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Making New Self-Storage: Working With What Youve Got

We’ve heard it often in the past year: Self-storage development is back on the climb. If you’re among those entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of the positive climate, either to open a new facility or expand an existing one, you may have to entertain alternatives to shiny new construction to make your dream come true. Here are some workarounds to achieve your desired project.

Teri Lanza

March 13, 2015

5 Min Read
Making New Self-Storage: Working With What Youve Got

We’ve heard it often since last year, both from industry authorities as well as observers of investment and real estate markets: Self-storage development is back on the climb. Whether this rising building bubble is good or bad for current storage businesses is up for debate; but let’s say you’re among those entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of the positive climate, either to open a new facility or expand an existing one. What now?

It’s always nice to have shiny new things, but sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got. When I turned 15, before I was allowed to get my first job, I was desperate to redecorate my room. Most of my stuff had been kicking around since I was a kid, and I was ready for something more sophisticated. I wanted my space to reflect the nature of the young woman I was becoming, not the child I had once been. I dreamed of freshly painted walls, trendy furniture and lighting, cool posters, colorful bedding—the whole shebang.

For months, I pleaded with my parents for a budget to launch the project. I earned a modest weekly allowance, but even if I’d managed to save every penny, I would’ve graduated from high school before I could attain my lofty vision! My folks finally relented … with a caveat. They would allow me to refurbish the room, but they wouldn’t supply all new furnishings. If I cobbled some things together from hand-me-downs, yard sales and second-hand shops, they would help me with paint and some fresh flourishes here and there.

I wasn’t thrilled with the compromise, but I was up for the challenge. In the end, my “new” room wasn’t what I’d originally envisioned, but it certainly had character. I managed to express my style without breaking the bank, and it was a great exercise in resourcefulness. I learned how to stretch a budget, how to improvise and, most important, how to adapt to changing circumstances. As a result, I had a more grown-up living space and a more mature outlook on life.

Some of today’s self-storage owners and developers may experience much the same situation. While they might wish to build a brand-new facility on that coveted retail parcel, or add a gleaming metal building to that vacant lot next door, they may have to find an alternative if cash flow or zoning become an obstacle. Sometimes the best way to establish or grow your business isn’t with a new build at all but with conversion of an existing structure formerly devoted to another use.

The concept of storage conversion is far from new, but as markets become more saturated and storage professionals desire more upscale locations, conversion projects are becoming increasingly popular. They offer a number of advantages:

  • Not only can they provide a foothold in an otherwise unattainable market, they may allow you to fast-track a project, not only with city officials but on the construction side.

  • If the property in question has been long vacant or become an eyesore, you may find town boards very amendable to your proposal, which will allow them to improve the site while generating more tax revenue.

  • At the same time, a conversion may be completed faster than a ground-up project and might even be less expensive.

Add to that the ecological benefits of reusing and recycling. Self-storage operators like U-Haul have designed corporate sustainability programs through which they strive to limit the production and waste of construction materials. The company’s adaptive reuse of existing structures eliminates the amount of energy and resources required for new developments and helps local cities diminish their unwanted inventory of unused buildings.

Conversions have helped hundreds to thousands of industrialists realize their dreams of self-storage ownership. If this is a path you might like to consider, make sure you view our online image gallery, which shows you how several companies created new storage facilities out of pre-existing structures. You’ll get insight to why they chose certain buildings, the challenges they faced (or avoided), design tactics they used and more.

You can also join us at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Las Vegas, April 6-9, to participate in the Development Workshop, which includes a segment dedicated to conversions, or attend the seminar titled, “The Self-Storage Conversion Process: Success Through Existing Buildings,” which is part of the concurrent education program. If you can’t make it to the show, you can still pre-order a DVD copy of this session through the Inside Self-Storage Store.

Finally, if what you’re looking to do is add units to your existing storage property, perhaps all you need is a quick fix. This is where relocatable buildings come into play. If you’re not familiar with this product, download a free copy of the whitepaper, “Relocatable Storage Units: Changing Today's Self-Storage Landscape,” written by Janus International Group.  It’ll tell you about the features and benefits of these structures, guidelines to follow, and potential drawbacks. It also provides case-study examples of the units in use at actual storage facilities and pointers to help you decide if these might make sense for your desired expansion.

It’s like the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it: “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” If what you want is to open a new storage facility or expand the one you already operate, perhaps what you need is an abandoned building in a great location or a portable building you can plug into an open space on your property. It may not be what you originally envisioned, but it can help you achieve your goal. You may even learn some skills and save money along the way.

I’d love to hear about your experience with a conversion project or relocatables. If you have a piece of advice or anecdote to share, please post it in the comments section below.

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