By Joseph P. Niemczyk
While attending the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I encountered a mob of people who were falling all over themselves to get autographs and photos from cast members of “Storage Wars.” It appears the storage industry has become starstruck over this TV newcomer to our business. With the advent of this show, we've seen significant increases in bidders at storage auctions around the country. Additionally, many operators have reported an increase in bids for the units being sold. On the surface, this seems like manna from heaven, but I am not of that opinion!
Although I have limited experience (31 years in the self-storage business having managed more than 20 million square feet, operated and consulted in 25 states and five countries, trained more than 8,000 storage managers, owners and management companies and, yes, even auctioned more than 20,000 storage units), I feel qualified to express my great concerns as to the effect of this phenomenon on the industry. Although I have an appreciation for reality TV and the right to make money, sometimes the cost to others is significant, as in this case. I believe the term "reality TV" is used to attract a large audience, not necessarily to reflect reality.
As an industry, self-storage is a significant participant in the world economy. We’ve spent the last 30-plus years gaining respect in the business and investment community. In the beginning, we were considered a backroom business that neighborhoods and municipalities had no desire to show off, but rather hide in industrial areas.
We’ve come a long way. After all, we are a multi-billion-dollar industry. We now have multi-million-dollar stores in high-visibility locations and are continuing to be on the leading edge of technology.
Unfortunately, selling delinquent storage units is a not-so-desirable aspect of our business. But I don’t believe “Storage Wars” shows the full side of the story. What’s not depicted is the great care owners/operators take to avoid such action. The show leads people to believe we cut locks on the day of the auction. In reality, most state statutes require the storage operator to inventory units and post newspaper advertisements prior to the sale. This is done to give the occupant every opportunity to reclaim his belongings.