Let’s play a game.
Say an area has self storage sites popping up all over the place. Big, multi-story sites and flat ones stretching beyond view. Sites not a short hand dolly ride from existing storage sites.
What could one assume about that place?
“‘Popping up’ is a relative term, but in many cases, the growth of the market dictates current and future self storage inventory,” said Mike Blackett, vice president of communications with the Self Storage Association.
Blackett should know. His business is storage. His group began in 1975 and is the official trade organization for the industry nationwide and internationally. He knows storage owners and storage renters, down to the per capita estimate of 7.5 to 8.5 square feet of self storage space per person in the United States.
He hasn’t been to York County, but he has some guesses upon hearing what’s happening here.
“If the population, community is increasing, thriving and current facilities are 90 percent occupied, or higher, that’s a good sign for self storage developers, investors,” Blackett said.
Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, knows the place well, but might start her assumptions with the people using all those new storage options.
“There are now seven self storage places at Lake Wylie,” she said. “That holds a lot of stuff.”
People in Lake Wylie are talking, she said, as Morningstar Mini Storage sets to open its multi-story site any day now. Following The Vault, which opened last year, and expansions elsewhere.
Why all the need? Bromfield hears of all sorts of uses, down to people renting climate-controlled units to store Christmas decorations and seasonal items.
“Some people think it is due to all the people living in apartments, however people everywhere are renting storage units to put stuff in,” she said. “Even homeowners fill their garages and park in driveway and then rent storage units.”
A Better Business Bureau online search finds 24 residential and commercial storage facilities within 10 miles of Lake Wylie. There are 31 sites within 10 miles of Fort Mill. Though many are duplicates, Tega Cay (27 sites) and Indian Land (24) have plenty of local options, too.
Charles Wood can’t quite play the game, but he would be a ringer anyway.
Wood worked at Anchor Self Storage when it opened, then Kodiak Mini Storage right across the street. Now he will help open Morningstar. Three storage sites within a short afternoon walk of each other along Lake Wylie’s most prominent (never mind priciest to set up shop beside) thoroughfare.
Wood only could say so much while training for the new role at an Indian Land site, but he has seen plenty of change in the industry. He hasn’t stayed in it because it’s withering on the vine, either.
“Based on my 16 years of self storage experience, I will say that Morningstar is light years ahead,” Wood said.
Storage sites typically have small staffs and relatively little upkeep compared to other business types, Bromfield said, and they provide space rather than consumable goods. She sees the appeal of the business model.
“We can’t complain,” said Steve Bass at A-Lock It Self Storage in Fort Mill.
Last July, his facility added 100 more units, bringing the total to 650. The company put brick facades and other touches called for by the town. Owners sold a Pineville, N.C., site it had to focus on Fort Mill, and Bass doesn’t have to play any games to figure out why.
“There’s definitely a big influx,” he said of storage in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land.
Real estate is a driver.
“We were definitely seeing an increase because so many people are coming to the area,” Bass said. “People are coming and they’re maybe they’re buying condos, a lot of apartments that don’t have a lot of storage space. You have people selling who are in between houses.”
Some stay a short while. Others, like Hunter’s Arcade House and Sales, rely on storage units to keep businesses open. A major part of the Fort Mill teen’s recent arcade business expansion was finding the right space at Better Boxes Self Storage on Gold Hill Road. One of many recent, multi-story additions like CubeSmart Self Storage under construction just outside of Tega Cay.
Bass said business renters make up a fair number of area clients. The more inventory or equipment they need to store, the better.
“We have a little mix,” Bass said of the average self storage stay. “It’s between 3 to 6 months if they’re moving into the area, but we also have businesses like landscaping, plumbing, electrical, eBay (sellers).”
Regardless how or why people use self storage, it isn’t a trend likely to stop. The past five years, the industry has grown about 8 percent nationwide. The prior five years, it grew 15 percent.
“That was the most active period for construction in the industry’s history,” Blackett said.
Occupancy rates north of 90 percent are common. But two more numbers, puzzled together, seem to show something important about self storage. The 40 state and regional associations represented by Self Storage Association total about 48,500 facilities. Their eight international organizations — across Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, Latin America, South America — total 12,000.
“The self storage real estate sector is a very American notion and started out over 50 years ago in this country,” Blackett said. “The industry has had a lot of time to grow.”
So York County isn’t alone in the boom. It may just be a little more booming here than elsewhere.
"It's happening,” Blackett said of industry growth nationwide. “There's a fairly robust energy going on in the industry right now for growth, but it also depends on the market."