Feature, V1I3

Sheds vs. Self Storage

John Barry is chairman of the national Self Storage Association (SSA), which represents more than 50,000 self-storage operators nationwide. He’s also the president of All-Time Self Storage based in the heart of shed-building country in Lancaster County, in southeastern Pennsylvania. Barry says he does not know any Shed Builders, and the SSA doesn’t feel any impact from the shed-building industry.

“We don’t compete with them in any way,” Barry says. “The shed market is lower-end buyers. You store lawn furniture and mowers. You don’t put antiques and other valuable products in sheds. Anything that is temperature-sensitive does not go into a shed. If you want a quick move, you’re not going to use a shed. A fifth of our customers even use self-storage for their businesses. But we do think there is a market for each industry.”

One shed builder took umbrage with Barry’s remarks. Alyssa Deibert, marketing director at Pine Creek Structures in Gratz, Pennsylvania, said the sheds she sells are used for a large variety of purposes and customers.

“Of course, consumers use them to store their lawn furniture and garden tools,” she says. “However, I find that people are using them for much more. We have consumers that use our buildings to store vehicles, motorcycles, and tractors. I also have a customer in our direct area that uses his for a wood shop. We have others operating businesses out of them. We even offer a line of buildings that people can live out of. I don’t see this happening out of self-storage units.”

Indeed, the self-storage industry in the United States is huge, generating more than $24 billion in annual U.S. revenues in 2014, the SSA estimated. Self-storage has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past 40 years, the SSA contends.

Statistics on the shed industry are more difficult to come by since the industry has no member-supported association that regularly compiles this sort of data. When you talk to some of the large shed builders, and the companies that supply shed builders with lumber, fasteners, windows, roofing materials, and all the other products that are used to build sheds today, sheds may generate upwards of $2 billion, or more, annually.

Mel Fisher from Lantz Structures in Leola, Pennsylvania, estimates that in Lancaster County alone, with one of the largest concentrations of Amish in the United States, upwards of 70 local shed builders pump out 50,000 to 60,000 units a year. Informal estimates from industry suppliers put annual shed production at or near 280,000 units. Staggering sales to be sure, but only a portion of total shed sales nationwide.

“I do believe that we pose a threat to self-storage companies,” Deibert says. “The main reason is our financing program (rent-to-own) that we offer.”

Deibert says self-storage units often run 10 feet square and typically rent for $50 a month, on average. With Pine Creek’s rent-to-own financing program, her company can sell a customer the same sized shed for $49 a month on up. The biggest difference, and selling point, is that in 36 months, the consumer owns the shed.

“It’s also right in their backyard, so they don’t have to drive to the storage unit to get their belongings,” Deibert says. “It’s much more convenient. Plus we offer different options as far as shelving, and lofts, which increases the storage space in the building.”

Joe Daly at Cedar Rock Barns in Cedar Springs, Michigan, has only been selling sheds made by a small Amish community in Fremont, Michigan, for about seven years. But he says sales have become quite lucrative with business growing from 30 to 40 percent a year. His customers are using his sheds to store lawn and garden equipment, to be sure, but they also use these sheds as cottages and much more.

Last year, Cedar Rock Barns built a unit for the city of Saugatuck to hold its equipment at Oval Beach. Another was sold to a customer in Boyne Falls, Michigan, as an out building for his company. Many of Cedar Rock Barns’ customers have insulated the walls and floors so the buildings can be heated and cooled. In other cases, buildings used as garages most of the year get turned into hunting cabins in late fall, according to Daly.

“Climate control has become big with our buildings,” he says. “It’s not just at self-storage anymore.”

But in the end, Daly says, the big debate over whether a consumer or a business should lease self-storage units or buy a shed boils down to usage. “If I live in an apartment building and I have a lot of stuff, self-storage is the only option,” he says.

“If I live in a city, there is no place for me to put my shed. But if Joe and Jane live in the suburb, and have a couple of kids, and they’re trying to figure out the advantage of rent-to-own, or self-storage, it’s not much of a challenge for us to get them.


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