Facility Spotlight: Signature Self Storage

April 1, 2006

6 Min Read
Facility Spotlight: Signature Self Storage

Many an entrepreneur longs for the days of old when a storage facility seemed to fill itself. In British Columbia, where competition is no less intense than the States, Signature Self Storage managed a neat time-traveling trick. The Coquitlam store opened last July with no promotion and is already 90 percent occupied, proving quick success is still within a newcomers grasp. We had absolutely no time for a grand opening, says owner Dave Matheson, who pre-leased 40 units during construction.

Driveway and exit gate.

Matheson already owned the 39,000-square-foot parcel along the Barnett Highway, a major artery through the Tri-Cities area. A year of research on development possibilities showed self-storage would be the best use. Between 40,000 and 60,000 cars travel past the location each day, and the area is booming with new upscale townhouses, condominiums and retail businesses.

Growth is a double-edged sword in British Columbiawith both sides slicing up profits for self-storage. Demand has put construction workers in short supply, delaying the completion of building projects. Matheson, who acted as his own project manager, saw an obvious need for storage in the Coquitlam community. We have tenants who are in transition between homes, he says. They need a place to keep their belongings while they wait for their new house to be finished.

As for competition, the nearest new storage facility was across the highway in another valley, and Matheson deemed it no threat. He also wasnt worried about two other storage shops on the very same block. The U-Haul next door mainly leased trucks with only a small area devoted to storage, and the site two buildings away was full.

Still, 90 percent occupancy within six months? Matheson believes customer service and security are the main factors behind Signatures speedy success. The company also navigated a couple surprises during the construction process to ensure a profitable and attractive site.

Build It

Coquitlams stringent zoning regulations imposed landscaping and a 30-foot setback on Mathesons property that, without careful planning, could have limited the income-producing area. Matheson designed a single-story facility with 31,400 leaseable square feet. The $2.5 million facility consists of three parallel buildings, divided by wide asphalt driveways.

The store is constructed of tilt-up concrete that resembles redbrick walls with contrasting green-metal trim. DBCI supplied the roll-up doors and interior partitions.

As respite from British Columbias 75 inches of annual rain, Matheson included two 10-by-10 bay doors, allowing customers to drive into the central building to load and unload their goods. No unit is more than 75 feet away from the doors. I dont know of any other facility in the area that does this, he says.

The central building is climate controlled and houses 262 units ranging in size from 5-by-5 to 10-by-30. Windows permit natural light into the corridors and give the facilitys exterior the appearance of a line of shops, heightening its architectural appeal. The two outside buildings each contain 24 10-by-20 units. Many of our outside corridor units are used by businesses or to store vehicles, says Paul Ellis, general manager.

Safety and Security

Progressive security features were instrumental in driving rent-up, according to Matheson. The facility installed WinSen security and management software system from Sentinel Systems Corp., which enables staff to perform management functions and generate reports. Monitors in the office show feeds from the stores several cameras. Ellis can be anywhere that Internet access is available and check cameras, gate codes and unit access in real time.

Although the facility has no live-in manager, the grounds are under 24-hour security, thanks to the state-of-the-art computer system. In the event of an after-hours breach, Ellis and a local security company are electronically notified. In addition to gate codes, all units are individually alarmed. Although the facility is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., access hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; business customers have 24/7 access.

The facility has several women tenants who appreciate the sense of safety they have when visiting their units after normal hours, Matheson says. Signature will also accept deliveries for business clients.

Simple Script for Success

Mathesons formula for success is fundamentalcourteous customer service, good location and security. We show all our customers how to operate the gate and unit-door code and sometimes even how to store their goods, he says. And we always treat them with courtesy.

Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool Signature has in its marketing arsenal. One day, three women renting a 10-by-30 unit were unable to drive their moving truck under the bay doors, so Ellis and his staff helped them unload and move in. Impressed by their service and concern, the women referred the facility to several friends.

Location predictably has been a boon to the enterprise as well. The complexs sign can been seen from the busy highway. Managers have noticed the sign brings in actual renters while the facilitys Yellow Pages listing draws phone calls about price checks. The nearby storage facility, which was full when Matheson started his project, maintained its occupancy and now sends overflow customers to Signature. Even the truck-rental company next door has ended up adding to the bottom line because customers like the convenience.

Plans and More Plans

Expanding services is the facilitys next step. Signature may convert two climate-controlled units into 5-by-5 lockers for wine storage, Ellis says. We already have a couple of customers who keep their wine here. The Okanagan Valley, one of Canadas primary wine-growing regions, is only about 250 miles away. Also, Signature plans to modify one unit for kayak storage; a kayak club and boat launch is locationed a few minutes away, and kayaking is a popular sport in the province.

The success of his first storage venture has spurred Matheson to begin searching for facility site No. 2only his strategy will be different. Based on lessons learned, he would be sure to get city zoning approval before spending thousands of dollars for environmental site assessments.

With the expansion of the Tri-Cities area and the rising affluence of its population, its clear to Matheson that storage is a commodity with a future. People know what self-storage is and what it provides, he says. And there is good growth potential in this industry. For more information, call 604.552.1974. 

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