By Kimberly Hundley
Though some might like to believe it, creating a strong state self-storage association is not as simple as mixing up a delicious pitcher of Florida orange juice. Self-storage advocates who have been there and done that know it is more like cultivating an entire orange grove.
Since its energetic inception in 1998, the Florida Self Storage Association (FSSA) has grown from a regional networking group to a vibrant statewide organization. Thanks to some inventive, members-only offerings, it has increased membership 25 percent in the last year to a total of 400. Determination and creativity on the part of board trustees has steered the association through a period of dormancy to a new era. In November, the FSSA will host its first regional conference and tradeshow, in conjunction with Inside Self-Storage (ISS).
An Auspicious Beginning
David Blum, past president and current board trustee, recalls the ups and downs of the associations first years. We started as the South Florida Self-Storage Association, which was basically designed to be a group for networking among owners and operators in the tri-county area of south Florida, Blum says. We received a tremendous amount of support and interest initially. In August 2000, we had our first mixer. It was like a tradeshow, and we invited everybody managers, employees and operators. We had about 20 vendors with table-top displays, and it was a rousing success, with almost 300 attendees.
Around the same time, Michael Kidd, executive director of the national Self Storage Association, approached the groups board members and encouraged them to build on their momentum and launch a statewide organization. The board gladly took up the challenge. Before long, however, an ongoing battle surfaced: how to remain relevant to members.
I think all the state associations are running into this issue, Blum says. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the early days; but in time, everybody starts to look for what the association provides its membership. Without a continuing source of income from either fundraisers or dues, its difficult to provide services to the members. After about two years, you run into a struggle to justify their continued support.
Goals and Challenges
A recognized role of state associations is to provide a united front in lobbying for the industry. All the major national self-storage companies account for less than 10 percent of total facilities, Blum says. Thats why its important for individual operators to have a group that represents their interests throughout the state. When issues do arise, most legislators want a single voice representing the industry. And they want a local, not national, organization representing them.
In Florida, however, no rallying point such as late-fee legislation has emerged to drive statewide membership. The FSSA positions itself as a proactive organization working to educate lawmakers on industry needs, yet such results arent concrete. Members and potential subscribers want to see cold, hard, tangible benefits for their $250 in annual dues.
What to do? The FSSA board committed to producing more discounts and other members- only amenities. A self-storage lease, developed in August 2003, perhaps ranks as the most valuable. Approved for use in the state of Florida, the lease is available for purchase on CD. Not many state associations have a specific state-sponsored lease, well-written by a highly regarded self-storage attorney, says Linnea Appleby, board president. Thats a huge benefit, available only to members.
The association recently revamped its website, www.floridassa.org, and is creating an area exclusively for members where jobs may be posted. Well also have a bulletin board for exchanging questions and answers on issues that come up in the state, Blum says. With the help of the national association, we have an advocacy network people can call when issues arise, and we limit that to members. Quarterly networking luncheons at which discounts are offered are offered for members as well.
Blum is pleased with the boards progress thus far. Weve worked very diligently over the last year and a half to create benefits to promote and drive membership, he says. But the FSSA still has ample room to grow. The state of Florida has 2,300 self-storage facilities, according to Blum. The potential to expand is enormous, and growth is a key goal for the board.
We want to be able to reach out, Blum says. Right now we are very strong in the south and west. We want to expand into the central, northeast and southeast parts of the state. One of our strongest goals is to find people to help us support that growth. To encourage expansion, Blum and other key board members continually seek like-minded candidates who sincerely care about the industrys well-being.
What were looking for are people who have a genuine interest in the concept of an association supporting the industry in the state, says Blum. And were starting to get more people who have an interest in the betterment of the industry and the importance of having a single voice that offers real benefits for the members.
Board of trustee members serve three-year terms. Blum and Appleby are excited by the boards direction and recent retooling. Specific committees are being formed to tackle topics such as education and special events, with each committee headed by a board member.
Expo Tops the List
In reviewing the FSSAs accomplishments for 2004, Blum points to the joint-venture expo in Miami, Nov. 17-19, as a milestone. By teaming with ISS in a regional event, the FSSA will help alleviate the drain on vendors who cant afford to attend the burgeoning number of tradeshows. I think in the future youll see more and more of this type of thing start to come on, says Blum.
The conference kicks off with a one-day developers seminar sponsored solely by the FSSA on Nov. 16. Weve done it each year, and each year it gets progressively more popular, Blum says. The seminar is ideal for anyone interested in storage development. A separate fee is required.
In addition, the FSSA planned one of the expos educational tracks, devoted entirely to state-specific issues. The track features experts on building codes, insurance, human resources and Internet marketing. Next year, Blum predicts, the content will be regionalized to attract attendees from Georgia and other nearby states. Also featured this year is a track geared toward industry newcomers and another for seasoned professionals in the business.
The ISS expo is designed to assist those involved in self-storage as well as those investigating opportunities to excel in the industry, says Michael Reed, ISS tradeshow manager. Our joint effort with the FSSA is a continuation of our efforts to promote the self-storage industry. We continually increase awareness and provide networking opportunities for developers, owners, operators and suppliers from many parts of the globe.
Reed, Blum and Appleby say the choice of Miami as host city will definitely add to the shows appeal. This is the first time an event has been held in Miami, and its going to be extremely exciting, Blum says. Its also the first time a state association has joined up with a professional like ISS to put together a joint venture. Its going to be informative, fun and one of the best shows around.
For more information, visit www.insideselfstorage.com/expo/miami.
SELF STORAGE ASSOCIATION
Board of Trustees
Linnea Appleby, President
Jeanne Braker, Executive Director
Florida Self Storage Association
Boca Raton, Fla.
Blum Management Services
Coral Springs, Fla.
Lake Bluff, Ill.
U.S. Door & Building Components
Kerry K. Harvey
Florida Secure Self Storage
Penbrook Pines, Fla.
Mako Steel Inc.
Stars & Stripes
Boca Raton, Fla.
Sentry Self Storage
Coral Springs, Fla.
Capital Management & Realty
Boynton Beach, Fla.