Where do you run across interesting companies in which to invest? Maybe you read Forbes or BusinessWeek or Fortune. Maybe you subscribe to one or more of our investing newsletters, which sport pretty good track records. (Our Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter, for instance, was cited by industry watchdog Mark Hulbert as the best-performing newsletter of the past year, with its recommendations beating the market 45% vs. 23% for the 12-month period that ended in May.)

Me, I use all of the above. And then some. For example, I recently had my eyes opened to an intriguing industry thanks to none other than Mother Jones magazine. If you know your magazines, or your politics, you'll know Mother Jones is favored by those on the left, and it's usually much more interested in political issues than in promising stocks.

Still, it's where I found a fascinating two pages that offered statistics on how we're a nation of hoarders. Check out some of them:

  • "Since the 1970s, the average U.S. home has grown by 80%. Yet Americans face a 'storage crisis,' according to UCLA researchers."
  • "The self-storage industry is only 35 years old. It took 25 years for the first billion square feet of storage to be built. The second billion square feet was built in just 8 years."
  • "7 square feet of commercial storage space now exists for every American."
  • "1 in 11 households rents storage space -- 1 million more households than two years ago."

Are your investing glands starting to water? Mine were. This info made me look into the personal storage industry. Here's some of what I learned:

  • The biggest player is Public Storage (NYSE:PSA), which recently gobbled up competitor Shurgard. Another biggie is Sovran Storage (NYSE:SSS). Public Storage has gained an annual average of nearly 18% over the past decade, and 22% over the past five years. For Sovran, those numbers are, respectively, 15% and 16%. There seems to be a significant degree of consolidation going on in the industry. Another player is U-Store-It Trust (NYSE:YSI).
  • Those stocks I mentioned above are actually REITs, real estate investment trusts, which operate a little differently than common stocks. They pay out most of their earnings in dividends, for one thing.
  • A conceptually related industry, and one with which many of us Fools are more familiar, is information storage. A main player in that field is EMC (NYSE:EMC), which has gained an annual average of about 13% over the past decade and 22% over the past five years. Another electronic storage player is Western Digital (NYSE:WDC), down an annual average of 4% over the past decade but having averaged 43% annually over the past five years. If such companies interest you, read Rich Smith on EMC and Matt Koppenheffer on Western Digital.

What to do
Should you rush out and snap up shares of storage companies? Not yet. First, do more research (if you're so inclined) to learn which companies in the industry are the healthiest and have the most sustainable competitive advantages. Poke around for more information. I found some interesting thoughts and mixed opinion on Public Storage in our CAPS service, for example.

Meanwhile, if you're eager to discover some up-and-coming industries before most other folks do, consider taking advantage of a free trial of our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter, which zeroes in on very promising young and fast growers in such fields as biotechnology and nanotechnology. Rule Breaker investors are looking to make big bucks by taking on some extra risk, investing in companies that break molds.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.