An electric/electronic engineer by vocation (qualified from Staffordshire University), easyStorage Executive Director/Co-Founder, Nigel Dawson, set up his first business in 1987.
If you’re looking for easy storage; easyStorage does precisely that. Executive Director/Co-Founder, Nigel Dawson, explains the hows and whys.
An electric/electronic engineer by vocation (qualified from Staffordshire University), easyStorage Executive Director/Co-Founder, Nigel Dawson, set up his first business in 1987, installing car phones and satellite systems; later selling it after achieving £1m turnover in two years from an initial investment of £100.
Subsequently turning his attention to the import/manufacturing mobility equipment market for the elderly, his next venture saw the setting-up of the Bishopsgate Group; a business he eventually sold in 2004 when, by his own admission, he wanted to take a new direction.
Since then, Dawson’s career has indeed taken a new direction and, despite its various twists and turns (with a C.V. reading like a corporate who’s who; including successful tenures at Boots, Guinot and British Gas), the common theme running through all has been a focus on franchise and business development, developing business growth and franchise recruitment strategies.
“I’ve always enjoyed the excitement of setting up new businesses. One of the biggest challenges
I had faced was establishing a brand and developing a ‘system’ that was to be successful,” says Dawson
“This is where franchising really started to have an appeal to me. It attracts entrepreneurs but provides a recognised brand and tried and tested system,” he adds.
Dawson’s role at Dollond & Aitchison, for example, which he joined in 2004, was to “fix” the old franchises and bring to market a new franchise proposition to grow the business. As a result the following six years saw 56 new franchised stores opened. Crucially, the performance of the existing network was improved too.
“Having been in business myself, I really had an appreciation of the challenges of the SME whilst appreciating the benefits of the corporate environment.”
D&A was to eventually merge with Boots Opticians; Dawson spending a further three years setting up the Boots franchise model, managing the transition from D&A to Boots and opening new branches.
Later joining Guinot, Dawson was then tasked with developing a franchise for the UK market.
“It was really exciting to take an iconic brand and convert this to a high street offering through franchising. By the end of 2012 the franchise model was defined, the pilot was doing well, and the inaugural franchise launched in Darlington,” Dawson says.
After Guinot Dawson moved to Centrica (British Gas) who own the Dyno brand. They asked him to lead a new Franchise Development team and be part of the Dyno Senior Leadership Team to develop a strategy to modernise the Dyno franchise model and set up Dyno as an industry leading franchise.
This led to a completely new commercial structure that was rolled out across the franchise network - an initiative culminating in winning the BFA award for innovation.
Next up was easyStorage - Dawson being approached by easyStorage founder and CEO, Tim Slesinger in 2018 to see if he was interested in helping easyStorage launch a new franchise in the UK.
Slesinger had a long history of building successful storage businesses in Eastern Europe. But as Dawson puts it:” He knew he wanted to be in storage but just needed to do something differently.
“He quickly identified that the UK market was one tenth the size of the US market and this was down to price (UK was so expensive) and access to sites (convenience).”
The business proposition was a simple enough one; if people had to move (in some cases) to the top floor of a facility and pay in excess of £360 per month (London average at the time) then clearly this wasn’t appealing.
Instead, so the theory went, if the price could be halved and the service made more convenient (focus on the customer’s needs) this would attract new customers, as well as appeal to the existing market.
The only obvious problem had been coming up with a suitable name, an issue subsequently solved after Slesinger met up with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou - the serial entrepreneur famously behind the ‘easy’ brand - at a Prince’s Trust event in 2017.
Sir Stelios was 'excited' by the easyStorage concept and in May 2017, Slesinger signed a worldwide deal to operate under the easyStorage brand.
Slesinger wasn’t done though. easyStorage had to become a national brand quickly so he began exploring franchising as a way of achieving this objective, which is where Dawson comes in.
“I was approached by Tim as my name had come up from several people as the go-to person for helping launch franchising in the UK.
Though initially earmarked to be a non-exec director Dawson realised there was a lot more to the project than initially met the eye.
“I was so excited by Tim’s vision and the easyStorage concept and really wanted to be more involved than just in an advisory capacity. Tim invited me to join him as a Co-Founder and there was no looking back.
Never one for shirking a challenge it was an opportunity to good to miss by Dawson’s reckoning.
And for good reason. As he puts it: “In the last two years we have developed and launched the easyStorage franchise and today have a large proportion of the UK covered with 16 franchisee territories now live and a strong pipeline of openings. In 2021 we start our international rollout.”
Unlike traditional self-storage, easyStorage brings easyPods to customers’ doors, where they are loaded and transported to an easyStorage secure storage facility.
Utilising custom build trucks to take up to three storage rooms at a time to a customer’s address, the loading is done for the customer, so they don’t need to lift heavy furniture.
The rooms (Pods) are then sealed with special security seals and taken to a local storage warehouse. Customers can access their items by booking an access slot at the warehouse.
When they are ready for their items to be returned this can be done by booking a free return to their address. If they’ve moved that’s not a problem, easyStorage can return to anywhere in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, easyStorage is a business with technology at its heart, given investment in state-of-the-art technology providing customer access to all their information online, bookings, return and visits, as well as their account history.
“Prices are kept low,” says Dawson “by adopting a modular storage system in warehouses, rather than glamorous buildings in expensive locations where the space can be used efficiently without the need for lots of corridors etc.”
“Efficiency is key to all aspects of the business,” he adds; from the custom-built trucks and how the logistics are planned, to the bespoke technology that manages the business, customer bookings and logistics management.
“We are always looking at how we can adopt the latest technology to improve our customer offering. For example, electric vehicles are high on our list of priorities right now and investing in warehousing for the future,” he further notes.
From the would-be franchisee’s perspective, franchisees are awarded specific territories with a minimum of 600,000 dwellings.
They manage their own businesses, with easyStorage’s technology, support and ‘system’ ensuring a consistent experience for the customer.
“The key is business management - it would be easy to assume that this is a ‘man with a van’ type franchise, but it is far from it,” Dawson points out. And while some franchisees enjoy getting hands on, the franchise is based on good management skills and a focus on business development.
That means being able to not only manage staff, but also the ‘back office’ functions, such as accounts and property management; and whilst some franchisees may prefer to, they don’t not need to have a property for storage to start out with. This is one of the many things that easyStorage helps with.
To become a franchisee the first step is register for one of the company’s Discovery Days. This will allow them to discover the inner workings of the franchise. Investments and financial returns are also discussed, as well as both sides’ expectations regarding the franchise.
Would be franchisees sufficiently interested are then invited to a 1-2-1 meeting where opportunities are available to ask further questions.
“From this point there is a journey of disclosure, territory reviews, business planning and financing,” says Dawson.
Franchisees are invited to go out on jobs and meet other franchisees - the process concluding with the candidate submitting their business plan to an easyStorage panel. Assuming approval is granted, candidates then progress into the opening programme, which includes comprehensive training.
Typically, easyStorage is looking for someone who is business savvy, commercially aware and recognises the added value of the easy brand and way of doing things, according to Dawson.
Background is no impediment to being a successful franchisee either. Indeed, different franchisees may have different ideas regarding how they go about things. But that’s not a problem so long as easyStorage processes and guidelines are followed.
What is of crucial importance though is long-term commitment to the project. As Dawson states:” This is about building a sustainable and scalable business, and this takes time and commitment.
“This is not a part time business and we certainly don’t want people who just want a nice business card.”
For franchisees easyStorage provides a full package of support from its team of Franchise Support Managers; offering advice on everything through start-up, growth and future development.
Training covers set-up and resourcing, through to customer service, sales and marketing.
Induction and training is held at easyStorage’s London HQ where franchisees become acquainted with the smart technology enabling them to manage their business. New franchisees will also go out on collections to experience first-hand how easyStorage works with customers.
Training is both free, is repeatable and is available to both the franchisee principal and their team.
“We also ensure our franchisees have all the tools they need to succeed, “says Dawson.
“For instance, franchisees have access to preferential terms with suppliers of our specially built vans, uniforms, easyPods, packing materials and other equipment,” he adds.
The company also visits franchisees to help set everything up, including staffing, IT and storage.
On an ongoing basis, meanwhile, a team handles all digital marketing for franchisees. This is included as part of the franchise - franchisees simply pay for their digital spend.
In the meantime, the sales desk manages all inbound sales traffic for franchisees with experienced call agents manning the desk processing bookings, providing quotes and following up all enquiries.
“Our Partnership Manager is responsible for onboarding national accounts and schemes to support franchisees and we provide full local marketing support with campaigns, collateral and mentoring,” notes Dawson.
There is also support for HR and Finance available through the Franchise Intranet, he adds.
From a costings standpoint prospective franchisees are expected to have a minimum £50,000 in unencumbered funds available.
A typical investment will include a Franchise fee (£18,500 for a 10-year term); Equipment/business set-up: £2,000 - £4,000; Vehicle deposit: £5,000, marketing pre-payment £5,000; Legal and accountancy: £1,500 - £3,500; and Business planning: £950.
Unsurprisingly, easyStorage’s core values, principles and business objectives mirror those of the easy brands more generally; such as ‘More value for less’, ‘taking on the big boys’, ‘keeping it simple’ and being ‘honest, open, caring and fun’. Empathy, trust, fairness, efficiency and one team are also stressed.
“Our values are very important to us and are tested daily in every way we work. This includes how we treat our customers, staff and colleagues (inc. franchisees), how we conduct our business and is embedded in our decision/strategy making process,” says Dawson.
“Franchisees are expected to share these values and adhere to them,” he adds.
Because its proposition is different, however, easyStorage sees its business model as taking a ‘disruptive’ approach to traditional self-storage though. Despite this, anybody who provides storage is in some way a competitor, according to Dawson.
“There are some big names that people may know such as Big Yellow, however the Self-Storage Association annual report shows clearly that the majority of people cannot name a self-storage brand. This gives us a perfect opportunity to occupy this space,” argues Dawson.
In short, easyStorage is positioned between removal companies and self-storage, but there is no brand that brings this together like easyStorage, according to Dawson.
From a personal perspective Dawson would describe himself as “someone who gets things done”.
“You can’t do something like this without being an “ideas man” - the skill is picking the good ones! Which incidentally, most aren’t.”
Though open to new ideas Dawson is quick to point out that ‘leadership isn’t a democracy’
“For me leadership is about inspiring people to share the same passion as you. We have built a great team at easyStorage and that’s because we have shared our vision and look for people who really get excited about this. Working here is not “just a job”.
Yet in a franchising context leadership can still be challenging. “It’s about influencing people not telling them.”
But: “We have adopted a very open culture, we will share everything we can; there are no secrets. Performance is in the open, that’s ours as much as our franchisees, and we have regular forums to discuss issues, listen and take the business forward as “one team”, says Dawson.
Like many other companies around the UK though easyStorage had to pause operations during lockdown as COVID-19 tightened its grip; yet given the storage business model - where revenue is like a subscription - money kept coming in even when the doors were closed.
Since lockdown was eased in June the company has reported a 25% increase in enquiries, a consequence of people at home taking stock regarding creating space for home offices, for example. Or simply wanting a more general clear-out.
And, because of easyStorage’s service of collection and delivery, it has allowed people to store their items without needing to leave home and making unnecessary trips. With the caveat that drivers have been trained in social distancing measures, of course.
On the downside, new openings have seen some delays, according to Dawson, though the underlying outlook remains strong with many new franchises launching in 2020 and a healthy pipeline in place for 2021.
Breaking the numbers down easyStorage - now entering its third year - has 25 sites around the UK and has performed well against its plan, with franchisees in many cases, significantly over performing their business plan, according to Dawson.
The company is looking to establish 44 franchises in the UK by Q2 2022, which will mean full national coverage. Plans are also afoot to take the franchise model internationally next year, starting with Europe, followed by the US.
Against this backdrop consumer data provider Statista estimates that by 2024, the global self-storage market will be worth US $49.24bn, up from $37.33bn in 2018. Taking into account U.S. domination of this market, which accounts 90% of self-storage inventory worldwide, it’s a graphic measure of how underexploited geographical markets have been elsewhere.
Dawson is upbeat arguing that with a looming recession, and people downsizing or combining households for numerous reasons, there is every reason to believe the UK self-storage market will continue to grow.
Notable has been the resilience (given COVID-19) of the self-storage sector in general, according to a Cushman & Wakefield report in May 2020.
While there is no single reason for this factors in play have included movements in the housing market as people downsize; or alternatively, householders carrying out home improvement projects rather than moving. Indeed, around 45% of people use self-storage simply because they lack space, according to Dawson.
With annual turnover for the UK industry hitting £766m in 2019 and with the saturated US self-storage market remaining buoyant, Dawson is convinced the UK, which accounts for around 41% of European self-storage income, still has significant traction because the concept of self-storage is an established one.
Mobile storage, like easyStorage, is a relatively new concept though; but its simplicity and pricing “will take self-storage to a new market looking for more affordable options,” says Dawson.
“As the concepts of both mobile storage and end to end online booking gather popularity with consumers, along with the additional price benefit attraction, and topped off with a brand that they trust, there is every reason to believe that easyStorage will make a huge dent in the traditional storage market, and help bring it to a wider audience,” says Dawson.
Dawson is unlikely to be proven wrong.