07 Mar 2022

Self Storage India: Our Story - Part One

Dr. Manjali Khosla

CEO - Self Storage India

PART ONE

Our Story:

Like many businesses, Self-Storage India (SSI) was born out of our CEO Dr. Manjali Khosla’s personal need. She and her family relocated to Delhi, India, and wanted to store household items from North America and Dubai which would not fit in her new home. Despite extensive searches, she could not find a single self-storage provider. When she looked at industrial warehouse options and facilities offered by movers and packers, she found they did not suit her needs, and that was the spark that led her to launch SSI.

SSI launched in 2013 with the primary aim of being a one-stop solution for businesses and individuals seeking small footprint storage spaces by offering them private rooms. We resolved to respond to the critical challenges expressed by customers seeking personal storage in India - cleanliness, security, hygiene, safety, and protection from environmental hazards. The initial geography of focus was Delhi - National Capital Region (Delhi NCR), the world’s second-most dense urban sprawl, roughly 2/3rds the size of the New York tri-state in terms of land area, BUT with double the population, clocking in at 45 million people.

She launched a small proof of concept facility to test the market. It took some time to gain traction as there was limited awareness about the service, and as she learned along the way, there was also a mental block for people to pay even a tiny sum to store their unused goods, not something they had done before. The business found its feet, and word started to spread slowly. The company began to experience increasing organic inbound demand. Growth became explosive starting 2018, since which time the company has grown to over 1500 rooms in 4 facilities strategically located in the Delhi NCR region. SSI offers private rooms from 25 to 300 sq ft, box storage, personal lockers, and vehicle storage at select locations.

The Covid-19 Pandemic may finally be reaching its end, but it has left its mark and fundamentally changed many aspects of how we live and work in India. With most businesses forced to suspend office use, they started to downsize office spaces and promoted work from home (WFH). WFH soon became the preferred alternative for people. It has triggered a seismic shift in Indian society, opening many options for many Indians while also bringing in a slew of challenges. Remote workers need somewhere to store their unused belongings and create more space at home. People also took the opportunity to relocate out of expensive cities to cheaper satellite towns or even their hometowns, generating disruption and spurring the need for self-storage.

Most companies store equipment and furniture in temporary storage spaces these days, with offices becoming unutilized. As the pandemic has dragged on, these storage spaces have mutated into dusty dumps for anything, and everything moved out of offices. During this era, SSI’s B2B business grew by 200%.

The Covid-19 era opened the floodgates for self-storage in India. While 11 million out of 330 million Americans use self-storage, one can only imagine how many potential self-storage customers lie hidden within the 1.4 billion Indians. While 1 in 3 American households has used a self-storage facility, an infinitesimal fraction of Indian households made a humble start in using these facilities. Until now, the Indian consumer was unaware of such options, and the pandemic was a wake-up moment.

CEO Speak (Manjali’s first-person narrative):
"Self Storage India was born out of my personal need in 2013. When I moved to Delhi with my family, I had a lot of furniture and personal effects that I needed to store, as I couldn’t fit them into my new home. I tried my best to find a clean, well-lit, safe and secure facility, and I was pretty disappointed with what I found. I was pretty uncomfortable when I visited these facilities as they were pretty creepy, dark, and damp, and there were never any women in sight. I'm someone who carries an emotional attachment to all my belongings; just because they were being stored away didn't mean I wanted them to be put in a sub-standard storage facility.

I realized there was a glaring gap in the market; there had to be others like me needing storage. That's when I decided to take the plunge and create a facility I could be proud of, and that would offer others the one thing they wanted from their storage, peace of mind.

When I founded Self Storage India, “self-storage” wasn’t even part of the Indian lexicon.  Anyone who needed space due to a relocation or downsizing would typically stash their items with friends or relatives, and some would sell their possessions to scrap dealers. Businesses would designate office space for storage, but it often became a dumping ground for unused furniture and equipment.   My idea was to provide my customers with their private room just like the self- storage facilities that I used when I lived in California and Texas, which they could access at their convenience, at an affordable price. I launched the first facility as a test in the teeming Delhi - NCR region, and it didn't take too long to succeed. From those 20 rooms at a single facility, we have now scaled up to over 1500 rooms at multiple locations.

In this journey, I have faced multiple challenges. I am a pharmaceutical scientist and have spent a large part of my career in R&D, mainly in North America. I had no prior business experience, least of all in India. As I delved in, I found logistics and warehousing, real estate, and construction male-dominated areas, and often I would not be taken seriously. There was also a cultural issue; customers were hesitant to pay for storage. Launching the first facility without a single permanent employee took all of my resources and plenty of support from friends and family.

Those days seem so long ago! Today we have over 20 team members and 4 locations and have successfully engaged with more than 1000 clients. We provide personalized service with meticulous attention to detail and have kept an open-door policy. We have been involved with clients to understand their needs better. If customers trust us with their valuable possessions, we must be worthy of that trust. This is something I tell my team each day.

It's this focus on customer satisfaction that has brought us this far. Whenever I speak to clients, they tell me about the great experience; it makes my day.

The greatest challenge we have faced as a business is the social stigma of ‘paying for storage.’ In a country where everything from plastic bags to old slippers is kept “just in case” they are needed, the concept of storing your belongings away can be akin to saying goodbye to a lifelong friend.

This is still a new concept in India, and as a business, we are looking to disrupt the personal goods storage market by creating a self-storage culture that’s convenient, affordable, and safe.

We’re not just offering storage but offering people peace of mind, flexibility, mobility, and helping those looking for a clutter-free existence. It’s so much more than just a place to store your belongings, and we give your possessions a home, away from home."


Go check out -
Self Storage India: Our Story - Part Two here
Self Storage India: Our Story - Part Three here

Find out more about Self Storage India here