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Looking at the Storage Business Through Fresh Eyes

Once you're accustomed to a thing, it's difficult to see it from the perspective of the uninitiated. You might try to see it through fresh eyes, but the experience is irrevocably altered by your history. Last week's expo, with a large attendance of industry neophytes, was an eye-opener, as we listened to their impressions and observations of the storage business. Now we've launched an event in New York City that will be a first-time experience for all of us. Can we deliver all the information new investors and developers crave?

Teri Lanza

April 11, 2014

4 Min Read
Looking at the Storage Business Through Fresh Eyes

Once you're accustomed to a thing—whether it be a person, location, business, event, etc.—it's difficult to see it from the perspective of the uninitiated. For example, whenever ISS publishes an article on self-storage curb appeal or facility maintenance, invariably, one of the very first steps the author advises is to "look at your property with fresh eyes" or "through the eyes of your customer." But that's easier said than done. Your understanding of a thing is irrevocably altered by your initial impressions and ongoing history. It's extremely difficult to strip away that filter of former consciousness.

I was at the ISS Expo last week. I don't even know how many industry tradeshows I've been to over the years, but in terms of our annual Las Vegas event, this was number 15. So I have years of familiarity with the show, and I'm a brand insider. That certainly shapes, and perhaps limits, my viewpoint.

But for 65 percent of this year's attendees, the ISS Expo was an entirely new experience. They'd never been to one of our events. For a significant portion, it was their first industry conference of any type, regardless of host. I have a difficult time imagining what it must be like to encounter the storage business, for the first time, at this stage in its evolution. It's such a different ball game than 15 or even five years ago.

That said, one of the things I most enjoyed at the expo (the mouth-watering skate wing dinner at Mon Ami Gabi notwithstanding), was the opportunity to talk to these newbies and listen to their impressions and suggestions about our event in particular and the business in general. That fresh perspective is invaluable.

First, it helped me to adjust my focus on the show's strengths and weaknesses. There are elements that, after so many repetitions, feel stale to me. It was uplifting to see attendee excitement about these aspects. It reminded me to step outside myself and consider the agenda from a new angle. Similarly, there were a few topics and speakers we mistakenly believed would resonate with our audience, but verbal comments and written surveys revealed a lack of enthusiasm. Lesson learned.

One observation we made before we even got to Vegas was we had a lot of new owners and investors registered for the show. We've been hearing all year how "development is back" in the storage business, and we saw this supported in our attendee base. A healthy percentage of participants were looking to buy or build their first facility, and it was important to us that we deliver the information they would need to make critical decisions.

Brothers Justin and John Tribitt, owners of 3rd Street Development in Bozeman, Mont., were among those investigating the industry. Though their company primarily focuses on single-family residential development, they're seeking another revenue source. They attended the expo to find a finance company and building supplier to help them construct a storage facility. Justin told us they found both, so they were very happy.

William Yerkes and fiancée Heather Remley are also looking to break into the biz. They hope to buy an existing facility next year, though they're also open to tackling a conversion, they said. Between the two of them, they attended 18 seminars at the show; and in the expo hall, they concentrated on refurbishing-related vendors, lighting, doors, roofing, management software, etc.

We had positive feedback about development-related content from many of our "tire-kickers." But even with a four-hour Developers Workshop on March 30 and a six-seminar Development & Construction Track on March 31, this group said they'd welcome more info. Their responses and needs, coupled with inquiries we received from people who couldn't join us in Las Vegas, led us to create the all-new Self-Storage Developers Conference, which will take place June 3 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

The NYC event, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., will address the process in key parts. After opening comments and an overview of the development climate, presenters will address feasibility, financing, ground-up construction, the conversion process, facility renovation and expansion, and boat/RV storage. The conference will close with key observations and a Q&A period.

By looking at the storage business through the fresh eyes of our customers, we discovered a gap in the information flow, an area where the need is exceeding the resources. The goal of the Developers Conference is to provide this growing segment of new owners and investors with a comprehensive venue where they can get all the information they need in one place, in a single day. It's also a great fit for existing owners who are looking to expand. If you're interested in building, converting or renovating a facility within the next year, this is the perfect seminar for you.

To see more of last week's expo through your own eyes, view the image gallery or read the wrap-up article. What did you learn at the show? If you have feedback or insights to share from your experience, please post them in the blog comments.

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