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September 1, 1998

5 Min Read
Small Town, Small Facility

Facility Spotlight

Dudley Self Storage
Built by hand

By Tom Brecke

Twelve years ago, Clem Hill's wife had a "crazy" idea. Hill, a retiredgeneral contractor-turned-rancher in the sleepy little town of Payson, Ariz., had investedin a small piece of land near the downtown area of the city with plans to develop andconstruct an apartment complex. After the plans and drawings were completed, Hill was leftwith a piece of land unusable for the apartments. When his wife suggested he use the extraspace for a few self-storage units, Hill took it to heart and decided to give it a try.

"I decided to put one building there for some mini-storage units, just to try itout," says Hill. "And before I was even finished with the building, people wereready to move in."

As a retired general contractor who specialized in building retirement-care facilitiesin California, Hill, now 80, did all work on the storage building himself, includingplumbing, electrical and the concrete-block work.

Following the success of the first building, Hill decided to add a second one, andstarted a pattern that would lead him to abandon the apartment plans entirely and use theland exclusively for self-storage. "I did another building the following winter andthat rented up. Then I did another one," says Hill. "Every time that happened, Ihad to modify this master plan I had for the apartments. Pretty soon, I just scrapped theplans for the apartments completely and made the whole property into mini-storagebuildings."

A dozen years later, Dudley Self Storage has 89 units in six buildings, all hand-builtby Hill, one building at a time.

"I didn't get into this intentionally--I fell into it--and it's the best thingthat has ever happened to me," he says. "It has been very successful and itbeats the heck out of apartments."

Small Town, Small Facility

With only 89 units, Hill knows his facility is small by modern standards--otherfacilities in Payson boast well over 200 spaces--but it doesn't bother him. He writes allbills by hand once each month and says a large percentage of his renters prefer to pay inperson, probably because 40 percent of his clientele are older and enjoy stopping in for achat.

"They like to talk, so I talk to them. Some come over and pay me cash or give me acheck, eyeball to eyeball," he says.

But this face-to-face camaraderie also works in Hill's favor in order to combat theother facilities' amenities, such as electronic gate access and computer billing. He saysthis doesn't bother him, though, because he relies more on convenience and a down-homeattitude to run his facility.

"I'm not really bothered by competition. I'm a little more flexible than theyare," relates Hill. "They have rules and electronic gates that are worrisome (tocustomers) in a sense. I know most people admire the electronic entrances and themonitoring of the facility, and that's understandable because of where their officeis--they're not able to see the driveways. By using the electronic gear they can keep aneye on the whole place. My facility is small enough to see the whole place, except for onearea."

Despite the lack of modern-day security, Hill says he has no theft or vandalismproblems.

Aesthetics

Hill not only did all the construction work on his facility, but was able to use hishome-building experience to give Dudley Self Storage a more "homey" feel usingoverhanging eaves on the roofs and adding as many plants and trees as possible.

"I had seen enough mini-storage facilities to see that they all kind of lookedlike prisons to me," says Hill. "I wanted to try to do away with that look, so Iused gable roofs, just like you do with a house--rafter tails hanging out. I always likedplants, so I put plenty of plants and trees in also. I think the place looks creative andnice."

With an elevation near 6,000 feet, Payson's hilly, rolling terrain adds to theaesthetics of Dudley Self Storage, but it also required Hill to be more creative with thedevelopment and unit mix of the facility.

"The shape of the land dictated how and what I built. It is more or lessrectangular in outside dimensions, but there's a slope in the level of the land," heexplains. "You have to see the place to appreciate it because you're almost powerlessas to what you can do as far as unit mix. If your land is level, you can put in a row of5-by-10s in one area and 10-by-15s in another, but when you hit sloping ground, the groundwill dictate what the sizes will be. There's no sense in fighting earth."

Hill admits he has some "oddball"-sized units, but says he generally rentsunits based on the number of square feet, rather than actual dimensions.

"I've got a few 10-by-17s. Now 10-by-20 is a popular size, but a 10-by-17 is only30 feet less," he says. "I'll just say, 'Hey, if you stack your stuff frugallyand sensibly, nine times out of 10, you can get all that stuff that you think belongs in a10-by-20 into a 10-by-17.'"

Marketing

Surprisingly, Hill says he requires few marketing efforts to keep his facility at acomfortable rental base. He only runs an ad in the local Yellow Pages and doesn't even usea large sign at the front the facility, which is located a few blocks off a main road.

Being a former contractor, Hill concedes he has a soft spot for commercial users. Oneof his first customers was in construction, and Hill continues to offer discounts tocustomers that use his facility for business.

"One of the first guys to rent one of my units was a general contractor, and he'sstill here. He got me thinking--he said he wanted to make sure he wouldn't get locked out.He'd want to unload his truck at night. So I've never put up a fence, and I've kind ofcatered to businesses. I've got plumbers, both Payson libraries, sheet-rock contractors,framers and electricians."

While the storage industry gets bigger and bigger and more technologically advanced,there are those facilities that still manage to work using the old-fashioned methods ofdoing business--friendliness and stellar customer service. Dudley Self Storage proves thisnotion, and Hill is happy to be the one dishing it out. He couldn't be happier with theself-storage business, a venture that began as an excuse to use some vacant land and endedup making himself a successful entrepreneur. Like he says: "I'm sure glad my wife gotthat goofy idea."

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