When it comes to self storage sites, shipping containers are typically found outside. Customers can drive their vehicle right up to the doors to load and unload, an ideal solution for large items like furniture, vehicles and sporting goods. Containers are inexpensive and easily transportable, and containerised self storage sites are quick to set up. But increasingly people are coming to realise how versatile containers can be.
Timothy Brant-Coles first set up his own self-storage business in 2008. The inspiration came from a very personal requirement – there simply wasn’t anywhere nearby for him to store his own possessions when he was moving house. Realising others might also be in need of storage, he leased some containers and put them in a site near Alton in rural Hampshire. The business quickly took off.
Meanwhile, the marketplace for self storage was evolving. Increasing numbers of people are storing items when they’re moving house or redecorating or simply when they don’t have the space. When it comes to household items, people prefer a traditional internal storage facility, and are willing to pay extra for the comfort. Tim decided that indoor-style storage would be a great addition to his site.
Traditional building works would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Looking for alternatives, Tim decided to construct the building out of shipping containers, customising and finishing them to such a high standard that customers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
The design was Tim’s own and was deceptively simple. Twelve 45’ high-cube containers would be bolted together side-by-side, with two corridors cut through to create four useable spaces per container. A door at one end would connect the structure to the existing reception unit, and a door at the other would allow access out into the rest of the site, which still features standard outdoor-access container storage. The containers would sit on concrete runners for stability but would still remain essentially temporary structures, meaning no planning permission would be needed.
Sourcing the containers proved to be more difficult than expected. While 45’ containers are not uncommon, the high-cube variety (containers with additional height) that were second hand, but in good condition, were in short supply. To track them down Tim turned to Southampton-based container specialists Willbox. Willbox had already supplied Tim with several containers for his outdoor operations, and he was pleased by their work.
“They’re always polite, and they do what they’ve promised,” he said simply. “They deliver on time, even when deadlines are tight. You can’t say that of all suppliers.”
Willbox has depots across the UK which enabled them to cast a wide net searching for the right type of container. Once sourced, the containers were stored at Willbox’s Southampton yard, where their in-house customisation team was able to carry out some of the preparatory work, such as repainting the units and cutting out the panels for the connecting corridor.
However, a major obstacle was to come – getting the containers into position. The existing reception building blocked any direct access for HGVs or lifting equipment. The only solution was to hire a 180 tonne crane to lift the containers over the reception building one at a time.
“The crane was charged on a day rate,” says Tim, “so it was critical we got it all done in one go. We didn’t have the space on site to have the containers waiting around, so they were brought up one at a time from the docks. One truck would arrive, the container would be lifted and bolted into place, the truck would leave, the next truck would arrive. Timing was absolutely critical.”
For such a challenging operation, Tim needed a company he could trust. Williams Shipping, the sister company of Willbox, has a transport and cargo handling division with a fleet of trucks also based in Southampton. They provided five trucks for the day, running the relay from the docks with the containers in the correct order.
With the shell in place, the only thing left was to finish the interior. Unit doors and electrics were fitted. To avoid drilling holes, the team fitted custom-designed beams for the ceiling panels to attach to. Finally, the floors were fitted and anti-condensation insulation sprayed on all the walls.
The facility opened its doors to its first customers in spring 2019. The entire project took just 12 weeks to complete, and the cost comparison is remarkable – against a quoted price of £65/sq ft for a traditional structure, the new facility was able to be completed for just £30/sq ft, including internal finishing. The end result is modern and bright with a high-end finish: walking through from reception, it is impossible to tell that the building is made of shipping containers.
Tim has already branched out from his headquarters in Alton with sites in Farnham, Guildford and Winchester. Of his plans for the future, he comments: “Storage, storage and more storage!”
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