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Taking a Cue From the Past to Build the Future of Self-Storage

L. Bruce McCardle Comments

Business owners have two choices whenever the economy takes a serious downturn. They can either “dig in” and get conservative or go the other direction and become more aggressive. To paraphrase guerilla marketing author Jay Conrad Levinson: Only the top company in any market can afford to play defense.

Back in the day—yes, I have been around for a good number of them—development and construction were cyclical markets. There were periods of extensive growth, but we always knew lean times would follow. Admittedly, our economy has rarely experienced the kind of sustained “boom” we have seen over the past decade or so. The hard truth is the cycle of growth has slowed. Things could turn around tomorrow, this trend could continue for some time, or it could sadly get even worse. No one really knows.

The new generation in our industry has never experienced these “tough times,” and some are in panic mode. They didn’t experience the oil crisis and gas lines of the ’70s, or the savings and loan scandals that rocked the economy in the ’80s. They have never been in the trenches and forced to dig and scrape to make projects work.

We’ve made it through these times in the past, and will make it through them now. Some may think “the sky is falling,” but construction and development always seem to come back around—and usually stronger than before. We used to call it a “correction,” one of those natural occurrences of capitalism that somehow makes a free market work.

Back in the Box

The obvious concern is what to do in the meantime. To borrow from a sports analogy, when a once-great team begins to struggle, what does the coach usually say? “We need to work on the fundamentals; we just need to get back to the basics.” Or, as I recently read somewhere, maybe it’s time to “get back in the box.”

I often tell self-storage owners, “We didn’t invent this type of building construction.” Over the years, through trial and error, the current engineering, design and construction methods commonly used in our industry have proven to be the most economically efficient way to build storage buildings.

However, day after day, I unroll sets of plans only to reveal that yet another well-intentioned architect or engineer has come up with a “better way” to build storage buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying there may not be a better way. If there is, I just haven’t seen it yet; and if it existed, the major building suppliers in our industry would be doing it that way. As with any product, the more you deviate from what is the standard, the more it’s going to cost.

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