Upscale in Tulsa

Elaine M. Foxwell Comments
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When asked by one of her customers why she doesn't retire, Nell Booher replied, "I am retired--I just get paid for it." She and her husband, Don, are the managers of South Tulsa Self Storage, a facility introducing a new concept to the industry in Tulsa, Okla.

Can you call it a mini-mall that also accommodates offices and storage? Or perhaps a self-storage facility with boutique shopping? And what about the coffeehouse that is part of the retail space? All these components are found in the new complex.

In February 1999, facility owners Rick and Karen Dodson and Danny and Paula Brumble entered the self-storage business. Home builders by trade, these visionaries selected a site that, at the time, was outside the hub of the city. In less than two years, however, it has been quickly surrounded by an upscale neighborhood. In response, they designed an elegant facility to complement its affluent neighborhood.

South Tulsa Self Storage opened its doors in April 1999 and was 100 percent full 14 months later, says Nell. The climate-controlled section was completed in October 2000, and an addition was finished in September 2001. Occupying a footprint of 56,150 square feet, the facility is in the heart of Tulsa's upscale South Side community. Its steel frame with attractive stucco exterior and clay-tile roofing resemble a fashionable condominium complex.

The South Tulsa structure includes eight retail spaces, six commercial offices, 189 climate-controlled and 298 standard units. The retail spaces are attached to the front of the climate-controlled building. Theses spaces, with amenities such as wooden floors, are occupied by an insurance company, beauty salon, hardwood-floor distributor, children's store, accessory business and a coffeehouse called Ounce By Ounce.

Situated on one of the busiest intersections in Tulsa, the facility has gate access seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. "We feel, for security reasons, these hours should be sufficient for our tenants," says Don. "But there are always exceptions, and we will work with the customer." In addition to customized hours for clients, freight deliveries are also accepted.

Ancillary products include boxes, packing supplies, sealing tape, padding, furniture covers, bubble wrap, pallets and locks. Customers can also purchase storage insurance. Security is maintained through the controlled access gate and CCTV monitors that record activities at several locations on the property. The facility is also a nonsmoking environment.

Primary marketing for the facility in past years was through the Yellow Pages; however, this year Nell has opted to discontinue their ad because they are so often full. The excellent location and word-of-mouth contribute to the more than 80 percent occupancy. But Nell maintains it is having a good attitude toward customers that keeps them coming back. "There isn't one of my customers I wouldn't ask over for dinner," she says.

Serving People

"The customers pay your bills," says Nell. "Driving up to a beautiful, clean, well-maintained structure is important, but the most essential thing in this business is how these customers are handled after entering." She maintains that not one person has ever said they were happy to be moving and needing to store their things. There are always problems--death, divorce, transfer, parents placed in assisted-living facilities. "You have to listen, console and give them the service needed to meet their individual needs," she says.

The Boohers bring lifetime careers in the service industry to their new profession. After graduating from Oklahoma A&M, Don went into sales and held regional and national positions in the apparel business for 20 years. "With this business here, you've got to sell," Nell says. "And that's something Don is very good at." Nell worked in a large oil company handling thousands of details in a high-stress position. "I could feel the pressure," Nell says. "Seems like each day someone would walk by and count my gray hairs," she jokes. They retired, but neither was ready for the sedate life. Then a friend in the self-storage business suggested it might be a good fit for them.

The first owners for whom they worked, Rick and Rudy Jones, hired them to open a new facility in Allen, Texas. The Boohers will be forever indebted for that start. "We started at the top and I just pray we stay there," says Nell.

When Brumble and Dodson decided to go into self-storage, they spoke with the Boohers, who wanted to move back to Oklahoma to be near their children, about managing their new facility. The owners realized quality of life is an important element in their managers' success. As an incentive, they gave a percentage of the business to the Boohers and stressed they wanted them to run it as if it were their own. In addition, a custom apartment was designed and constructed for the Boohers of which they are very proud. "The facility is beautiful and the amenities are wonderful," says Nell.

As for the division of duties, Nell takes care of the books and internal affairs and Don takes care of maintenance and external problems. "We make a great team," she says. "And we just love this business."

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