Unclutter your home by doing some 'life laundry'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world despite its low birth rate and land reclamation.

With 6.3 people per square metre of land, high-rise living is imperative. But even here space is limited.

Apartment sizes average 600 sqft, often with large families squeezed in together.

Add to this Hongkongers desire to shop and with space so scarce and flats so small where do they put everything?

While many local households struggle with storage space, their counterparts in Europe, Australia and the United States, have long learnt to store excess goods away from home.

In the past decade several local entrepreneurs have introduced these storage solutions to Hong Kong, and now the local storage sector has between 70 and 80 players.

Typically, each storage business uses one or several warehouse facilities, ranging from 10,000 to 150,000 cubic sqft of space.

Storage facilities are carefully controlled environments fitted with air-conditioning, dehumidifiers, security systems and even ozone generators to prohibit the growth of bacteria. They keep stored goods in prime condition.

Clients can choose from a range of storage options, for which they are charged a monthly fee.

Selfstorasia offers storage space for residential clients who live in small flats.

'In a country where property and land are so expensive, people don't want to misuse valuable living and working space,' Selfstorasia managing director Matt Burden said.

'But the reason for needing storage is not always to do with the cost of space. Getting the clutter out of the house is a cleansing experience for people, like a kind of 'life laundry',' Mr Burden said. Residential clients typically store the things that they no longer need, such as seasonal clothes, old paperwork, books, toys that children have outgrown, ball gowns, furniture and bits of memorabilia.

While commercial sector storage has been around for many years the residential arm is only a decade old and has seen a steady growth, with huge potential for more.

Bobby Chung Lap-kee, president of Hong Kong Storage, said: 'More than 60 per cent of our clients are residential and 30 per cent are commercial businesses.'

The company is one of the largest operators in the field and has 150,000 sqft of storage facilities across Hong Kong.

The company, like many of its competitors, offers a wide range of storage options from a small box, to an upright cabinet or even an entire room (called a unit).

'We always ask customers what they want to store so that we can advise them on the best way possible,' Mr Chung said.

For some that might mean a box that everything is thrown into, for others it might be a unit that they can walk into, feel comfortable in and organise themselves.

Self storage allows clients to visit whenever they like, whereas full management storage prohibits them from visiting without a prearranged appointment.

The choice for storage is as personal as the belongings being stored.

Commercial clients tend to want to store their goods and have somebody else manage them.

For these clients, storage companies are expected to deal with import and export matters, receive stock from the manufacturers, create inventories, perform quality control checks and deliver stock onwards as necessary.

Mr Burden said: 'Our commercial customers often require a lot more time and handling. Often the success of their business depends on our efficiency.'

Selfstorasia and Hong Kong Storage employ a variety of staff to deliver value-added services to their clients.

These services include the physical movement of goods - packing and transport - as well as advice on the best storage options available.

Staff may have to turn down storage of certain items or advise customers on the best way to prepare their goods for storage.

If clients re-evaluate their stored goods and decide that they no longer need them, then shredding, disposal and charity donation services are also provided.

Mr Chung said: 'These value-added services are critical to success and, as the business expands, people with the skills to deliver them will be in great demand.

'It's all about space planning - large rooms to small rooms, income, expenses and projections. If people have good project management experience they are going to be very useful in the coming five years.'

One of the biggest challenges faced by the storage industry is the lack of convenient warehouse locations.

Clients want 'easy access storage' but this is increasingly hard to find. Over the past few years many of the industrial sites on Hong Kong Island have been redeveloped for the commercial sector.


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