By Mark Ward, Sr., Metal Builder
Since Fort Wayne Storage LLC opened its sixth and newest self-storage facility last year, project manager Brian Fleming says, “I’ve gotten calls from local businesses asking about renting retail space. The building looks so good, they assume it must be a retail center.”
Though the Fort Wayne, Ind., company is not renting space to retailers, Fleming believes the inquiries illustrate two important points about today’s self-storage industry.
First, municipalities expect a storage facility to be an aesthetic asset. “In cities,” he explains, “most of the available land for new construction is going to be in-fill property. Zoning officials expect you to put in a building that blends with the area. You can’t build just anything.”
The new Fort Wayne facility features a combination of brick and Dryvit exterior cladding—plus the attractive glass front that has drawn the attention of retailers. “And since we’re located in a commercial park,” Fleming adds, “adjacent businesses want us to look good. Because self-storage doesn’t draw much traffic to the park, we can’t be an eyesore, too.”
Second, the inquiries Fleming has received from retailers affirms the importance of the location itself. Retailers want to be where customers are—and these days, so do self-storage operators. Convenience sells, so that “the owners of Fort Wayne Storage saw a need and an opportunity in the northeast quarter of the city, and the market has responded,” he reports.
The new facility, which broke ground in the summer of 2009 and opened by early 2010, features just under 100,000 square feet—of which about half is climate controlled—and some 400 storage units. The building was supplied by Trachte Building Systems of Sun Prairie, Wis., a leading manufacturer for the self-storage industry.
Trachte’s national sales manager, Jamie Lindau, agrees that city officials’ aesthetic expectations “increase the complexity of the design. Today it’s common to see more features—brick, block, pitched roofs, mansards, dormers. In addition, building codes have changed over the years and your designs must take this into account.”
For those reasons, Lindau believes that self-storage operators benefit from developing ongoing relationships with “knowledgeable manufacturers who know your area and who get to know your company. We can work with your architects, for example, by getting the ‘feel’ for what they want to do design-wise and then adding our expertise to help you achieve those objectives within what’s actually buildable.”
Fleming concurs that a good relationship with a knowledgeable building supplier is vital. “Fort Wayne Storage has been dealing with Trachte for 15 years,” he states. “Every site is different and every self-storage facility needs its own layout. We’ve had success with Trachte because they’re receptive to working with us on the unique layout of each project.”
As the project manager in charge of constructing this and other facilities, Fleming has found that good suppliers in every phase—concrete, erection, mechanical, electrical, finishing—are integral to success. “To avoid pitfalls,” he advises, “you’ve got to know all the companies you work with and their reputations.”
An outstanding facility is especially important in tough economic times. Lindau reports that new construction activity in the self-storage industry declined 90 percent between 2005 and 2010. The decline parallels depressed occupancy rates in existing facilities, previous overbuilding in some markets, and the nationwide lull in new housing starts. “But construction of new self-storage sites is now picking up again,” he relates, “and rental activity is on the uptick—more so in the Midwest and the East, less so in the South and Southwest.”
For his part, Fleming believes, “Self-storage is still a growth industry for us. Occupancy rates in our new facility are doing well. And that’s certainly helped by the fact that adjacent businesses, adjacent homeowners, customers—and even the retailers who call us—all say that we’ve built a really nice facility.”