Winters on the East Coast and in the Midwest have been brutal over the last few years. This poses a problem for self-storage operators who’re trying to entice new customers through their doors. After all, no one wants to stand in the wind, rain or snow to move their belongings into a self-storage unit.
Chris Capozzoli, president of BSS Properties Inc., a self-storage operator with facilities in Florida, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has found a way around this problem. He’s introduced a climate-controlled, drive-in feature at a number of his sites, including a self-storage conversion in Derry, N.H. Below, Capozzoli talks about the challenges he faced during the development of this project, why he chose to build the drive-in, and his plans for expanding the business.
Tell us about your company.
Burlington Self Storage was founded in 1988. My father, Ron Capozzoli, and I developed our first facility, a 110,000-square-foot building in Burlington, Mass. At the time, no one knew what self-storage was all about. It took a lot of convincing the town boards to help them understand. We opened the facility in June of 1990. Once we got our name out, the facility rented up like crazy. My manager and I were taking out 10 to 12 people at a time, showing and renting units. It was exciting.
Building upon the success of our first facility, we started branching out. Our next facility was in Falmouth, Mass., in Cape Cod. Knowing the area well, we seized the opportunity. We developed a 100,000-square-foot facility. From there we expanded to the Middleboro, Mass., and Salem, N.H., markets along with developments in Oakland Park and Weston, Fla., and purchased an existing facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Our recent addition is a repurpose of an old manufacturing building in Derry, N.H., an existing 53,000-square-foot warehouse, which was renovated inside to accommodate one of our latest designs—drive-in self-storage. We added a 30,000-square-foot mezzanine with two lifts. The building is 100 percent climate-controlled. You drive in the building and out of the weather. The response has been tremendous.
We also added a 30,000-square-foot drive-in self-storage building in 2013 to our existing facility in Salem, N.H. We’re currently building a 109,000-square-foot, three-story facility in Wilmington, Mass. This ground-up facility is going to feature our latest drive-in self-storage. It’ll open in October.
What aspects of this property seemed right for a self-storage conversion?
For a property conversion, I’m looking for ways to maximize the building and outside land. Are there ceiling heights of at least 18 to 20 feet, and the building is clearspan? I’m going to take a hard look at that. We can put in a mezzanine and essentially double our storage space. With the Derry facility, we also added an interior driveway, which really sets the facility above everyone else in this market.
Take us through the construction process. What were some of your biggest challenges and successes?
Some of the biggest challenges were with the local boards. Self-storage, even though it’s more popular now, still faces high scrutiny. We have to make the local authorities feel comfortable with how we manage our facilities and maintain them. Other challenges can also include misinformation. Even though you do your due diligence and hire the right team, things can still go terribly wrong.
Take for example my facility in Weston. All along, the contractor thought we had water and sewer adjacent to the property. The city even confirmed it. When it came time to connect, no water and sewer! This cost a lot of money to rectify. We had to install fire-protection wells complete with a diesel motor, water-supply wells and a septic system. Sometimes when you think you have everything covered, your get a big, bad surprise.
The Derry facility is 100 percent drive-in. What made you go this route?
The Derry facility is 100 percent climate-controlled, where you drive in the building and out of the weather. This was the only way to fully utilize the building. Being a manufacturing building, we had to come up with a creative way to access the units inside without making it a customer nightmare. We figured, let them drive into the building. We can support more customers at a time instead of using a single loading and unloading area; it’s a great feature getting out of the cold, snow, rain, wind and hot sun; and it’s unique. No one in this area has it.
How will you maintain the integrity of the interior? That’s a lot of white!
I have full-time cleaning and maintenance crews that handle that. I figure, the whiter the better. It reflects more light, it’s brighter and gives off a safer feeling. We always add windows to our facilities, more than our competitors. By having windows, it gives you a sense of where you are in the building. You don’t feel like you’re in a big warehouse or maze, and it makes the customers feel better.
Where are you in your lease-up, and what kind of marketing are you doing?
Our lease-up is going as planned. We’re leasing up at about 2 percent per month, which is right on with our projections. As for marketing, we’re creating alliances with local apartment communities, real estate and moving companies. We’re well-placed on the Internet, and we also do direct marketing. Referrals are really starting to pick up.
Any plans for more conversions or new builds in your future? Will you attempt another drive-in facility?
We opened Burlington Self Storage of Wilmington, Mass., in December 2014. The 109,000-square-foot, three-story facility also features drive-in. The majority of the facility is accessed from the inside and is 100 percent climate-controlled. We also have non-climate, direct-access units. This building is fully computerized and offers full lighting, temperature control, security and CCTV-camera control right from your cell phone, tablet or computer.
We’re renting units mainly due to the successful drive-by location. We’re also well-established with our Web presence and listing in the search results. We’re working out typical punch-list items such as building corrections, signage, etc. We also installed a 24/7 rental kiosk, which should help our rentals and customer service.
What advice do you have for owners or investors looking for a great storage conversion project?
Do your due diligence on the building, market and conversion costs. If it makes sense, go for it. But always try to find that special edge that will separate you from your competition.
For more information on Burlington Self-Storage, visit http://bssproperties.com.