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October 31, 2023

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Waterwood Self Storage

Edmond, Okla.

By Jeff Sacks

Bill Howard is a modest man to say theleast. After all, he runs several successful self-storagefacilities in Edmond, Okla., and attributes his good fortunes tonothing more than the fact that Edmond has virtually doubled itspopulation over the past 10 years.

"I have the right location and the right town, and theright location in that town. It's not any real tribute to myintelligence; it just happens to be in the right place at theright time. It's nothing I did particularly," says Howard.

Humble Beginnings

Howard first got into the self-storage industry afterattending a mini-storage convention in San Francisco in 1983 withhis friends Bob Williamson and Joe Looney. The friends owned aBudget Mini-Storage in Oklahoma City that they started around1979, one of the first projects of its kind in the area.

"They were enamored with mini storages, and then I becameenamored with them," Howard continues. "I owned a pieceof land in this little town of Edmond, and I went ahead and builtthe first phase of a project there in the west part oftown."

Howard was in commercial construction,erecting a line of metal buildings for other people and forhimself. Then the idea of constructing self-storage facilitiescame to him and, as he says, "The mini-storage businessseemed to be an easier, more profitable venture than afree-standing building. So I just naturally drifted into themini-storage end of the business. I still contruct buildings,too, and operate other businesses, but mini-storage is one of thebetter things I do." And by better, you can bet he meansmore profitable.

Howard started in self-storage with a 20,000-square-footproject called Edmond Extra Storage, which he has since expandedto 54,000 square feet.

Of his first attempt in the self-storage industry, Howardsays, "It was a nice mini, but I made the mistake ofbuilding it off the main road and sold the lot in front."This, of course, hid it from the view of passersby and hurtoccupancy rates.

However, a few years ago he added an extra building that istied to the main road, and this has brought up occupancy rates atthe facility to the mid-90 percent range.

Then in April 1994, he built the project he is most proudof--Waterwood Self Storage, a 63,500-square-foot facility locatedone mile east of downtown Edmond.

Location, Location, Location

When you have a good location with a growing population, whatbetter way to maximize your business than by building moreself-storage facilities in the area?

Although he'd probably deny such economic strategizing, thatmust have been some of what was going through Howard's mind whenhe built Waterwood Self Storage.

"We're in a growing town, probablythe most booming town in Oklahoma right now," he says."There are a lot of new developments and a lot of new homesin this particular little town. When you have a lot of peoplecoming and going, a lot of subcontractors, a lot of peoplebuilding new homes, a lot of new businesses coming to town, youpick up a lot of tenants from that."

Waterwood is in the center of a partially developed office,hotel and restaurant area, across the street from the RamadaHotel and next door to a Denny's restaurant. The University ofCentral Oklahoma, the state's second-largest college, is withinview of the facility. Frontage is limited, but adequate.

According to Howard, Edmond is an upscale, bedroom communitylocated 10 miles north of Oklahoma City. It is a college town,but only 30 to 40 college students are Waterwood tenants."Customers seem to be divided, about 60 percent residentialand 40 percent commercial. We have a lot of people moving intothis area--probably over 50 subdivisions being constructed--so werent units to people waiting for a house, subcontractors,retirees and so on."

Mission Possible

Waterwood was a challenge to develop for several reasons, saysHoward. "Land is very expensive, three- to four-acre sitesare scarce, and re-zoning is heavily contested on all commercialprojects."

Howard had the good fortune to find an excellent location thatwas properly zoned and also included an offsite, masterwater-detention facility.

However, "Even with zoning and water detentionpre-approved, it still required four Edmond planning boardmeetings and two Edmond city council meetings before a buildingpermit was issued," says Howard.

City of Edmond requirements include extensive landscaping,brick and wrought iron fencing, precast walls, limited doorexposure and a residential appearance for the office.

"In addition," Howard adds, "we were faced witha site that was about one-third solid rock and sloped 26 feetfrom north to south."

After extensive engineering, Howard's people came up with aplan to drop the buildings 2 feet for every 40, and erected a12-foot step wall on the rear of the property.

"Most of the facility on three sides is totally enclosedwith aggregate wall panels, including the retaining walls. Allthe wall panels were precast in Oklahoma City, then trucked tothe site and erected," says Howard.

The overall building layout of Waterwood Self Storage is apleasant-looking residence/office facility with 16 storagebuildings. There are 500 units, ranging from 5-by-5s to10-by-25s. The current occupancy rate is 92 percent, and usuallyruns around 95 percent during the spring and summer months.

Location aside, one of the other aspects of Howard'sfacilities that make them more successful than some of the othersin town is that he tends to build nicer-looking projects.

"We've done a lot of brick, wroughtiron and landscaping, and tried to make it look upscale. I thinkpeople tend to want to go to a nicer-looking project. There aresome older, shabbier-looking units in town, and we seem to dobetter than they do. We seem to get better rates and betteroccupancy, and I think we have better location," he says.

However, he offers up this piece of advice: "I think italways pays to do things with a little bit better quality. Youget better tenants and better managers."

Security Measures

Waterwood is operated with an "open gate" policy,with hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is a 24-hour surveillancecamera that uses VCR recording.

"Our most important security measure is to require allcustomers to use a round lock or a 2-inch (#5 Master) lock on alldoors. These locks are almost impossible to cut and haveeliminated most burglaries," says Howard.

"It's amazing that people will put $10,000 worth of goodsin a unit and then use a $2 padlock to secure them."

The managers of the facility, Sammy and JoAnn LeGrande, livein a spacious 1,600-square-foot space, which includes adouble-car garage and a 300-square-foot office. They started withthe project when it originally opened in April 1994.

With the help of reasonable land costs,Howard, acting as the general contractor, was able to bringWaterwood Self Storage to fruition at a very reasonable cost and,he is proud to note, "The finished project blends well withthe area. City officials and others who originally protested theproject now agree that it is an asset to the community."

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