Frederic de Ryckman de Betz tells Business Matters what inspired him to start the London-based self storage company
What do you currently do at Attic?
Attic Self Storage is an independent London based self-storage business. The first facility launched in Bow in 2008, and second one in late 2016 near King’s Cross.
We are currently in the process of converting a third site near Marylebone which will be open this spring. We aim to provide an outstanding customer experience and complete flexibility within a safe, secure and welcoming environment.
In addition, we were the first operator to offer a full online quotation, check-in and account management system in 2016 and the world-first to offer virtual reality in self-storage.
Every day is varied for me. Some days I’m coordinating with architects, other days I’m interviewing people for a new role or engaging with funders.
I’m now beginning to focus on the strategic aspects of the business, identifying potential roadblocks and opportunities whilst ensuring I am building the right environment for my team. I work closely with them to showcase my vision of the business and to let them know what’s expected of them.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I was looking for a good business opportunity, and had cause to use self-storage myself. When I researched the sector, I saw strong business fundamentals – high barriers to entry, strong profit margins, low marginal costs and an asset-backed, evergreen income stream.
My experience of using the service also really highlighted an industry in which customers were being poorly served. I believed then and still believe today that we could do a much better job of looking after our customers. And if you look after your customers, they will look after you too.
What’s interesting is that this inspiration translated into a daily experience of meeting people going through change in their lives, and seeing the impact you can have on them. It’s sometimes quite touching.
Who do you admire?
Elon Musk. The sheer power of his vision burns through all obstacles and challenges, and he has already changed humanity for ever. Decades of the Green movement weren’t able to bring about the mass production of electric vehicles, but he did it in a few short years and forced all the other car manufacturers to follow suit.
Some of his ideas are amazing and his ability to bring people along for the ride is awe inspiring. Warren Buffet for his amazing consistency, discipline and the simplicity of his tactics. And finally Nelson Mandela, not only for his amazing leadership through a very volatile period but for showing the best of humanity – our ability to change, to learn, to mature, to forgive and to focus on what really matters – the future.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back, there are many things I would have done differently. Who wouldn’t? I think the key is to really think about important decisions; reach out and speak to people. You don’t have to agree with them, you just need as many opinions on which to base your decision making as possible. If you’ve done your homework and really thought about it, there’s little to regret. Knowing what you know today, you might do things differently – but the real question is, knowing what you knew back then, did you make the right call?
What defines your way of doing business?
Add value and act ethically in everything you do. We aim to add value to all those we interact with, to send them away having gained something out of their interaction with us.
It could be a courier or delivery man who leaves having received a smile and picked up a sweet on his way out; it could be a supplier who enjoys working with us, feels it’s ok to make a profit and gets paid on time, every time; it could be our customers, who feel the commercial exchange was worthwhile, and just maybe they got something intangible out of it too, or it could be our shareholders, who get to make money confident in the knowledge that’s happened ethically.
We do all this by living our values, hiring & promoting the right people, and putting culture at the top of the list of our business objectives. Culture in an organisation drives everything, and it starts at the top.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
It’s going to be tough, be prepared for that. And you will often feel alone. But you really don’t need to take everything on yourself; surround yourself with good people, and build trust in your team. In order to do that, you’re going to have to empower people and allow them to make mistakes.
Allow that to happen; don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should be doing everything because you can do it better than everyone else.
The truth is you can’t leverage yourself unless you allow other people to come in and help you, and no, they won’t be a clone of you – and you know what, that’s a good thing. They might just bring something to the table you’re missing.