WHEN BILL SWEETSER, PRESIDENT OF SWEETSER LTD., decided to enter the self-storage industry, he was up against a tough challenge--convincing the zoning commission his project would enhance the area. A licensed general contractor, he knows the commission of Fayetteville, Ark., is reluctant to approve zoning changes that allow commercial enterprises, such as self-storage, into residential communities.
"In our community, in the past, the planning commission was not very receptive to self-storage. So the zoning was the key," Sweetser says. But fate smiled on him. Not only did he find a piece of property with the right zoning, it is happily situated on a main road with high visibility in the center of town. The 10-acre site, bought at auction, was previously owned by the county to store road-maintenance vehicles.
With property secured and zoning assured, Sweetser was able to build his facility in seven months. Arkansas Self-Storage LLC is comprised of 18 buildings totaling 155,000 square feet. The site offers 800 units, plus a small area for outdoor storage. Currently, the facility has 100 climate-controlled units, but as Sweetser points out, he didn't build nearly enough and plans on upgrading some of the other buildings soon.
Each storage building is constructed of metal with a standing-seam roof. The two-story combination office and living facility is all brick. The aesthetics of the site sets Arkansas Self-Storage apart from its competitor, Sweetser says. Mindful of the marketing power of excellent curb appeal, he incorporated extensive landscaping, wrought-iron fencing and a lift gate supported by pillars of native rock.
"We wanted this facility to appeal to the mother in the minivan, to feel safe to women any time of the day or night," he says. The elements of safety and an upscale image not seen previously in Fayetteville appear to be working. Arkansas Self-Storage opened at the end of August and was already 37 percent occupied two months later.
Danny and Carla Butler are the full-time managers. Their day-to-day responsibilities are supported by Acorn Products/DCAL Computer Systems' Unitroller management-software system. Customers may access the facility seven days a week using DCAL's Unikey access- control system. A separate Unikey entry system is used for access to the climate-controlled units.
Sweetser's construction company is involved in diverse areas including roads and highways, residential, industrial plants "and pretty much anything else you can build." So, why did he choose to add self-storage to his already thriving business? "I wanted to diversify," he says. He began investigating the industry from every imaginable angle, attending conventions, searching the Internet, speaking with facility owners and reading industry publications such as Inside Self-Storage. Sweetser also credits his smooth transition to the new enterprise to Gary Trook, vice president of DCAL, who asserts you can't do too much research.
Arkansas Self-Storage establishes a new image for self-storage in his community, Sweetser says. "I feel I have raised the bar for self-storage facilities in Fayetteville." He plans on adding two new facilities this year.
For more information, call 479.443.3026.