Think Outside the Unit: Self-Storage Art Studios

March 21, 2012 1
Think Outside the Unit: Self-Storage Art Studios

Sometimes, a self-storage facility needs a little bit of creativity to assert its presence in the market. Continuing our series of unique storage uses, I spoke with General Manager Laura Johnson and Art Space Manager Daryl Henline from Bridge Storage and Art Space about their fresh take on self-storage, and how they managed to tap into a thriving community of artists and musicians.

“Art Space Manager” isn’t a common title in our industry, but given the unique tenant base in Richmond, California, the position has proven crucial for the facility’s success. Two years ago, Bridge Storage began carving out a comfortable niche in the community by identifying a burgeoning population of artists and musicians looking for a space to work. As more tenants took advantage of these specially designed units, owner Jeff Wright decided to hire Daryl Henline to focus specifically on the marketing and buildout of these art space units.

Daryl said Bridge Storage was quick to notice the need for affordable artisan and musician work spaces in the San Francisco area. “The city is very supportive of artists,” Daryl said, but “[artist] work spaces have been on the decline since the mid-eighties.” Combine that with the rapid increases in rent, and the demand for cheap, comfortable studios was an opportunity the Bridge Storage management couldn’t miss.

It was slow going at first, but through Daryl’s specialized management and community networking, the facility has garnered enough business to dedicate four buildings to music and art space. While each unit has a basic storage skeleton of corrugated steel, Daryl said the typical art studio is further equipped with sky lighting, electricity, insulation, glass french doors, and even sinks in the plumbing-equipped buildings. For musicians, they offer specially insulated units that keep each unit isolated in its own world of sound.

“We insulate for sound and comfort,” Daryl said. “We’re trying to create a space that’s quiet and easy to work in.”

Although the facility is fully equipped with standard security measures, Daryl posited that since each tenant has staked their livelihood on their storage unit, there is little fear of foul play. Furthermore, Daryl emphasized that getting tenants involved in the facility is an important function of his job.

“We have a lot of characters,” Laura joked, noting some of the more eclectic tenants— a Rastafari band, a young group of heavy metal musicians, an 80-year-old Impressionist painter, and even an artist specializing in pornography collages. To keep such a motley group involved, Daryl is encouraging his tenants to form committees that suggest improvements to the facility

“We’re a for-profit facility,” Daryl granted. But beyond that, “We’re in the business of creating a community.”

Members of the community visit Bridge Storage for art showings in their front office, movie screenings and exhibits featuring local artists in a 1,000 square-foot gallery space, and the occasional storage facility party. And the exposure pays off. Daryl and Laura reported record revenues despite a highly competitive environment.

Aside from their success in rental rates, manager Laura Johnson said the facility benefits from the positive energy of their hardworking artists. Current tenants are eager to stay, and prospective tenants are drawn by the atmosphere. “They love the fact that there’s so much creativity, and people are excited about what’s going on,” Laura remarked.

For owners and operators looking to expand into the art crowd, Daryl advocates thorough research into their facilities’ respective markets. To justify the substantial investments required for specialized storage, investigate rent and availability of studio spaces on Craigslist, and seek advice from someone who understands your local art community. Clear intended storage uses with city and state regulations as well as utility providers. Above all, managers and owners need to hash out clearly defined company policies before signing on any special tenants.

While policies will vary to suit a facility’s market, Daryl advised that creative storage requires a measure of flexibility. For example, Laura and Daryl maintain a level of flexibility toward rent payment that allows exchange of goods and services – from the labor of painting trucks to donations of lighting – to accommodate for the average artist’s turbulent financial situation.

“We’re managing people, not just space,” Daryl explained.

How have you adapted your facility for a unique market? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for more ways to “Think Outside the Unit.”

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  • Paul D. Reynolds

    Great article – interesting and well written as always. Terrific job Matt