INDUSTRY INTERVIEW

Elizabeth Sanchez Comments
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His clients refer to him as “the closer.” Friends call him RK. The industry knows the self-storage veteran as RK Kliebenstein, the southern Florida-based real estate entrepreneur who has underwritten millions in self-storage transactions— and he’s done it with integrity that keep clients coming back.

Kliebenstein is a real estate entrepreneur, but his experience goes beyond your average broker, further than your typical developer and a good distance past the run-of-the-mill feasibility expert.

His background in commercial banking, construction and advertising has served him well. As the founder of City of Atlantis, Fla.-based Coast-To-Coast, a self-storage consultancy firm, Kliebenstein has a hand in design, marketing and management consulting for all aspects of the storage industry. From traditional self-storage to RV, boat and vehicle storage to mobile storage—even pack and ship, car washes and moving franchises—his company offers end-to-end solutions designed for client success.

“Coast-To-Coast is not a one-man band. We have consultants in strategic geographic locations. We don’t provide fee management services. We don’t sell metal buildings. We provide pure consulting with no bias,” Kliebenstein says. “I believe the success of our business depends on maintaining a position of moral, ethical guidance for our clients. We have no vested interest other than seeing our clients succeed in self-storage.”

Coast-To-Coast is a full ensemble of self-storage industry experts stationed across the country, including Bob Copper in Birmingham, Ala.; Carl Cunningham in Orlando, Fla.; Kraig Haviland in Marietta, Calif.; John Hansen in Clearwater, Fla.; and John Boylan in Ellicott City, Md.

VP Path and Beyond

Kliebenstein launched his self-storage career with National Self Storage and Self Storage Mortgage Corp. in 1990 as a vice president. There, he set the record for the largest arms-length finance transaction in the industry’s history at $63 million.

“That transaction was a huge turning point in my career,” he says. “I closed it in less than 45 days at a time when there wasn’t much access to capital. It helped me to understand the specific nuances of self-storage as a boutique product on Wall Street. I discovered the keys to wading through the complexities of an acquisition and finance transaction.”

Kliebenstein assumed the role of vice president of acquisitions for U-Store-It in 1996, where he closed more than $100 million in small self-storage transactions in 13 months. From there he moved to Extra Space Storage in 1998 as senior vice president of acquisition and integration, and underwrote $250 million in acquisitions in two years.

An entrepreneur at heart, Kliebenstein left the comfort of corporate payroll to start his own company in 2000. The Coast-To-Coast team has carved out a niche in acquisitions, a challenging aspect of the industry today. The acquisition market is competitive, with institutional investors gobbling up prime properties and smaller sellers looking to get prime rates despite poor locations.

“Most investors don’t do their homework. They don’t have a clear strategy,” Kliebenstein warns. “Unfortunately, that poor planning is going to hurt them some day when they want to exercise an exit strategy. We help investors avoid overpaying for properties in the wrong markets. We also help existing operators grow revenues with strategic investments to upgrade to modern standards and add ancillary products and services.”

Storage Education

Kliebenstein has a passion for education, which is why he and seven other companies joined forces to establish Educational Resources, dedicated to educating the self-storage industry through seminars. Coast-To-Coast Storage, DBCI, PDQ Management, Online Self Storage, SiteLink, Mako Steel, PTI and Construction Processes back Educational Resources.

“Our goal with Educational Resources is to educate investors through seminars as to prudent acquisition and development standards,” Kliebenstein says. “Once we have educated them, then we can provide the professional consultation services to help them execute their business plan.”

A prolific writer, Kliebenstein has penned more than 100 articles about the self-storage industry, and is co-author of How to Invest in Self-Storage. His second title, How to Make Money in Self Storage, was recently published. He’s also a senior presenter with the Self Storage Educational Network and has shared his expertise with investors in Belgium, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia and the United States.

Ancillary Enterprise

Kliebenstein is preparing to launch a new division to help operators stand out in a competitive market. By his estimation, nearly every facility could benefit from adding ancillary products and services such as pack and ship, mobile storage and local moving franchises.

“We’ll teach operators how to successfully integrate these modules into their self-storage stores. We’ll coordinate with the carriers, secure the equipment and train staff,” Kliebenstein says. “Operators can choose from packages—bronze, silver and gold level—to fit into their budget and space requirements. We believe this turnkey approach will add to the operator’s bottom line even after all the units are rented.”

The bottom line for Kliebenstein is the betterment of the industry. Long term, this could mean forming a self-storage advisory group to serve major commercial real estate firms. He is convinced that as the self-storage industry tightens, the opportunities to buy and sell will become more evident. Due diligence is what is lacking, he says.

“These major transactions require consultants who can break down a self-storage operation, and either figure out how to the seller can make it more valuable in the market or what it is really worth to a buyer,” Kliebenstein says. “Coast-To-Coast has the sophisticated acquisition and due diligence tools to determine feasibility.” 

Elizabeth Sanchez is a freelance writer. For more information about Coast-To-Coast, call 877.622.5508; e-mail rk@askrk.com; visit www.askrk.com

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