Self storage park for rentbox24, Germany

USC recently completed a self storage park for rentbox24. The location is the 4812 Erkelenz, Germany, not far from the border with Limburg. Alex Heuters, co-owner, talks about the whole process from the first idea to the realization.

Alex, can you introduce rentbox24 to us?
‘We established the self storage company in 2018. It is a real family business with several owners. Our headquarters are in Wassenberg, which is close to the Dutch border, near Roermond. We own a 3000 m2 location there where we offer indoor self storage from 1 to 20 square meters. In addition, we have shipping containers for outdoor storage. There are three employees working here.’

What is your job title?
‘I am an owner and manager. I also deal with the marketing, both analog and digital, such as the website and everything else needed to present our company to the outside world. My father has since decided to operate a little more in the background. Therefore, as managing director, I deal with all operational matters. I have recently spent a lot of time setting up and planning the new storage park in Erkelenz. All in all, I have a versatile and busy job.’

Why did you want to open a second branch?
The demand for outdoor storage is quite high in Wassenberg. So since 2020, we have been looking for a suitable location in the immediate area to open a second branch. Eventually we found a good location in neighboring Erkelenz. We bought this land, it’s a perfect location close to the highway and an industrial park.’

What was the plan for the new facility?
‘I am a big supporter of digitization and automation. My goal for this project was to develop a self storage site that would not require on-site personnel. To do this, however, I had to develop a new digital booking system that would be suitable for this type of self-storage. I started doing that last year, after which I presented the concept to my development team. These further developed and fleshed out my ideas into what it has become today. It is now finished and we are about to open the new location, possibly as soon as next week.’

How does that new booking system work?
‘Both locations, Wassenberg and Erkelenz, have been integrated into the new booking system. A new customer can access the booking system through our new website or through a QR code in Erkelenz. This one only needs to scan a code to do so. Then you’ll get an overview of available self storage spaces and sizes, categorized into light, small, medium and large. When the customer has made a choice from these, the price also comes into play. Then he can choose the start date and add insurance if he wishes. This of course depends on the value of the goods he wants to store. By the way, we always have our own basic insurance of 1,000 euros per rented space.

Then the customer can fill in the personal information and pay in different ways such as by credit card, bank or via PayPal. The customer then receives an email with all the relevant data, the invoice, the number of the self storage box, an access code and other important info. This code can be entered at the gate at the entrance. The customer also receives info about the machine from which he can choose from two different types of padlocks for a fee. However, the customer can also bring his own padlock.’

A physical padlock..that sounds pretty oldschool….
‘Yes, but we just had a lot of problems during our search for a suitable lock. We tested all kinds of copies that worked via bluetooth or with apps. But all had problems coping with the different weather conditions. In cold weather, there was always a chance that they might not work properly, and if they were run on electricity, it was also possible that they would falter. We simply didn’t want to risk our customers not being able to access their stuff at all times. That’s why we finally decided to go with the classic, physical padlocks. Eventually, we were also able to arrange a vending machine from which they could be sold.’

Cancellation is also easy. You send an email, we confirm it and then you send us a picture of the empty self storage box, clearly showing the box number.

All in all, the whole process of booking and cancelling looks simple on paper but we have come a long way to organize this whole process properly. We hope that customers also find it works as simply as we think it does. That’s something we’ll start to see in the coming weeks. In fact, for Germany, this is a pretty modern way of offering outdoor storage.

Our target audience ranges from 21 to well into their 60s. The largest group of customers is between the ages of 21 and 45. All of which have smartphones. They are familiar with scanning and know what a QR code is. But above the age of 50, it already becomes more difficult because not everyone in this group has a smartphone. This group is therefore expected to call our employees in Wassenberg more often for more information or for assistance during the booking process.’

What is the state of surveillance?
‘The whole site can be overseen with smart cameras. Our park is open from six in the morning until ten in the evening. When motion is detected by a camera between ten o’clock at night and six o’clock in the morning, the lights, which are very bright, turn on automatically. An auditory system has also been installed that lets uninvited attendees know that they should leave the premises as soon as possible.’

How did you end up at USC?
‘So we already have shipping containers at our park in Wassenberg. That’s why we first started talking to this supplier about our plan and concept for the new site in Erkelenz. But they could not sufficiently meet our expectations.

After a recommendation from self storage supplier Hans Boos, we ended up at USC. On their website we came across a picture of one of the models of the Z-Box. Such a storage container immediately made a very clean impression on us. It didn’t look like a container at all. Much more like a box where you can store things well. We then contacted Astrid and later Maarten. The three of us, father, cousin and I went to Deventer to talk about our project and our plans.

They told us that they had other customers in various European countries who were running outdoor self storage sites. Not so many in Germany yet, by the way. Our first impression of the containers was that they had a lot of quality and were easy to open. Opening a shipping container takes more strength and that the older customers sometimes take a little more time.

We talked about the new storage yard and which models of the Z-Box we could best put there. USC then presented us with a proposal. We compared that to a proposal from another provider. The prices were close, but the quality of the Z-Box and the good contact with Jan-Hein and Maarten were the deciding factors. It was a sense of family feeling, they were very friendly and very open minded.’

How was the process after that?
‘Then we started planning. I got in touch with Danny for that. All of us, USC and us, went to the location in Erkelenz. There we looked at how many containers we could place and how we would place them. Then we ordered the storage containers, not in white by the way but in the green of rentbox24, and that was no problem either.

I am now talking about December 2021. On May 18, the first two trucks with containers arrived. These were immediately unloaded by USC employees. It was very quick and neat. By the way, the whole process of delivery and unloading and assembly went very smoothly. I was impressed with the way the workers handled the containers. Even when the weather was bad they just kept on working. They just know exactly what to do, they radiate that. Maarten coordinated the process very well. Small problems were also quickly solved, which we were very happy about.

After the containers were in place, it turned out that some of them would not close properly, but that turned out to be a matter of balancing, that too was quickly solved. Also, the way of thinking along to find solutions to some problems was exactly why we had chosen USC. Maarten is easy to approach and always says: “Just call me if there is a problem, we will find a way to solve it. We really like that way of working.

People have already seen the green storage containers in Erkelenz and contacted us to ask what is happening there. They find it interesting. We already have about 10 customers who want to book.

How do you see the near future?
This year we don’t foresee any new expansions. Next year, however, we will get back to that. However, everything revolves around finding a good location, a suitable piece of land that we can also buy. So the plan is to continue to grow and we want to do that together with USC.’

What does the German self storage market look like?
‘The demand for self-storage in Germany is particularly high in and around the major cities. The houses in which people live there are relatively small, so they often do not have enough space to put their belongings. However, Erkelenz is located in a rural area. So with us was the question of whether people here would also need self storage. We can now answer that question with a resounding yes.

We are, with the exception perhaps of Mr. Blue’s Lagerbox in Berlin, the first outdoor self storage company with such a sophisticated digital booking system. So that will be a whole new experience for us as well. The self-storage business is quite accepted by consumers in Germany but the concept is still less well known to many people outside the big cities. All in all, the German market is developing quite well. So for further growth of our business the conditions seem to be good.’

More information about our Z-Boxes?