Mr Razali is an avid Starwars fan and has collected more than 2000 Star Wars toys (L). Leslie Lee, 54 and his golf clubs he stores in the storage space at Bukit Batok (R). 

Rising affluence and shrinking living spaces have led to more people keeping their belongings in storage.

Technician Muhammad Razali, 42, used to store his toy collection – more than 2,000 Star Wars and other action figurines in boxes – in the bedroom of the HDB executive flat he shares with his wife.

He recalls with a laugh: "They were in boxes on top of the wardrobe, under the bed and in a corner, stacked from floor to ceiling.

"My wife did not complain," he adds. "But after a while, there were just too many toys and I thought maybe I should sell some."

Fortunately, he heard about self-storage facilities from a friend.

In 2011, he rented a 30 sqf unit at Extra Space Self Storage in Eunos Link and moved 80 per cent of his toys there. Rental cost him about $100 a month.

He says: "My wife was happy and our bedroom was tidier."

Two years ago, he swopped it for a bigger storage unit. His wife wanted to store her clothes as well as their two children's clothes and toys. He pays about $270 a month rent for a 70 sqf unit and thinks it is worth it.

Thanks to people like Mr Razali, the local self-storage industry has grown rapidly in the past decade. According to real estate consultancy firm Colliers International, Singapore has 47 self-storage facilities – up from a single facility in 2003. At least 26,000 self-storage units are available in these storage hubs.

Four major players dominate: Extra Space, Lock+Store, StorHub and Store Friendly. Together, they account for 32 of the total self-storage facilities and supply about 83 per cent of the total number of self-storage units islandwide.

All say their businesses have grown over the years. And to meet the demand, they have expanded their facilities.

StorHub, which introduced the self-storage concept to Singapore in 2003, started with a single self-storage facility in Kallang. It now has 11 self-storage facilities islandwide and more than 10,000 storage units.

Extra Space Self Storage, which started in 2007 and occupies the entire fourth floor, about 63,000 sq ft in all, in IMM building, now has five facilities in Singapore and more than 6,700 storage units.

Colliers International's director of research and advisory Chia Siew Chuin attributes the growing demand to shrinking apartment sizes and rising affluence.

As people's disposable incomes go up, they are able to afford and more likely to buy stuff such as clothes, shoes, household items and collectibles, and then run out of space to store them.

Other factors, says Ms Chia, include higher consumer awareness of affordable self-storage as a viable option and the growth of small-scale e-commerce retailers who rely on self-storage hubs rather than warehouses.

Lock+Store, part of the SingPost group, entered the market in 2009. Its chief executive officer Helen Ng notes that the number of e-commerce storers increased by about 10 per cent last year.

With the competition heating up, self-storage companies are trying various means to keep ahead.

Newer players such as Vault Dragon, which was founded in May 2013 by two business graduates from the National University of Singapore, provides "valet storage", for example.

The service saves customers a trip down to the self-storage space to deposit their belongings. Vault Dragon delivers empty boxes – made of industrial-grade water- resistant material – to the doorsteps of customers and then picks them up within a week.

Each box, which can hold 25 pairs of shoes, costs $13.50 a month to rent. They are stored in units that Vault Dragon rents from seven self-storage facilities in the central and eastern parts of Singapore.

When required, Vault Dragon delivers the boxes back to the customers for a nominal fee within the next working day. The first box costs $19.50 and subsequent boxes $1 each. Customers can view their inventory online.

Co-founder Tseng Ching Tse, 28, sees his business as complementing rather than competing with traditional self-storage companies.

He says: "We cater to those with smaller storage needs as well as those who do not have the means to transport the items themselves, maybe because they have no car or no time."

Vault Dragon now has more than 400 users, with about 2,000 boxes in storage. It has 10 full-time staff and two part-timers.

Another company, Spaceship, also began offering valet storage in January this year.

Founded by Singaporean Zhi Wei Yeo, 30, a former venture capitalist, Spaceship offers "wardrobe boxes" and "file boxes", in addition to standard boxes.

Wardrobe boxes, measuring about a metre high, allow customers to hang their suits or dresses inside and cost $18 a month. File boxes, each of which can fit 10 ring files, cost $6 a month. Standard boxes, which can hold about 100 A4-sized texts, costs $12 a month. Spaceship also stores miscellaneous items such as bicycles that weigh less than 25kg each and can be carried by one person from $12 a month.

It charges $20 for box retrieval.

Meanwhile, older self-storage companies have carved out their own niches.

Extra Space Self Storage was among the first to offer wine storage in a self-storage facility and remain the largest wine self-storage operator here, with 672 storage units in three facilities.

Wine is stored at 13 deg C and the space has controlled humidity. The monthly rent for a case, which can hold 12 wine bottles, is $4.20.

The company also has a wine-tasting room where customers can host wine- tasting events for free.

Lock+Store offers a one-stop "store, pack and deliver" service at all its four facilities, targeted largely at businesses, especially e-retailers. Storers can buy packaging materials such as boxes, as well as postage stamps and SingPost's SmartPac and Speedpost delivery services. They can also drop off boxes at Lock+Store counters, which will then be despatched for a fee.

Meanwhile, Store Friendly, a major chain from Hong Kong that came here in 2011, markets itself as the 7-Eleven of self- storage here. It has "more branches than anyone", says founder Jes Johansen.

The franchise has 12 branches and more than 2,500 storage units near residential areas such as Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Batok.

Home-grown company EBC Self Storage, on the other hand, markets itself as a lifestyle hub. The six-year-old company has more than 800 self-storage units. It also houses service offices, a childcare centre, a boutique grocery store and a clubhouse in its five-storey building in a light industrial area along Upper Thomson Road.

The facilities at EBC have made it "very easy" for Mr Wilson Kim, 43, to run his small import-and-export business in mineral water and health supplements.

He started renting a service office on the fifth floor of EBC in 2011, about a 20-minute drive from his home in Serangoon. As his business expanded, he also rented a 45 to 50 sq ft storage unit for his products.

EBC self-storage rental costs about $35 a month for a 10 sq ft locker space to about $280 a month for a 130 sq ft space.

Mr Kim uses the clubhouse, free of charge, on the fifth floor to entertain his friends and customers. And when he needs wine and finger food for his visitors, he just pops by the grocery store on Basement 1.

Then there are those who just need somewhere to park their extra belongings.

Ms Irene Chan, a risk manager in her late 30s, and her husband, who is in banking, started storing more than 100 pieces of art in a Lock+Store unit in Serangoon North in June last year.

The facility is a 10-minute drive from their five-room HDB flat in Serangoon. They store about 80 per cent of their collection in the facility and the rest at home.

"We used to put them in a spare bedroom, but it was starting to look like a storeroom," says Ms Chan. "We also wanted to keep the artwork in a 24-hour air-conditioned facility. "

The 71 sq ft air-conditioned unit, about the size of one HDB bedroom, costs about $540 a month to rent.

Similarly, Mr Leslie Lee has been storing his extra golf clubs at a Store Friendly branch in Bukit Batok since 2012. The branch is about seven minutes' drive from his Bukit Timah condominium.

Mr Lee, 54, a director of a cleaning company, says he paid about $1,900 for a year's rental of a 26 sq ft air-conditioned unit to store his clubs as well as toy figurines and clothes.

"My storeroom is full, so is my wardrobe," he says. "I had to put some clothes in my daughter's and son's cupboards."

(First published in The Straits Times)