How to Start a Profitable Storage Unit Business in 2024

The self-storage industry has experienced steady growth over the past decade as businesses and individuals seek extra space to store their excess belongings. With smaller living spaces and e-commerce fueling the need for inventory storage, demand for self-storage units continues to rise. This presents a lucrative business opportunity for entrepreneurs interested in tapping into the profitable self-storage market.

how to start a self storage business

Key Insights

  • High-Profit Margins: Self-storage businesses can achieve net operating incomes ranging from 50-80%, making them one of the most potentially profitable commercial real estate ventures.
  • Resilient Demand: The self-storage industry performs well even during economic downturns, as people still need secure places to store their belongings.
  • Market Research: Conducting thorough market research to understand local demand, competition, and customer needs is crucial for selecting the right location and planning a successful storage business.
  • Operational Efficiency: Implementing management software and leveraging technology for security and customer service can streamline operations and enhance the customer experience.
  • Strategic Marketing: Developing a comprehensive marketing plan, including SEO, PPC, and community networking, is essential for attracting and retaining customers in the competitive self-storage market.

The Potential of the Storage Unit Business

Starting a storage unit business allows you to generate income from renting out storage spaces to tenants monthly. It’s a nice blend of a business plus real estate that can produce high-profit margins once you have a leased up facility.

Industry analysis shows that net operating income for self-storage businesses ranges from 50-80%, making it one of the most potentially profitable commercial real estate ventures. Also, self-storage tends to perform well even during economic downturns, as people still need a place to store their belongings regardless of market conditions.

With the right location, marketing strategy, and customer service, a storage unit business can be an excellent way to build wealth over time. This guide will walk you through all the key steps involved in launching a successful self-storage operation.

We’ll cover everything from writing a business plan to managing day-to-day operations so you can start your storage empire on the right foot. The demand is there – now let’s get started on claiming your share of this booming industry.

Self-Storage Business Model

A self-storage business involves renting out storage spaces like garages, lockers, containers, and/or outdoor spaces to customers on a short-term or long-term basis. It is an active business model focused on managing the storage facility and serving customers, not just passively renting out real estate.

The key components of a self-storage business include:

  • Storage Units – These are the core real estate asset, providing secure spaces for customers to store their belongings. Units come in different sizes from small lockers to large garage-style spaces.
  • Facility – The storage units are housed together in a storage facility that can also include amenities like climate control, security features, office space, and parking.
  • Customers – The target customers are both residential and business users looking for extra storage for their excess belongings, equipment, inventory, etc.
  • Operations – This covers the day-to-day management like customer service, marketing, rentals and payments, maintenance, security monitoring, etc.
  • Revenue Streams – Income is generated primarily from rental fees paid by customers. Additional revenue can come from fees like administrative fees, late fees, insurance, and storage supplies.

Unlike passive real estate ownership, a self-storage business requires hands-on operation and active customer acquisition and management. It’s an ongoing service business focused on maximizing occupancy and rental income from storage units. Success comes from factors like location, facility quality, customer service, and marketing—not just real estate ownership. The beauty of this business is that you can control and improve many of the factors that drive revenue and business value.

Market Research and Planning

Conducting Market Research

Before starting a self-storage business, it is crucial to understand the local market conditions. This involves researching factors like:

  • Demand – Look at population and business growth in the area. Track moving patterns and storage needs for residences and businesses. Estimate the total addressable market based on storage space per capita.
  • Competition – Identify existing storage facilities, their sizes, features, occupancy rates, and pricing. This shows opportunities to fill gaps in the market.
  • Customer needs—Survey potential customers on their preferred unit sizes, desired features, price sensitivity, and decision factors. This will provide insight into customer preferences.
  • Growth potential – Evaluate if demand is keeping pace with supply. Monitor permits for new residential and commercial developments that may increase future demand.
  • Local demographics – The target customer base depends on factors like income levels and housing types in the area. Analyze demographics to tailor offerings.

Thorough market research provides the data needed to determine feasibility and create a tailored business strategy. Continuously monitoring the market also enables adapting as conditions evolve.

Writing a Business Plan

Every storage startup needs a comprehensive business plan. This is a detailed roadmap that covers:

  • Executive summary – Overview of business concept, objectives, and competitive advantage
  • Market analysis – Research described above showing target customer profiles, demand forecasts, and competitive landscape
  • Facility plan – Specifications for size, layout, features, and growth potential
  • Operations plan – Staffing needs, software systems, processes, and day-to-day management
  • Marketing strategy – Promotions, advertising, digital presence, and branding
  • Financial plan – Startup costs, revenue and occupancy projections, financing, profit/loss forecasting
  • Risk assessment – Potential risks and mitigation strategies

The business plan is both an internal guide for strategy and operations as well as a document to attract potential investors and lenders. It should be regularly updated as the business evolves. A thoughtful plan is a blueprint for storage businesses success.

Choosing a Location

Choosing the right location is one of the most important decisions when starting a storage unit business. The location can make or break your success, so selecting a site that meets key criteria is crucial.

Finding the Right Location

When evaluating potential locations, consider these main factors:

  • Accessibility – The site should be close to main roads and highways to make it easy for customers to access. Avoid locations that are difficult to enter or exit. Drive time from major population centers is also key.
  • Visibility – Your facility should be visible from the main road to attract drive-by traffic. Signage and branding will help grab attention. Corner lots or properties near intersections allow visibility from multiple directions.
  • Demand drivers – Look for areas with features that drive demand for storage, like new residential developments, colleges, military bases, or business parks. Proximity to these demand drivers will help fill your units.
  • Competition – Do a competitive analysis to see how many storage facilities are nearby. Avoid heavy competition unless you have a strong plan to differentiate. Limited competition is ideal.
  • Population density – Look for locations near densely populated areas and growth regions to ensure a customer base.
  • Zoning – Make sure the property is properly zoned for self-storage use. Confirm there are no restrictions that would prevent building and operating a facility.
  • Lot size – Choose a site large enough to build your planned facility size while allowing room for future expansion. Bigger is usually better.

By carefully evaluating these key site selection criteria, you can zero in on locations that offer the greatest potential and visibility for your storage unit business. The ideal site sets you up for success starting day one.

Financing Your Storage Unit Business

Securing Funding

Securing proper financing is one of the most important steps in starting a storage unit business. There are several options to fund your new venture:

  • Loans: You can apply for a small business loan from a bank or online lender. The loan amount will depend on your credit score, business plan, and existing assets that can be used as collateral. SBA loans are a popular option.
  • Investors: Finding private investors is another route for raising startup capital. You can pitch your business plan to angel investors, friends and family, or venture capital firms. Investors will want an equity stake in exchange for their capital.
  • Grants: While not as common, some government and nonprofit grants exist for certain business owners. Grants provide money you don’t have to pay back.
  • Seller-Financing: Seller financing involves negotiating with the current owner of a property to finance part or all of the purchase price. This can be an attractive option as it often requires lower down payments and more flexible terms compared to traditional bank loans. It allows the buyer to pay the seller over time, usually with interest, which can ease the initial financial burden and help the buyer secure the property even with limited upfront capital.

Estimating Startup Costs

Before seeking funding, estimate your expected startup costs. These include:

  • Land purchase or lease
  • Construction and facility development
  • Permits and licensing fees
  • Legal fees
  • Initial marketing expenses
  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Website and software costs
  • Insurance policies
  • Staffing until occupancy ramps up

Create a detailed budget accounting for all one-time and ongoing expenses. This will determine how much funding you need to launch and operate until achieving positive cash flow. Most experts recommend having 20-30% more financing than your conservative estimates to protect from unexpected costs.

Should You Build or Buy?

One of the biggest decisions when starting a self-storage business is whether to build a new facility from the ground up or purchase an existing property. Each approach has pros and cons.

Building a New Facility

Constructing a brand new storage facility gives you full control over the design and layout. You can optimize the unit mix, incorporate the latest security features, and create an efficient customer flow. Building new also allows you to select the ideal location based on your market research rather than being limited to existing properties on the market.

However, developing a new facility requires significantly higher startup costs. You’ll have to purchase the land, obtain permits and approvals, hire contractors, and manage the construction process. It also takes more time until you can open for business.

Buying an Existing Property

Acquiring an established storage facility can get you up and running faster. The due diligence process is critical to assess the physical condition, financials, occupancy rate, and customer base. Look for opportunities to increase revenue through improving operations, raising rents, and filling vacancies.

Calculate the capital expenses needed to upgrade the property when evaluating potential sites. Some value-add possibilities include:

  • Adding climate-controlled units
  • Improving security systems
  • Renovating office/retail areas
  • Repainting and landscaping
  • Expanding by developing unused land
  • Improving the digital marketing

Purchasing an existing facility often costs less upfront than building new. But make sure to factor in future capital investments required to maximize the potential.

The choice between building or buying depends on your budget, timeline, and ability to improve an acquired property. Analyze both scenarios thoroughly as part of your business plan.

Obtaining Permits and Licenses

Starting a storage unit business requires obtaining the proper permits and licenses. At minimum, you’ll need a business license from your city or county. Depending on your location, you may also need permits related to zoning, building codes, fire safety, environmental regulations, and more. It’s important to research and comply with all local and state requirements.

Common permits and licenses include:

  • Business license – Required to operate your business legally. Apply through your city or county.
  • Building permits – Needed for any new construction or renovations. Apply through your local building department.
  • Occupancy permit – Required before opening to certify the building meets codes.
  • Fire safety permit – This may be required for having a business with storage units.
  • Stormwater permit – Needed if your project impacts stormwater drainage.
  • Septic system permit – Required if installing a septic system.
  • Alarm permit – Needed if installing a security alarm system.
  • Signage permit – Required to post business signage on your property.

Be sure to factor the costs, time, and processes for obtaining permits into your startup planning. Also, research if there are any state licenses specific to the self-storage industry in your location. Staying compliant from the beginning will help avoid issues down the road.

Navigating Zoning Laws

Zoning laws dictate what can be built and operated at specific properties. Selecting a property and designing your facility to align with local zoning is crucial. Storage facilities are usually permitted in specific industrial or commercial zones.

Key steps for zoning compliance:

  • Research zoning laws and restrictions in your area. Storage may be prohibited in certain zones.
  • Choose a property zoned for commercial or light industrial use. These typically allow storage businesses.
  • Verify the property allows the size and height of the facility you want to build. There are often limits.
  • Apply for a zoning permit or conditional use permit if required.
  • Design the site plan and buildings to meet setback, parking, landscaping, and other zoning requirements.
  • Be prepared to request zoning variances if your plans don’t conform. Approval is not guaranteed.

Following zoning regulations will ensure you can open your facility without delays or extra costs. Consider zoning factors as you select a location, and it is recommended that you consult with local zoning officials early on.

Setting Up Your Business Operations

Operational Models and Management

The two main operational models for self-storage businesses are owner-operated and hiring a property management company. As an owner-operator, you would be responsible for all aspects of running the facility. This gives you full control but also requires more of your time. Hiring a property management company allows you to take a more hands-off approach. The management company handles operations, maintenance, and administrative tasks in exchange for a percentage of revenue.

If hiring a property management company, research options and find someone experienced in self-storage. Clearly define expectations and responsibilities. Owner-operators should consider hiring staff to assist with office administration, maintenance, and cleaning. Ensure you properly train employees on customer service policies and using your management software.

Here are some tips for day-to-day operations:

  • Maintain detailed occupancy reports to monitor vacant units and identify issues. Aim for at least 85% occupancy.
  • Inspect the facility regularly for cleanliness, maintenance needs, and safety. Document any issues.
  • Enforce late fee policies consistently to encourage on-time payments. Send friendly reminders before applying fees.
  • Develop standardized processes for tasks like renting units, collecting payments, and handling customer requests. Document procedures in an operations manual.
  • Cross-train staff members on various tasks to keep things running smoothly when someone is out.
  • Listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.
  • Build relationships with customers through excellent service. Many will be long-term renters.
  • Stay up to date on legal regulations and insurance requirements impacting your storage business.

Marketing Your Storage Unit Business

Crafting a Marketing Plan

An effective marketing plan is essential for promoting your storage unit business and attracting customers. Marketing is one of the biggest value add tactics you can utilize. If your marketing is better than your competitors’, you will always have a steady stream of new tenants ready to rent units. SEO for self storage will be the most effective marketing channels for most facilities. Getting skilled in those two marketing channels will give you a big advantage over other facilities.

The key marketing strategies include:

  • SEO – Having a website, Google business profile, and profiles on directories allows customers to find and learn about your facility easily. Utilize SEO to rank high in local searches.
  • Google Ads – Self storage PPC ads on Google can be a great way to lease up your facility by being on the top of the search results.
  • Promotions – Special deals like first month free or discounted rates for students appeal to specific demographics. Partner with local businesses on referral programs.
  • Community networking – Attend local events as a vendor and sponsor community initiatives. This raises awareness and establishes your business as a community partner.

Building Your Brand

Creating a strong brand identity differentiates your storage facility from competitors. However, this is not as important as being very good at SEO and PPC.

Elements of your brand include:

  • Your business name, logo, and slogan. These should communicate your core values and benefits.
  • Facility design and aesthetics. Keep the grounds clean and maintained. Make the office inviting.
  • Your reputation and image. Get involved locally and provide a quality experience to build goodwill.

Consistently presenting these branding elements boosts recognition of your business as a leading storage option in the community.

Leveraging Technology and Software

Implementing Management Software

Self-storage management software is essential for efficiently operating your storage facility in today’s digital world. Software automates time-consuming tasks like rentals, payments, and customer communication, freeing up your time for high-value work. Key features to look for include online reservations, digital rental agreements, payment processing, tenant portals, and robust reporting. Cloud-based systems allow access from any device. Evaluate solutions like [Software Name], [Software Name], and [Software Name] to determine the best fit for your business. Prioritize seamless integration, mobility, and tools to enhance customer experience.

Enhancing Security with Technology

Security is a major factor for storage unit customers. Leverage technology to provide peace of mind and deter crime at your facility. Install high-resolution CCTV cameras for 24/7 video surveillance, ensuring all access points are covered. Access control systems with keypad entry and Bluetooth add further protection. Additional options include perimeter fencing, individual door alarms, motion sensors, and lighting. Partner with a security company for monitoring and rapid response. Be sure to advertise your security measures to attract customers. A tech-enabled security system delivers safety, convenience, and credibility.

Building Your Path to a Successful Self-Storage Business

Starting a self-storage business presents a lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to tap into a growing market. By carefully planning and executing each step—from conducting thorough market research and choosing the right location to securing financing and implementing effective operational strategies—you can position your storage facility for success.

Remember to leverage technology, build a strong brand, and maintain a customer-centric approach to stand out in this competitive industry.

The demand for self-storage is on the rise, and with the insights and guidance provided in this guide, you are well-equipped to claim your share of this booming market.

john reinesch

About The Author

John has spent nearly a decade working with businesses to improve their marketing and lead generation. Over that time, he developed a passion for building systems and processes that allow businesses to scale by building a lead generation system.