A SELF storage facility is not a place you'd expect to taste champagne with a wine exporter, talk about succulents with a plant supplier, and perhaps faintly hear drums in the distance.
That's the reality at Kennards Self Storage in Hunter Street, Newcastle, where sole traders are adapting their rented units to network and work.
Facility manager Mark Shepherd says the hub is starting to mirror the growth of mini warehouses in Sydney, where online sole traders and startups lower their overheads in one large space.
"It's not just, 'Put your stuff in, close the door and come back in six months', it's starting to change into something different ...it's borderline retail," he said.
Mark Richards once had a storage unit in the Hunter Street facility to shape his surfboards. Today it is used by businesses including wine importer/distributor Decante This, video production specialist and muso Kye Smith, Plant Life Newcastle, an orthotics company and kitchenware supplier. Each can access WIFI, a conference room and a reception.
Mr Smith, 30, first took his storage unit in 2016. Sound-proofing it, he initially used it for teaching drum lessons, recording clips for his popular You Tube channel and his freelance work as a session drummer for global clients.
He has transformed it as a studio for his videography work for corporates and weddings. He pays $100 a week and has 4G internet via a dongle. "You cross paths with people - there are a lot of bands and it's really interesting. There are orange doors and you don't know what's behind them," he says, adding he's seen surfboard shapers at work.
Mr Smith is a solitary character but if he feels like company, he jumps on the light rail to NUspace campus. [He lectures at the university].
He has toyed with moving but has no reason to leave: "If I was to take on anyone, it might make sense to have a second space here [at Kennards] rather than go to an office. Here you can expand as you go, you're not locked into a certain space."
When COVID-19 hit, Mr Smith taught drums via Zoom and while his videography work slowed, he continued his drum freelancing.
A short lift ride away, Leigh W Dryden is "chief wine officer" at his wine importing business Decante This.
Mr Dryden has been at Kennards for two years, recently expanding his space to include wine tasting facilities for wholesale customers. He previously used an inner-Sydney storage facility that housed many SMEs.
"When we came to Newcastle we looked at buying a warehouse but struggled," he says. "A lot more people are using storage facilities. It's moving from 'Let's throw in our stuff' to basing a business here." He pays around $1800 a month in rent for a 110-metre-square space, a sum he says he would pay weekly in a warehouse.
Plant Life Newcastle's Liz Saunders has rented a mini-warehouse in the Hunter Street facility since May to store her business wares, including rugs and baskets.
"I can pop in anytime if I need to pack an online order, or to pick up what I need for a styling job and the reception staff are fantastic," she said.
Another Newcastle storage facility manager said while the lockdown had slowed business movement, the past month had seen a spurt in activity.