software? Learn more about software with  our Self Storage Software Playbook.

Check out our "Preparing for a Recession" blog for a more in-depth look at how you can improve!

Our advice all circles around one idea - make your business as efficient as possible. That means upgrading your self storage software, cutting any expenditures that aren’t contributing to your customer experience, and making it as easy as possible for people to rent with you.

Ensure you have enough cash on hand for a few months of expenditures if possible.

 

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Offer the Best Customer Experience

Creating a great customer experience is the best way to help your business succeed, regardless of whether or not we hit a recession. 

Happy customers are more likely to stay with you (even if you can’t offer the lowest rates or best features). They’re more likely to refer you to a friend or family member, even if the initial customer doesn’t need storage anymore.

A remarkable customer experience is critical to the sustained growth of any business. A positive customer experience promotes loyalty, helps you retain customers, and encourages brand advocacy. - HubSpot

Customers are your best source of self storage marketing. Potential tenants care far more about what their family and friends think about your business than what your marketing copy says.

This means both word-of-mouth and online reviews. If your Google Business Profile isn’t set up right, or if it holds lots of negative reviews, you should be worried heading into a potential downturn. 

Want to up your game with the latest software? Learn more about software with  our Self Storage Software Playbook.

If demand falls, you’ll be the first business to lose out. So make sure your online presence is sorted out - get as many reviews as you can, and respond to all of them, including the bad ones

Then, be sure that you’re earning good reviews by offering the best rental experience possible.

Great customer service is definitely a part of that, but it’s not the only part. Are you easy to find (ie, on the front page of local searches)? Do you offer online rentals? Can customers rent, store, and pay easily?

If you’re leading the way in your area on these fronts, you’ll be better able to weather whatever storm comes your way.

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Check out the previous entries in our Recession series:

At StoragePug, we build self storage websites that make it easy for new customers to find you and easy for them to rent from you.

How can you make your business more efficient?

Check out our Self Storage Software Playbook!

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