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Small-Town Feeling

July 1, 2000

5 Min Read
Small-Town Feeling

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Calaveras Mini-Storage

In the heart of Gold Rush country

By Barry Morris

Some 150 yearsago, pioneers with visions of a quick fortune swarmed the area of north centralCalifornia, which is now Calaveras County, looking to reap whatever they could of theregion's rich gold deposits.

In present-day Calaveras, another pioneer has established its own history. While thishistory doesn't date back to the mid-19th century, Calaveras Mini-Storage (CMS) of SanAndreas, Calif., can trace its roots back to the early 1970s, when the self-storageindustry was in its infancy and still largely unknown.

To experiment with the almost unheard-of concept, a local contractor in San Andreasbuilt a few rows of cinder-block units at one end of town. These first units were builtwith additional height and extra-wide aisles, as standards for efficient use of space hadyet to be established. Those were also the days before fences, gates, surveillance camerasand public restrooms were a part of the storage business, and the company sign andword-of-mouth were the only advertisements used.

In the mid-1980s, Diana Marler and her husband purchased CMS from its original owner.Marler now runs the business with the help of her manager, Sue Brackett. An expansion ofwhat she calls "typical metal buildings" took place soon after the Marlerspurchased the facility, and a second expansion was done three years ago. With the twoprocedures, CMS is now a 30,000-square-foot, 236-unit facility situated on 2.5 acres.

After being one of the area's first storage providers, there is now considerablecompetition, including two national franchises--"the big boys," as Marler callsthem--establishing themselves in the area in the last couple of years. To compete withthis, Marler is choosing to fight fire with fire by planning a third expansion. Another2.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the current property has been purchased, and thecounty has recently approved the plan. A contractor has been hired, and Marler is now inthe process of buying the metal necessary for the buildings. When this expansion iscomplete, the facility's square footage will be nearly doubled.

Small-Town Feeling

In many ways, CMS remains one of the original breed of self-storage facilities. Thereare no climate-controlled units, and there are no individual door alarms--tenants areresponsible for providing their own locks. "We feel that with our limited gate hours(7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily), cabling in our fencing, a resident manager, lights and so on,our security is adequate," Marler says.

Woven horizontally into the facility's cyclone fencing, the hard-to-cut 1/4- to1/2-inch cable prevents intruders from entering by cutting through the chain-link fence."I've seen that cyclone fences can be cut and peeled back, and people can get in andout that way," says Marler. "This way, if they're going to cut any portion ofthis, they'd have to squeeze their body through those five strands of cabling. It's verydifficult to cut--they'd have to chew on it for a long time."

Not everything about CMS harkens back to simpler times, though. Today's heightenedsecurity needs make video surveillance a necessity. The facility's current system consistsof two cameras--one at the gate and another inside the office. With another expansion inthe works, plans call for more cameras to be added around the property. "I think it'svery important that we keep up on that," Marler says. She also expressed a desire tobuild a more sophisticated gate system once the expansion is complete.

Marketing Efforts Escalated

In thebeginning, the exterior sign and some word-of-mouth from loyal customers were the onlyadvertising CMS owners felt they needed. But with increasing competition and otherfactors, a different approach became necessary. Today, CMS is prominently featured inYellow Pages listings, and also advertises once a week in the region's daily newspaper.

But it doesn't stop there. It seems everyone who's anyone has a presence on theInternet these days, and CMS has now joined the ranks of cyberspace residents. The newsite at www.calamini.com provides maps and contact information, describes unit sizes,security and other features of the facility, offers photos of the complex and providesspecial offers for those who mention the site. There are also links to local attractionsand visitor information.

Though not done for marketing purposes, CMS has also added a major visual enhancementto its exterior. One side of the facility's original building, a 44-by-20-foot space knownas the "Great White Wall," was deemed uninviting to customers as they drove upto enter and exit the facility. To add visual interest, Marler hired Jan Carpenter, alocal artist known throughout the region for her window painting, to create a muraldepicting the 49er Gold Rush era. Images of an old mining town, a horse-drawn coveredwagon and a gold-panning prospector eventually emerged, covering the bottom half of whathad been a starkly blank wall.

The mural's theme was obviously appropriate, but was especially so since the arearecently celebrated its 150th anniversary. "I just suggested that theme, and Jan tookit from there," Marler says. "From her sketches, I knew that she was the one forthe job."

Customers Remain Loyal

Contrary to herfears, Marler has not experienced an exodus of customers caused by the presence of new,national storage operators establishing themselves in the area. "That was my bigscare," says Marler. "I just thought I'd see customers going away in droves, andI have not. A good part of the reason for that is our manager, Sue Brackett. She's verywell liked and respected here, and that really adds a lot of value to this company."

Local ownership is also important to keeping customers. Marler says CMS's businessusually comes from within a five-mile radius, and the new storage businesses are bothabout 20 miles away in either direction. The fact that Marler chose to expand in the faceof increasing competition shows the confidence she has in the San Andreas community and inher facility. "At Calaveras Mini Storage, we put our customers first in mind, and wewant them to have a great experience while storing with us," she says. "Aftermeeting their storage needs, we enjoy sharing those little extras that help make theirstay a more pleasurable one."

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