The Mid-Size Owners Group

Elaine M. Foxwell Comments
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Self-storage ownership generally comprises four broad categories: First are the large, publicly traded companies, and there are only five of these. Next are those companies with more than 10 facilities or 1 million square feet of rentable space. These are not publicly traded, but operate as real companies with management structures and regular business challenges. Below this group are the smaller, independent, "mom and pop" organizations with one to as many as 10 facilities. Finally, there are those myriad individuals who attend industry events with the intention of entering the self-storage business. Three of these four categories seem able to find suitable representation, education and networking opportunties. One, however, was left wanting.

"It was our feeling that Wall Street catered to the public companies, while the large tradeshows catered to the smaller operators based on their need to generate sufficient numbers of attendees," says Ken Nitzberg of Devon Self Storage LLC. "Those owners and operators with more than 1 million square feet but not publicly traded seemed to get lost in the noise." It was during the Inside Self-Storage Las Vegas Expo of February 2001 that Nitzberg and Hugh Horne of Storage Spot conceived the Mid-Size Owners Group (MSOG).

The principals of the mid-size firms had, for the most part, stopped going to the various tradeshows and conferences, as the majority of educational opportunities were targeted to smaller operators. The issues and needs facing mid-sized operators were not always addressed, Nitzberg explains. That perceived void was the driving force behind the formation of the MSOG.

A letter was mailed to potential members, inviting them to a meeting to be held in New Orleans in March 2001, the day prior to the Self Storage Association (SSA) spring conference. "From then on, the group has taken on a life of its own," Nitzberg says. The response to the invitation was overwhelming. More than 50 people attended the first meeting, including many members of the SSA board of directors. The level of sharing and openness was exceptional, Nitzberg reports. The enthusiasm was high and the desire to continue and expand the concept was strong.

Since that time, three more meetings have been held, with the most recent taking place this past February in Las Vegas, immediately preceding the Inside Self-Storage Expo. The next meeting is July 25 in Atlanta. "We initially decided to hold three meetings per year--one every February on the day before the annual ISS conference; a meeting in the summer, unrelated to any other trade meeting; and one in the fall on the day before the annual SSA conference."

MSOG recently agreed to come under the umbrella of the SSA as one of its charter forum groups. "This means we will still be MSOG, but we will have the ability to place our dues in their treasury, obtain liability coverage and, finally, get the recognition as an organization to reserve rooms and space for our meetings."

Twin Objectives

The MSOG has two objectives. First, group members wanted to join, whenever possible, to obtain economic advantages through the benefits of scale. This would include better pricing and efficiency in purchasing power or availability of products and services. MSOG is exploring the formation of a captive insurance company for the members' casualty and liability coverage, which has become more important after the events of Sept. 11. The organization has also explored group purchasing of supplies and Yellow Pages advertising.

The group's second objective is to provide an environment for sharing information, knowledge, experience and education at a level commensurate with the needs and business requirements of its members. "We have had speakers on how to use the Internet to market your product, lease space and collect rent, and employee benefits and employee leasing. We have also had a nationally known, management-side, labor attorney address the group on employee-labor laws," Nitzberg says.

But perhaps the most valuable activity at the group's meetings occurs when members break into smaller groups to discuss topics of mutual interest while sharing each firm's experience, practices, successes and failures. These informal groups allow a free-flowing exchange of ideas and information between peers. "We have learned we all do it differently while still doing it the same," Nitzberg concludes.

Currently, the group has 35 member firms representing 1,238 self-storage facilities and 77,940,000 rentable square feet. "We don't know how many other firms are out there, " Nitzberg says. Membership is open to any firm that owns or operates 10 or more self-storage facilities or 1 million square feet of rentable space. MSOG welcomes questions from any qualified owner or operator interested in joining or learning more about the group. For more information, contact Ken Nitzberg at 510.450.1300; e-mail knitzberg@devonselfstorage.com.

MSOG ELECTED OFFICERS
Chairman Ken Nitzberg, Devon Self-Storage LLC
Vice Chairman Hugh Horne, Storage Spot
Vice President, Education Cris Burnam, Storage Mart
Vice President, Meetings Marc Smith, Shader Bros. Corp.
Secretary Sue Haviland, Storage West
Treasurer Scott Harden, National Self Storage Management Inc.
MSOG EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
(Officers plus the following)
Steve Womack Stor-All Systems Inc.
Ed Olsen A-American Management Co. Inc.
Cheryl Yeager Innovative Marketing & Management Concepts
Brian Caster Caster Family Enterprises

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