Jumping on his brother’s self-storage idea gave Rizal Shah Amat an opportunity to build and grow a business that was new to the market.
RIZAL Shah Amat describes himself as a hoarder.
“I have camping equipment. I love anything that has wheels; skateboards, I got bicycles, bicycles that fold, rollerblades. I’ve got tons of outdoor bags. I’ve got all that lah,” he admits.
And those are the kinds of things that are best kept out of the house, which works well for Rizal, who is one of the co-founders and chief executive officer of self-storage provider EZ Secure Storage (M) Sdn Bhd.
The 37-year-old is familiar with storage space. His father was involved with logistics and the family has relocated some 24 times, which would have required them to use self-storage solutions at some point.
However, the idea to set up a self-storage business here in Malaysia was orginally his brother’s.
“But I made it happen,” declares Rizal.
In 2013, when the brothers explored their self-storage venture, Rizal was already running another company, 360 Studio Worldwide, which is also an extension of his brother’s Los Angeles-based creative agency.
Self-storage was new in Malaysia. The other known player in the market then was Singapore-based Extra Space, which opened its doors here in 2012.
When his brother suggested the business idea, Rizal jumped at the opportunity to fill that gap in the local market.
“What interests me about this business was that it was a new thing and it is a business-to-consumer type of venture, which is more challenging than a business-to-business thing. I get to build a consumer brand,” he explains.
The brothers were fortunate enough to find a partner in Naza Group of Companies joint group executive chairman Datuk Wira SM Faisal SM Nasimuddin who povided the seed fund to kickstart EZ Secure. Faisal holds 80% of the company while the brothers hold the remaining 20%.
The company invested some RM5mil in a 13,000sq ft storage facility in Jalan Tandang, Petaling Jaya and Rizal was pumped at the prospects of the business.
“Of course, when you first start a business, you’re going to think that it’s the biggest thing in the world lah,” he adds.
But market awareness for such services was sorely lacking and enquiries trickled in about once or twice a week.
Some of his employees even had second thoughts about staying on.
He grew anxious as there was high expectations from the shareholders for the business to perform.
“It was an alien concept to the market. And we were new then. We didn’t know how to market this and we didn’t know where to optimise in the business,” he acknowledges.
Rizal eventually realised that establishing a self-storage business in Malaysia was not just about telling people where they can find some extra space.
“It’s not just about space but about changing people’s lifestyle. In places like Hong Kong and Singapore, space is a premium and that is the key driver for self-storage. But in developed countries like the US, it is not about space. It is a lifestyle choice. They just opt for self-storage,” he explains.
He invested more into creating awareness through online advertising and worked at educating the market on the need for self-storage.
Over time, his efforts bore fruits. Enquiries came in more frequently and take up rose above 70%.
The company even opened another facility in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, which offers 120 units of storage space equivalent to about 9,000sq ft of space. EZ Secure also took over a 13,000sq ft automotive storage facility in Langkawi early last year.
The self-storage scene has since seen a number of other players joining the fray. He welcomes the competition, noting that the more players there are, the more hands go into educating the market about self-storage.
One thing he observes is still lacking, though, is product innovation. After all, self-storage is not just about space. It is also about service.
EZ Secure recently launched the EZ Pocket Storage, among its other products, which enables customers to order a box, fill it up and have the box picked up for them for delivery to the storage space.
The company has grown and is expecting revenues of RM2.5mil this year.
“I think I’ve learnt so much from running this business that I can write a book now,” Rizal laughs.
And now that he’s got the mechanics of the business down pat, he is eyeing growth opportunities in the region.
He has already secured RM2.5mil of funding to open a facility in Jakarta this year.
This, he says, will be the first self-storage facility in the Indonesian city. He believes there is a market for such services there and is looking at a facility size of more that 30,000sq ft.
Next on his list is Manila, the Philippines.
But he is not about to lose his footing in the Malaysian market. Rizal notes that there has been increased demand for self-storage from locations such as Kajang, Cheras and Kepong and is looking to expand in the local market.
EZ Secure aims to open another 10 to 12 facilities within the next two to three years, but funding remains a major hurdle for the company’s expansion as self-storage facilities require high upfront cost.
“But we are entrepreneurs. We are used to challenges. All we can do is persevere. That’s what we do day-in and day-out,” he says.
However, he adds that banks are starting to warm up to self-storage companies such as EZ Secure and are more willing to take a calculated risk in financing such businesses.
Once the company has a stable of five or six facilities, Rizal hopes to court private equity firms.
EZ Secure may look into plans for an IPO once it hits 20 facilities.
Rizal thinks exponential growth is just around the corner once the market stabilises.
“This is a long-term business and it’s a cash-business. The clients are on auto-debit so it’s pretty awesome. You don’t need to chase for payment.
“Our journey so far has been really cool. I’m really enjoying it. And our staff are enjoying the fruits of their labour.
“Right now, we are focused on growth,” he says, his enthusiasm as strong as ever.