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An Idea Is Born

During a routine drive about town, people are accustomed to passing a self-storage facility, the car wash down the street, or the local U-Haul rental service around the corner. And most are likely, on some mornings, to frequent the local coffeehouse for that first critical cup. But in Coeur DAlene, Idaho, several enterprising businessmen put all these services in one location. Sherman Self Storage Center combines four distinct businessesSherman Self Storage, Sherman U-Haul, Sparkle Car Wash and Sparkle Espressounder a corporate umbrella.

The multi-profit center opened less than six months ago and is already a huge success, reports Stephen Cooney, general manager. The storage is 98 percent occupied, and he estimates 500 vehicles per week go through the washplus, the facility enjoys healthy sales at its drive-thru espresso stand. And despite the diversity of services, only six employees are needed under Cooneys management.

An Idea Is Born

Two years ago, several local businessmen with 20 or more years of real estate development experience saw the need for storage and a car wash on the east side of the city. They formed a partnership, Sherman Self Storage Inc., a Montana corporation, to develop their idea.

We did extensive research on the Internet, talked to storage and car-wash owners throughout the country, and got advice from several car-wash manufacturers and distributors on how to design and equip the car wash, Cooney says. The partnership purchased three adjoining pieces of property, one of which was a 40-year-old, nonfunctioning bowling alley. Neighbors were delighted to see the dilapidated building leveled and the new storage facility and car wash emerge.

Coeur DAlene is a quiet, pastoral town with a population of 36,000, nestled on the shores of Lake Coeur DAlene. Its location makes it a recreational Mecca for thousands of tourists every year. Spokane, Wash., is only 35 miles away, and hundreds of Washington and Idaho residents pass through the picturesque city, which lies at the gateway to three lakes and is near the Coeur DAlene Resort and its five-star golf course.

Sherman Self Storage and Sparkle Car Wash are situated off the I-90 interstate exchange on a corner of Sherman Avenue, a main road through the town. The site is ideal for car-wash traffic from all over and is easy to find by local customers looking for self-storage. But the partners also saw the potential of offering a U-Haul service and a drive-thru espresso stand.

Instant Fill-Up

A 98 percent occupancy rate after only three months of operation indicates the partners knew their stuff when choosing to build storage. The facility consists of 345 units and a small office, and rental rates are competitive for the area. The all-steel project was designed by Rolled Steel Products of Spokane, Wash., and Steel Structures of America in Post Falls, Idaho, was the contractor.

Probably a third of our storage clients are business accounts and numerous governmental and municipal agencies. We have a number of partially insulated 5-by-5, 10-by-5 and 10-by-10 indoor units, which were snapped up by customers for document storage, Cooney says. Despite this demand, the partners are not considering climate-control since the areas climate is temperate.

A full range of ancillary storage products such as boxes and locks are available to customers. Office space is limited, so products are displayed in the lobby and stored across the aisle in a unit. As an adjunct business, Sherman U-Haul offers rentals along with U-Haul sales items.

Customers know their goods and vehicles are secure 24 hours a day with the facilitys state-of-the-art surveillance system. The automatic gate entry is controlled by a keypad, and customers need their own entry codes. There are alarms on interior-unit doors, and the Watson Agency in Coeur DAlene responds in the event of a breach. Twelve surveillance cameras are placed strategically throughout the storage and wash facilities. A large-screen monitor in the office allows staff to view all cameras at once, and the digital-recording system has any-time playback capability.

The facility also offers outdoor storage for six boats or RVs. The wash facility can accommodate these vehicles. At the same time, boat and RV owners coming to the wash are made aware of the storage offering.

A Sparkling Wash

With boating, fishing, hiking and other recreational opportunities around the city, there is high demand for the services provided by Sparkle Car Wash. In addition to local customers, people coming from nearby lakes and forests bring their dirty RVs or boats for a quick wash before parking them.

Constructed of attractive cinder block, the wash offers three self-service bays, a touch-free automatic bay, and an 18-foot boat and RV bay. We chose Belangers Touch Free Laser equipment for the automatic bay and Diller-Harris equipment for the self-serve bays, Cooney says. Vacuums and coin acceptors are also from Diller-Harris Inc. Vendor machines supply a full array of items, from shammies to glass wipes to air fresheners.

A Cup of Joe to Go

Drive-thru espresso stands are a phenomenon all over the Pacific Northwest, offering convenience in addition to coffee, lattes, espressos and pastries. Theyre very lucrative, Cooney says. There are probably 20 or 30 drive-thru espresso stands in his town alone. A stand in a good location can do almost as well as a car wash in volume.

A lot of people pull into the car wash and grab an espresso before washing their car. I often see a family come in. Dad will be washing the car, and Mom and the kids are at the espresso stand getting drinks or something to eat, he says.

Little Promotion Needed

Shermans enterprising combination of services has drawn the attention of other entrepreneurs, and companies throughout the country have contacted Cooney for advice on setting up a multi-profit center. While national attention is gratifying, to be truly successful, businesses need satisfied customers. For this reason, the Sherman Center takes service seriously.

Sherman Storage has a large ad in the Yellow Pages, but since the facility is full, it uses no other advertising. The car wash depends on its prime location for its promotion, but it also offers customers a free $5 wash after 10 espresso purchases. We do fleet-account packages for companies using the car wash, and we are partnering with Tesoro Petroleum, the truck stop across the street, to sell car washes as a point-of-sale item from their pumps and cash registers, Cooney says.

More for Multiprofit

What does the future hold for the partners? They intend to look for other locations that could support a similar operation, Cooney says. They are also planning to join the Idaho and Northern Idaho chapters of the Self Storage Association.

Industry trends seem to indicate the need for multiple profit centers like ours, Cooney says. The best advice he offers new entrepreneurs considering this type of business is to focus on location. Many people put self-storage in an obscure location, and thats fine; but for this kind of combination, you have to have high traffic and volume to make all four profit centers work. And the site must be highly visible.

In this day of one-stop shopping, offering four services on one site sets Sherman Self Storage Center apart from the competition. But according to Cooney, its security and friendly service that draws so many customers. For more information, call 208.665.7700.

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