How the self-storage industry came to the UK

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The history of the self-storage industry

The self-storage industry is a relatively new one. Although, that said, the concept of self-storage itself, first appeared in England, in the 19th Century, and we actually have the banking industry to thank for it.

In the 1800s, when business men – and other rich people who decided to set off on travels around the world – needed somewhere to store their valuables whilst travelling, they would ask the banks to store the items in question in their vaults until their return.

Sounds good, right?

The only problem was that the banks very quickly ran out of space in their vaults. As a result, the banks arrived at an alternative storage solution; they rented loft space and warehouses from various companies to act as an overspill for their vaults. Thus, the concept of self-storage that we know today was born.

How storage evolved

Despite this early appearance of the self-storage industry, it then took something of a sabbatical. And self-storage as we know it today, first appeared in America in the ’60s. Since then, the industry in the US has grown massively, with nearly 53,000 storage facilities around the country.

The UK took some time to catch up, with self-storage not really appearing until the late 1980s.

Before companies like Store First got involved, the first real sign of a storage industry in the UK generally took the shape of independent business people buying up garages and other private storage spaces and renting them out to the public.

One of the most notorious is Rodger Dudding, often known as ‘Mr Lockup’. He is the largest private owner of garages in the UK, having a portfolio of over 12,000; worth, he estimates, upwards of £100m.

Roger Dudding was a front runner of the UK self-storage industry

Rodger Dudding was a front runner of the UK self-storage industry

Dudding will openly acknowledge the shady reputation he, and the industry he helped to create, has had to contend with over the years. He’s seen his garages used for myriad things, from “afternoon nookie shops” to dumping grounds for dismembered bodies.

And becoming ‘Mr Lockup’ wasn’t easy. Given that there was no directory of garages and their owners, discovering who to buy his property empire from was a challenge in and of itself.

Dudding took to driving around on the weekends, trying to “winkle out garages … hiding behind blocks of flats.” He’d find a likely looking set of garages, wait around until someone came to use one of them, and then ask them if they knew who owned them.

As his gargantuan portfolio of garages began to take shape, Dudding became more and more surprised by the many weird and wonderful uses of self-storage that he just hadn’t anticipated.

He’d expected his customers to use the garages he rented out to store cars overnight. However, he estimates that around 80% of his properties are used for domestic self-storage purposes.

The evolution from garages to self-storage warehouses

If it is fair to say that Roger Dudding was an early front-runner in self-storage, it’s also the case that the industry as we know it today can probably be attributed to Doug Hampson, widely credited with the interesting moniker of the ‘father of UK self-storage’.

Following the timeless tradition of importing a successful business from the US, Hampson drove past a storage facility in Los Angeles, in 1977, which gave him his ‘lightbulb moment’.

Even then the size of the storage industry in the US was staggering, having started in the ’60s, and this, coupled with the low overheads made Hampson think it would be a great idea for the UK.

“It was very basic, nobody lived in them, there’s no plumbing, and what you had to do to keep your customers completely satisfied was very little,” he says.

Upon his return to the UK in 1979, he wasted no time in building a business out of the idea he’d seen work so well in the US, and he and his wife founded Abbey Self-Storage. The UK’s first storage chain in the mould of the business that we know, today.

Using a concoction of disused factories and warehouses, that were, in his own words, “past their sell-by date, and obsolete for their former use”, Hampson began to forge an empire and build the UK’s self-storage industry.

Self-storage hits the mainstream

It was the early 1990s by the time that the wider business world caught up with the, then in its relative infancy, self-storage industry.

Philip Burks, James Gibson and Nicholas Vetch had made their fortune in retail property. They formed a storage company and were the first to raise significant backing from the City for the expansion of a self-storage business, helping to boost the profile of self-storage as an industry to the levels it enjoys today.

How Store First can help

With self-storages centres in fifteen locations around the UK, whatever your storage needs may be (unless of course, you’re planning on dumping bodies, in which case, we can’t help you!) we’re sure we can help you out.

And with loads of free to use facilities, free pick-ups and your first 8 weeks at half price, with no hidden extras, and no lengthy contracts to sign, we’re sure that we’re the best value in the market, too.

So, drop in, reserve online, or give us a call today, and see what Store First can do for you!

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  • history of self-storage
  • self-storage industry