Need more office space or a base for mobile workers? It might be worth giving Store First a call – and not for the obvious reasons
Walk into any High Street café and the chances are that a high proportion of the clientele will be business people and freelancers catching up on email between meetings.
When mobile working took off in the last decade, Starbucks, Costa and other outlets with free Wi-Fi and copious coffee became fist port of call for people looking for somewhere to hold offsite meetings or kill time productively between appointments.
As the number of mobile workers increased, so, too, did the variety of ‘third places’ for work outside the home or office. These range from established business centres and informal, club-like co-working hubs to more surprising locations –
like self storage depots.
One such is Store First. It has 14 purpose-built self storage facilities across the UK and enjoyed its best ever year in 2015, doubling overall occupancy levels and recording growth of 97.8%.
Much of this growth has come from providing office space, meeting rooms and free WiFi to business customers, from start-ups and small businesses to itinerant workers who use Store First centres as an affordable base for their operations.
Business Info spoke to Oliver Kitson, Operations Director for Store First, about this surprising aspect of the business.
Business Info (BI): Is office and workspace a growing part of the business?
Kitson (K): It’s something that we’ve had from the word go. Right from when our fist site was built in 2012 we decided that we wanted to do things a bit differently to the other storage companies. A lot of people were using storage facilities not just for things like moving house but for storing paperwork or stock, so we decided to gear our centres more towards businesses. Having things like boardrooms, meeting rooms and hot pod desks (individual workstations) has really helped. From day one, we’ve had customers using these spaces for training staff, for disciplinary proceedings that they want to hold off-site, or for interviews and reviews. We’ve also got things like free printing, so if they need to print invoices or credit notes they can. It’s something we’ve got in all of our sites, and it has massive appeal for people.
BI: What spaces are provided?
K: We’ve got meeting rooms, boardrooms and most of our sites have got on-site gyms as well. They’re all free to use by customers. During busier times customers might need to phone up on the Monday to book a meeting room for two hours on the Thursday, but it’s pretty much fist come, fist served – people just come and use them as and when they need to.
BI: Are all the offices shared or are there individual cellular offies that people can rent?
K: We have individual offices at four of our storage centres, and they are almost like a separate arm. A lot of the office customers we have are also storage customers, but the offices they have are their offices to use and fi out as they like. They also get access to other facilities, such as the gyms and boardrooms. The common areas are shared, but their offices are theirs and theirs alone. All of our centres have ‘hot pods’, individual partitioned desks a bit like those you’d have in an open plan office, where people can go and set up their laptop. We’ve got free Wif at all of the centres, so they can just log in and do whatever they need to do. They can print things out as and when they need and that’s free of charge as well.
BI: How does it compare price-wise to other office space?
K: It depends where we are in the country, as rates do vary. But we always shop around to see what the local marketplace is offering. With the office spaces we look to be 10-20% cheaper than other serviced offies. On the storage side of things, we tend to go in at around 30% under.
BI: What kind of organisations use the facilities?
K: A real mix. We cater for everyone from people who run Ebay shops to plumbers, plasterers and tradesmen in general. Then we’ve got businesses like accountants and solicitors who will use the storage areas for paperwork and make use of the general facilities for things like interviews. Really a whole plethora – we have shop fiters who keep their kit there, companies that fix solar panels. Anything and everything, there’s a whole range.