When he converted an old pole barn into a building for subcontractors to store their equipment in 1990, Jim Bishop took his first unexpected step into the world of self-storage. Nine years later, Cardinal Self Storage of Grayslake, Ill., opened its doors on his five-acre lot. The facility's name is a wordplay on the ranks of the Catholic church. A Cardinal under a Bishop? A barn into self-storage? Whoever heard of such a thing?
"I originally bought the land as an investment and had no idea what I was going to do with it," says Bishop. But as a small contractor, he had several subcontractors who needed space to store their trucks and equipment. The 5,000-square-foot pole barn was originally converted into Contractor's Storage.
"I had a little one-line ad in the Yellow Pages, but people were constantly calling us for public storage," Bishop explains. Even as construction equipment filled his yard, people in the nearby community were asking him for space to store personal items. "There are always those surprise situations like a death, divorce or inheritance that leaves people with goods they just don't have any room for," says Bishop's fiancé, Kim Klammer. The idea for a complete self-storage facility was born; but the road from inspiration to initiation was a long one with some major trials.
Raising the Roof
Bishop did his homework, attending self-storage tradeshows and seminars. Surprisingly, there was a precedence for working in self-storage in Bishop's family. He sought advice from his uncle, who was one of the pioneers of the industry in Panama City, Fla., and owns more than 400 units.
Bishop knew his facility's location was ideal--next to the College of Lake County, minutes away from the tollway and in the heart of Grayslake's shopping district. And the village, as locals refer to Grayslake, is only a few miles from the port-town of Waukegan and Lake Michigan.
The road to completion began with overcoming zoning hurdles. The county had changed its zoning from agriculture to suburban, which created more restrictions and requirements for development. Because the college, adjacent to Bishop's property, was able to annex to Grayslake, Bishop petitioned to do the same with a general business zoning. Additional zoning changes then forced him to petition for a special-use permit suitable for public storage. The plan review started, and after six years of battling and giving up some right of way, the facility was finally approved. It was then time to obtain financing to get the project started.
"After a feasibility study, various environmental audits, appraisals and some point money, Jim was able to begin the process of building Cardinal Self Storage," says Klammer. As a general contractor and carpenter, Bishop had developed small subdivisions, two townhouse complexes, greenhouses and individual homes. "Being in the trade and having the site- development experience, it was a cake walk," he says. He took two years off from his contracting business and built a 40,000-square-foot self-storage facility with about 50 boat-parking spaces.
Cardinal Self Storage opened for business in June 1999. The facility has 48 climate-controlled and 200 standard units. It is comprised of four buildings, each 150 feet long by 65 feet wide and ranging in height from 9 to 20 feet. Units range from 5-by-5 up to 30-by-70, and the largest units contain a bathroom. Klammer reports occupancy rates run consistently between 85 percent and 95 percent.
Currently, marketing is done through a listing in the Yellow Pages, and ads in local consumer guides, sports-event brochures or seasonal brochures put out by the village. Klammer and Bishop live on the grounds. "If a customer has a problem with the gate at 8:30 at night, we're right there to help them," Bishop says. During the day, Klammer is assisted by Bob Blasius, a retired postal worker.
"Kim and I pretty much work together on this," says Bishop. "We consider ourselves a ma-and-pa operation, and we like this industry a lot." Klammer concurs, "We have met a lot of wonderful people in the couple of years that we've had public storage available."