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Self storage industry is booming in Kamloops, the Okanagan and beyond

Yvonne Rogers, operations manager for the Space Centre in Kelowna.
March 03, 2020 - 7:30 AM

What was once just cubicles on industrial land at the fringes of cities is turning into a high tech and rapidly growing part of the economy.

Self-storage businesses are swallowing up scarce industrial land in Penticton, and selling spaces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in Kelowna.

Kelowna’s Space Centre, for example, boasts being the largest self-storage facility in Western Canada at 380,000 square feet — and it’s planning to expand again in the fall.

“The demand for self-storage is evolving,” Yvonne Rogers, operations manager for the Space Centre, said.

“A lot of it has to do with multi-family dwellings that limit storage space. In a high rise, if there is any storage, there’s probably very little. They may have a small space in a parking garage or none at all. There’s more demand for smaller, off-site storage space for things like snow tires and seasonal stuff."

But a societal shift into condos and out of single-family homes, where garages are used for storage more than for parking cars, is just the tip of the self-storage iceberg.

Airport Self Storage, which opened in the Kelowna Airport Industrial Park in November, has a large commercial clientele who, for one thing, like the benefits of high tech entry cards and the ability to choose, rent and pay for their storage online or through an app, said a company spokesman who didn’t want his name used.

It, like many other operations, offer things like indoor, climate-controlled units in a variety of sizes.

Kelowna's Space Centre says it's the largest storage facility in Western Canada.
Kelowna's Space Centre says it's the largest storage facility in Western Canada.

While condo storage is an important part of Space Centre’s business, they also have 350 to 400 university and college students who park their stuff there when they head off home or to work for the summer.

At the other end of the age spectrum are seniors who may be downsizing. Or, if they need to be relocated into a care facility, it can be less traumatic for them if their possessions are put into storage before being sorted through.

Then there are divorces where possessions may need to be removed quickly, people who sell their homes but have to wait to get into their new houses or, some people just have too much stuff.

On the commercial side, there are more entrepreneurs whose fledgling businesses grow beyond what they can store in their garage or basement. There are major corporations that employ agents in smaller cities who have, for example, food displays to store. Or there are real estate agents who don’t have room at home for all their signs.

There is also a growing trend of small retail outlets taking advantage of the discounts they get when they buy, for example, Christmas cards in February.

Self-storage started as a bigger city phenomenon but has spread to mid-size cities. U-haul took over three long-empty Reichhold Industries buildings on the North Shore of Kamloops in 2015 to convert them into more than 700 storage units. It also converted the former Western Star plant in Kelowna to more than 1,000 storage units in 2017. Self-storage is also a player in making vacant industrial land almost extinct in Penticton.

“It used to be you would build a storage facility only in very urban areas,” Sue Margenson, executive director of the Canadian Self Storage Association, said. “Now you’ll find them everywhere. I live in a town of 200 people and we have self-storage.”

Compared to the United States, Canada still has a lot of growing to do. Americans rent on average nine square feet of self-storage per person versus two square feet in Canada.

And, what was once an industry mostly of independent owners is now being bought up by chains.

Ottawa-based Dymon Group has bought up so much of its competition that it now controls about 80 per cent of Ottawa’s market. It’s expanding into Toronto where it’s building a facility that will grow to 500,000 square feet.

Not only is it big, but it comes with some fancy features like a world-class wine-storage centre with an on-site sommelier and a valet service to, for example, pick up and deliver your Christmas decorations.

Not that the Okanagan is being left behind when it comes to fancy options with the construction of the 19-unit Vault project near Kelowna Airport. Units start at 1,677 square feet with prices starting at $399,900.

Its website, which says it will be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2019, shows 12 of those units sold and two reserved.

Another emerging trend, at least in big cities, is storage spaces being used as temporary offices.

“In downtown Toronto, it is astonishing to witness how much work is being done in the lockers,” a 2017 story in Canadian Business stated. “A major area hospital is working in one unit as it ramps up a fundraising drive, cramming it with an army of envelope stuffers. On the same floor, another couple runs a restaurant-decor business. In a third unit, a small office is set up amid shelves of organic cotton sheets—inventory for an online business. (“It’s a little makeshift, but so is our business,” says an employee.) In yet another locker, a 19-year-old is assembling gift bags ahead of a conference.”

Data, particularly regional or provincial data, is scarce.

In a November 2019 report, industrial research company IBISWorld reported that self-storage and warehousing is a $4 billion industry in Canada. It has 1,700 businesses with 4,261 employees. The industry had an annual growth rate from 2014 to 2019 of 8.1 per cent.

“Since self-storage facilities emerged in the 1960s, the industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors of commercial real estate,” the report states.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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