South Bradford Street Self Storage
By Jeff Sacks
When business gave Tom Paris lemons, he made lemonade. After running a successful, homegrown, wholesale hardware business since 1949, Paris "sold out" in 1988 and eventually transformed his old Paris-Dunlap Hardware building in Gainesville, Ga., into a modern, heated and cooled, self-storage facility.
With his two children gone to the urban reaches of Atlanta, leaving Paris without a family chain of succession, and the larger hardware outfits and mass merchants impacting his business at retail and consolidating the industry during the latter half of the 1980s, Paris read the writing on the wall and decided to have his landmark building make money for him.
"It was a very successful hardware business, so I decided to go out on a positive note and create a new business, rather than wait for the inevitable and be without options," says Paris.
Shortly after selling his hardware business, Paris rented out some spaces in his building. He quickly began to think of ways to make the building completely productive without having to go fully commercial, since commercial real estate is subject to all sorts of codes and regulations, many of which the old building wasn't suited to accommodate.
"Three or four years ago, I started doing some research about self-storage," says Paris. "I talked to DBCI in Douglasville, Ga., which makes partitioning for self-storage facilities, and I talked to some people at Universal Management Co. in Atlanta. That's how I got a feel for the business. One person mentioned climate control, so I looked into doing a conversion for the warehouse to climate-controlled storage."
The first phase of South Bradford St. Self-Storage opened in November 1997, complete with video surveillance, a keypad-entry system, climate control and more. As one of the newest and best-equipped sites in the Gainesville area, the initial success of South Bradford St. warranted some changes in the way it did business.
Paris worked with Universal in the early stages of development, but then recruited Kobie Giles, now manager/co-developer of South Bradford St., to solidify his plan. Giles, who has been in the self- storage industry since 1984, came to Paris with impeccable credentials and experience, and was hired on as a consultant in 1998.
"For five years I was with Sovran Self Storage, which is one of the big REITs," says Giles. "I was a district manager with them and then I was a district manager for Universal Management Co., which is a local management company for private owners. I've been very active in the Georgia Storage Owners Society, gone to a lot of seminars, read everything I could get my hands on to build my knowledge."
Giles, in turn, hired a good manager, got a strong marketing program started, and was hired full time to assist Paris with the future development of the facility.
The first phase of the vintage building's transformation involved turning the original hardware-store site into an 87-unit, climate-controlled, self-storage facility with units ranging in size from 5-by-5 to 10-by-20. In phase one, 9,000 square feet of the 65,000 square feet available in the solid brick and cement facility was converted into rentable self-storage space.
"There's maybe eight or 10 other self-storage facilities in Gainesville, but only one other has climate control, and not every unit there has it," says Giles. "The population of Gainesville is 25,000 to 30,000, but we're right next to Lake Lanier, which encompasses a large portion of Hull County. If you count the surrounding area's population that does business in Gainesville, you're talking of upwards of 100,000 people."
Each of the 87 units are self contained and individually locked, with lightweight aluminum doors for easy entry. Heavy-gauge wire mesh was used for the unit ceilings, allowing free flow of heated or cooled air, which is monitored twice daily to ensure proper humidity control. Whether storing artwork, fine furniture or out-of-season wardrobe items, the units are well-suited for protecting stored items. In addition, sprinkler systems throughout the building guard against fire damage, and two entry bays provide ample space for moving large items in or out of storage through the semi-truck dock or the street-side loading/staging area.
Access hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. "We are open to providing 24-hour access, but in this particular market the issue hasn't really come up. Until it does, we are just going to keep it like it is. If it becomes a good selling point, because the market is asking for it, we'd certainly make it available."
Paris and Giles plan to modify the entire complex into accessible self-storage units, which will involve two more phases of development. Phase two is in two parts, then there is likely to be a third phase.
"Phase two will involve developing and converting 17,000 square feet" says Giles. "It's going to take some extensive rewiring and renovation of the space to make it adaptable to the self-storage industry. We're at 65 percent occupancy for the phase-one units, and are just now getting started on the development of phase two."
Full restoration was expected to only take six to eight weeks, with the second phase planned to open earlier this year. The game plan for the next phase of development is to have all the rewiring and renovating done for phase three during phase two, and see how the phase two units rent before installing the actual units for the other phases. "The painting, heating and air will probably be done in phase two," says Giles, "but we probably wouldn't put up the actual units until we see how phase two rents out."
After additional information has been gathered, Paris and Giles can better judge what unit mixes they want to incorporate and calculate if they want to take on the challenge of converting into self-storage units an open-pit delivery area that was used for unloading semi-trucks during the days of hardware.
The two have already learned a lot from the first phase of the renovation. According to Giles' estimation, the unit mix wasn't quite what it should have been. "In phase one, we were really not too happy with the unit mix," says Giles. "There were too many small units. In phase two, we want to go with the larger units--which we are getting most of the calls about. We most likely won't have anything smaller than a 10-by-10 and are looking at 10-by-15s and larger up to 12-by-19s, 12-by-24s, 12-by-35s or 24-by-24s."
Paris and Giles will estimate their unit mix the same way everything else that has happened with South Bradford St. Self Storage: They will learn from experience and keep up with the latest information in the industry.