Not many companies can boast more than 400 percent growth in less than a decade. But Uncle Bob’s Self Storage is one of the fortunate few, expanding from 66 to 283 stores since 1995. Sovran Self Storage Inc. operates the facilities, and is a success story in its own right.
Founded as a financial-planning firm in 1982, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Sovran offered a variety of investment opportunities for its clients. In 1985, the company invested in its first self-storage property. “From that point forward, our only focus was on acquiring self-storage,” says Diane Piegza, vice president of investor relations and corporation communications.
An Uncle Bob’s facility in Phoenix.
By the mid-’90s, Sovran had reached a crossroads. With 66 Uncle Bob’s facilities, the company faced limited growth potential. “We had three choices: continue operating as a small, private company, sell, or take the company public and continue to grow,” Piegza says. The company opted for expansion and went public in 1995. Since then, it has acquired more than 200 sites throughout Arizona, the East Coast and Texas.
“Our facilities are typically located in first-tier suburbs of large metropolitan markets,” says David Rogers, chief financial officer. “We prefer to acquire stores with a presence—that is, highly visible with ease of ingress and egress.”
Uncle Bob on the Move
As part of its mission, Uncle Bob’s provides clean, safe and innovative storage solutions. But the company’s principal advantage is the spectrum of moving and storage options at each location, says Chris Laczi, advertising director. “Naturally, we intend to provide the best possible storage for our customers’ needs, but we also strive to provide the tools and assistance they need for moving,” he says. The company has a fleet of 14-foot rental trucks with features like ramp access, air-conditioning and automatic transmission. If a customer rents a space, he can use a truck for free.
Uncle Bob’s also sells a full line of packing supplies including boxes, tape, furniture and mattress covers, packing filler, and more. Through a partnership with BoxesDirect.com, the company enables customers to buy boxes online, though the bulk of its sales are still at the store level, Laczi says.
Uncle Bob’s offers free use of a 14-foot moving truck to any customer who rents a unit.
Uncle Bob Builds to Order
The average Uncle Bob’s facility has about 58,000 rentable square feet of space and 565 units. What size space does the company offer? Well, that depends on the customer. Thanks to Flex-a-Space technology, tenants are not limited to conventional dimensions. “When it comes to storage, we’ve learned that one space does not fit all,” Laczi says. Using a patent-pending design, each unit features an adjustable wall to fit each customer’s needs—and budget.
The process of unit selection has been simplified with the creation of an office demonstration unit, which can be changed to simulate all the different options. This eliminates the need for a facility tour. “When a customer calls or walks in the door, our first question is not “What size would you like?” says Laczi. “We’re more interested in what items he will be storing, with the intention of matching them with the best possible space.”
Uncle Bob Keeps His Cool
At Uncle Bob’s, customers can choose from four storage environments: traditional; climate control, in which the temperature is maintained between 50 and 80 degrees; humidity control, which uses the company’s patented Dri-Guard system; and a combination of temperature and humidity control, which uses Dri-Guard Plus.
Dri-Guard technology maintains a unit’s relative humidity at less than 50 percent.
Dri-Guard came to Uncle Bob’s through the efforts of Sovran’s late Richard Sinnott and Logis-Tech, a developer of humidity-control equipment for government, military and museum applications. The Dri-Guard central-air processing “engine” is built into one of a building’s units or just outside the climate-controlled space. Each unit is then fitted with a ventilation system and sensors connected to the engine, which maintains relative humidity below 50 percent. At higher levels, mold and mildew can grow, metal can corrode, wood begins to warp, and dust mites can flourish.
Dri-Guard spaces are ideal for customers storing valuables such as furniture, clothing, files, and any other metal, wood, fabric and paper, Laczi says. Each unit is monitored by software that immediately knows if the humidity level has become unsafe and corrects it. If a customer leaves his unit door open, for example, Dri-Guard can return the space to appropriate levels within 30 minutes.
In the Trenches
Sovran considers its managers and customer-care representatives to be its most important assets, Piegza says, and personality and attitude are key factors in the hiring process. “We can train for the operations side. Additionally, we empower our managers to make decisions based on the guidelines provided, so we look for an entrepreneurial spirit.”
New hires participate in an intensive week-long program at Uncle Bob’s state-of-the-art training center.
New managers receive on-the-job training prior to attending an intensive, week-long program at the company’s state-of-the-art training center. After schooling, managers and assistants attend periodic roundtable meetings where they learn about company goals and discuss and implement new sales and marketing strategies. An employee-only website and bimonthly newsletter helps keep everyone current on company affairs and recognize top performers.
Uncle Bob Sees the Future
Sovran will continue to purchase properties in existing and new markets as the opportunities arise, says Rogers. “We have committed up to $40 million to expanding and enhancing our current portfolio over the next three years.”
Because self-storage customers are consistently more sophisticated in their desires, the company also plans to enhance the construction quality, appearance and accessibility of its facilities, offering more amenities and attractions for residential and commercial clients. Distribution networks and off-line retail storage will be a strong component of any operator’s rent roll, Rogers says.
In addition, technology will play a bigger role at Uncle Bob’s. State-of-the-art security and climate-control systems are already the norm, but online rentals and payments as well as a call-center service are also on the horizon. Rogers looks forward to kiosk-attended stores and refined pricing matrixes and marketing techniques.
“We are proud of our growth and accomplishments and are looking forward to our next 20 years in the industry,” concludes Piegza. For more information, call 800.242.1715; visit www.unclebobs.com.