By Terry Campbell
When Jim Clayton and his partner, Jim Jones, decided to get into the self-storage business last year, they were faced with an immediate challenge: entering a market with five competitors. But proximity to a U.S. Army post as well as an upscale facility design allowed them to forge ahead.
Though Clayton and Jones had both been in real estate for many years developing residential and commercial properties, and Clayton had built storage facilities for other owners, neither had operated their own storage business. When they saw an opportunity in Prince George, Va., they decided to take the plunge. They purchased their property in January 2010 and opened in May of this year.
Stay Over Storage is adjacent to Fort Lee, a U.S. Army post named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee and home of the Combined Arm Support Command. The post is home to approximately 7,000 military and civilian personnel and their families.
We understood at the outset that a significant portion of our business would come from Fort Lee, so our decision to purchase the property directly across from the base gave us an initial advantage, Clayton explained. But the partners also realized that their proximity to the base alone would not guarantee success. They decided to invest in a unique, upscale design and amenities to attract tenants.
Our competitors are all within four miles of the post, but potential customers have to pass our facility first, Clayton explained. We realized our mission was to offer the very best facility and services possible, and hopefully, prospects would consider our place initially and decide to look no further.
The 75,000-square-foot facility has 517 leasable units373 climate-controlled and 144 traditional. All roll-up doors are pre-painted galvanized steel, as well as the architectural standing-seam roofs and cupolas. Interior units and hallways are of structural-steel construction.
The first unusual thing one notices about Stay Over Storage is the overall layout of the site. Storage buildings are typically positioned side by side, but this facilitys footprint is a U-shaped fortress-type layout, so named because the buildings are connected to protect the interior premises. This precludes the necessity for security fencing, except at the open end, where wrought-iron fencing and a gate completely enclose the property.
Next, the exterior of the buildings catch ones eye due to its innovative use of brick veneer over metal stud walls and glass. The structures resemble an upscale office complex or retail center.
Other features and amenities rarely seen in storage facilities and unique to this market are:
- Timer magnets that control the duration of door openings to and from the climate-control buildings. This allows tenants to keep building doors open for the entire time theyre moving in and out of their units rather than have to open and close them on each trip.
- Motion sensors mounted in drop-in ceilings that automatically control interior lighting. These eliminate the need to cut lights on and off when entering or exiting buildings.
- All-concrete floors sealed with clear coat. This helps to provide a more dust-free environment for customers and their personal items.
Also in the planning stages are additional services such as secured document storage, document conversion to CD and document-shredding. In addition, the site offers retail products for sale in the office and the free use of a move-in truck for new tenants.
Challenges: Part of the Process
Like most real estate endeavors, Stay Over Storage experienced some bumps in the path to completion. At the 11th hour, the municipality required Clayton and Jones to install an underground rain tank to control water runoff. Unfortunately, the cost to accommodate the countys request was substantial and came after our financing was already in place, so it turned out to be a significant strain on our pocketbook, Clayton says. But we worked it out.
Just a few months after opening, the partners agree their self-storage venture is working. Their marketing campaign is underway, and the future looks bright. The decision to create a first-class facility in the location we chose was a strategy we feel comfortable with, Clayton says. Hopefully, this is the first of many successful projects we plan to develop.
Terry Campbell is vice president of sales and marketing for BETCO Inc., a single-source manufacturer of self-storage buildings and components. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.betcoinc.com.