Retail properties

Hong Kong mini-storage provider RedBox fireproofs its facilities to comply with stringent regulations

Fire Services Department introduced new rules to improve safety at mini-storage facilities following the Ngau Tau Kok fire in June 2016

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 10:10am

After a deadly blaze ripped through a mini-storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok in June 2016, one provider has implemented stringent fire safety measures at its units in a bid to restore customers’ faith in the industry. 

According to Simon Tyrrell, chief executive of RedBox Storage, the company has been trialling new, regulator-approved innovations in fireproofing at its storage facilities in Sha Tin and Chai Wan, which he hopes can eventually be rolled out at other suppliers across the city.

Among these is the fire box, which is a firewall made of heavy-duty steel doors that can slow down the spread of fire, and bi-folding doors which leave more space for exit routes in the corridors. 

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Stricter regulations for self-storage providers introduced by the Fire Services Department in 2017 require a gap of 2.4 metres between storage islands, and at least 1.05 metre for corridor exit routes.

“That’s a revolutionary concept for the industry going forward, because it allows space to still be very efficient, and provides a very safe environment for goods to be stored,” said Tyrrell. 

Demand for mini-storage units has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades, as Hong Kong flats have become increasingly unaffordable while their square footage has drastically shrank. 

After the Ngau Tau Kok fire, which left two firefighters dead, several self-storage suppliers were forced to shut down since they could not afford to refurbish their facilities to comply with the new FSD regulations, according to RedBox’s chief operations officer Oliver Leung. 

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“We’ve already lost 25 per cent of the industry, give or take, but it’s providing an important service for the Hong Kong community,” said Tyrrell. “So now the question is: how can we reconfigure existing spaces [to make them more fireproof] and build it into a sustainable model?”

Tyrrell sees no sign of the mini-storage industry dying out in Hong Kong anytime soon.

He acknowledges the additional costs that come with refurbishing existing spaces, “but with the underlying ownership, or an understanding landlord, one can amortise these costs over the long term to lessen their impact on the end user.”

RedBox currently charges from HK$500 (US$64) per month for a 3x3x4 foot storage unit at its Sha Tin site. 

Hong Kong has a relatively well-developed storage market, with around 2.8 million square feet of available space – higher than in Japan or Singapore. But it still lags behind the West in terms of storage space per capita, at 0.65 sq ft compared to 8 sq ft in the US and 2 sq ft in Australia. 

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In future, Tyrrell plans to expand RedBox’s two current sites into seven or eight properties in key districts across the city.

InfraRed NF, a Hong Kong-based private equity firm specialising in Greater China real estate, recently invested US$50 million in the company.

“The self-storage industry in Hong Kong has been very fragmented, with small units in large industrial buildings. We want to have more of a presence in the community,” said Tyrrell.  “This is a clean, safe use for obsolete manufacturing facilities and it breathes new life into these buildings.”