Atlanta-based eGAD Design Group was founded by Bert Brown as an architectural and engineering firm specializing in the self-storage industry. Although only four years old, the firm will have completed more than 50 projects by the end of 2008. Brown’s career in self-storage began 22 years ago when he was hired by Door Systems Inc. Later, he worked for DBCI and Janus International. Brown also developed and owned self-storage facilities in Atlanta, which were bought a few years ago by a REIT giving him the financial freedom to launch his own design firm.
Brown’s unique perspective enabled him to recognize a gap between design and true efficiency, and inspired him to open his own business to bridge that gap. His “aha” moment came while reviewing a set of facility plans for a general contractor, when he discovered another 3,000 square feet could fit into the site, increasing the project’s value by $500,000. It was no surprise that eGad’s specialty became producing an aesthetically pleasing building with an efficient layout that maintains the highest return on investment possible.
Over the ensuing three years, Brown added structural engineering to his firm’s service roster. This was followed by the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering. Staff additions are based on discipline excellence coupled with self-storage experience. “Many architects and engineers are experts at commercial development but do not understand the unique requirements of self-storage,” he explains.
Brown stresses the most important point is to have an experienced architect or engineer involved early. Too often, an owner hires a civil engineer without self-storage knowledge to produce the site plans before bringing in an architect, Brown says. “The engineer knows he must get as much square footage inside as possible, but lets the exterior drive the interior.” The greatest challenge then becomes convincing the owner to take a step back and invest a little more in re-drawing his plans, he adds. This step back can result in a tenfold return on the new design.
Brown’s approach is to let the interior design drive the exterior’s. The design team obtains as much interior square footage as possible, which determines the shape and size of the building’s exterior. “We rate ourselves based on how much square footage we get inside the envelope of the building,” he says. Most of his projects have 78 percent efficiency, and some are up to 80 percent.
Owners acting on expansion plans without adequate due diligence present another challenge. Brown has heard horror stories of self-storage owners who added a service, such as boat/RV, based on the recommendation of the facility manager, only to discover customers won’t pay the going rates for it. “We help the owner determine if the service is needed and if customers will pay for it,” he says.
The greatest challenge facing the self-storage industry today is financing, Brown says. Even though banks know self-storage is one of the safest industries to invest in, they are not in a position to loan money. “Successful storage companies have a project on the books with a great location but can’t move forward because they can’t get funding,” he says.
Brown sees the typical industry model changing. New drive-up, garage-style facilities are becoming fewer and fewer. Multi-stories will become more prominent as land costs increase. Eighty to 90 percent of eGad’s projects are multi-story, climate control for maximum revenue.
The eGad team’s industry experience means a self-storage developer can find ways to save money in the design, increase space use and, ultimately, his return on investment. “An efficient design will always yield greater profit,” Brown says. “And in the end, that is what it is all about.”
For more information, visit www.egadgroup.com.