Self-Storage Expands Its Horizons: Customers Reap the Benefits of Enterprising Facility Uses

A new trend in self-storage is pushing the industry beyond traditional uses into the realm of "man caves," small-business operations and even a bike depot. Heres how three facility operators are changing their business to meet growing consumer demand for non-traditional storage needs.

December 7, 2012

6 Min Read
Self-Storage Expands Its Horizons: Customers Reap the Benefits of Enterprising Facility Uses

By Rachel Adams

An increasingly popular trend in self-storage is pushing the industry beyond traditional uses into the realm of "man caves," small-business operations and even a bike depot. Facilities are no longer used solely to hide away dusty boxes and high school yearbooks. Many are now offering alternative uses that provide tenants with more life solutions including affordable office space, extra personal space and, in one particular case, a place to store bikes and  connect with the local riding community.

A Bicycle Business Built for ... Many!

Frisco Trail Mini Storage and Bike Depot in Springfield, Mo., reaches local bike riders by providing a unique service. Tenants storing a bike at the facility have unlimited access to their bike storage as well as a work station where they can maintain and prep bikes for use.

More than an additional revenue source, the Depot is what owner Bart Williams calls a "goodwill thing." It was designed specifically to be a resource for all bikers on the Frisco Highline Bike Trail, a 34-mile track that runs alongside the property. The business offers many amenities for public use including a free public restroom and shower facility and adequate parking. It's also equipped with free air and some vending machines.

"It was all a part of our way of giving back to the community, and also running a business that has a demand," says Williams, who owns and operates the facility alongside co-owner and wife Rita Williams. The idea originated with Rita, who was weary of hauling her bike to and from the trail.

While the Bike Depot itself isn't a money-making machine, it creates a lot of visibility for Frisco Trail Mini Storage. The Williams like to participate in local events and host biking events. The community involvement has helped generate rentals for the self-storage side of the operation. "We want to create as much visibility as possible for the mini-storage," Williams says.

Being involved with the community draws rentals from all across town, not just from drive-bys and locals, Williams adds. "We're drawing people that aren't just from a 5-mile radius. They're even going out of their way to come to us."

The bike-storage area at Frisco Trail Mini Storage and Bike Depot in Springfield, Mo.

The Man Cave

While the Bike Depot is catering to the local biking community, other facilities are accommodating to the "man cave" trend. Some operators welcome this self-storage game-changer, while others shy away due to fear of liability and legal complications.

At Guardian Self Storage in Foxboro, Mass., the man cave is welcome. Diehard Patriots fans have taken over four climate-controlled units in the facility, which have morphed into a decked-out tailgating and game-day spot. "The Cave," as these Patriots fans call it, is equipped with widescreen TVs, grills, heaters, furniture and even a golf cart used as a shuttle to and from the restrooms.

The man-cave bug doesn't stop with Guardian. Even Williams has had tenants interested in creating their own personal sanctuary within a unit. Frisco Trail Mini Storage is expanding with a building originally designed for boat storage. These new units will be equipped with power that can be turned on or off by the facility owner, depending on whether the tenant opts to pay for it. The availability of electricity has attracted tenants seeking storage man caves, where they may soon be available.

While Williams is not opposed offering these units, he says he will carefully screen tenants before granting permission to modify the space. Units rented with the intention of becoming a man cave will need lighting, added at the customer's expense, and it can only be installed by a licensed electrician approved by Williams. Hes optimistic about man caves, and plans to include this feature in the company advertising once the new building is complete.

The New Work Space

Man caves aren't the only way tenants are getting creative with self-storage units. Some are revamping them to use as a work space or office.

StorSecure Self-Storage in Kapolei, Hawaii, offers "StOffices" (storage offices) to tenants interested in running a small business out of a storage unit. Each StOffice is equipped with electricity and lighting. The facility has offered this option for more than two years, and there are approximately 15 occupied spaces at present, according to general manager Kimo Gamiao.

A difficult economy created demand for more affordable office space, Gamiao says. "The economy has been very tough on Hawaii small businesses. A lot of small businesses started shutting down due to lack of work and because of overhead. They found that an alternative was to get out of the commercial-space rental, and we were quite affordable and much more reasonable," he says.

Converting the facility to be an office-friendly environment took cooperation and planning. Gamiao worked with his business tenants to figure out how the facility needed to change and allow small businesses to thrive. These tenants also needed to acclimatize to operate effectively within a storage facility. "They needed to adapt [to us] just as much as we needed to adapt to them, being that they're not in a commercial area," Gamiao says.

StorSecure is a gated facility, so tenants must have a code to access units. Even business customers are not permitted to give access to non-tenants. If a business tenant needs to meet with a client, StorSecure rents out the conference room in the facility office at an hourly rate.

"Not all businesses are a fit for operating out of a storage space," Gamiao says. "It functions really well as a work space. People are working in offices or out of their homes, their bedrooms and garage, and they just wanted to get out of the home because of the distraction. It worked well for them."

StorSecure's business tenants include a lawyer, carpenters, an architect and an artist. Retail business, however, does not work well at this location due to accessibility issues.

Gamiao created a new lease agreement for business tenants to avoid legal complications. It customers to have business insurance, provide proof of insurance, list the facility as additionally insured, and have commercial general liability and workers compensation for any small businesses with additional employees.

Overall, the business tenants at StorSecure have created a friendly community. Gamiao says theyve developed an "ohana," or a sense of family, among tenants and staff. "They seem to like us just as much as we like them. I have an incredible staff, and it's just a really nice little community within a community that we have here."

As everyday problems develop in the lives of everyday people, self-storage continues to provide solutions. As a result, many facilities have achieved success, adapting and working with tenants to provide new and interesting ways to use self-storage.

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