When Edison Lock-Up opened in 1984, it was the sole self-storage facility in the New Jersey township of Edison, a suburb of New York City, NY.
Flash forward nearly three decades, and the facility is surrounded by the Big Four REITs and several other operators—and still going strong.
“We were the first in Edison,” said Vincent Visceglia, director of real estate operations at Summit Associates Inc., a family-owned real estate company that owns and runs the facility. “We commanded the entire market share.”
We are able to provide the conveniences offered by the large operators while keeping true to our core values.
— Vincent Visceglia, director of real estate operations at Summit Associates Inc.
The facility enjoyed that position for many years—that is until the period of 1998 to 2001, when four new facilities popped up within five miles of Edison Lock-Up.
“Absolutely the most difficult time for us was that boom of construction,” Visceglia said.
Now, 12 other facilities operate within Edison Lock-Up’s trade area. About 100,000 people live in the township.
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Through dedication to customer service, technology upgrades and timely expansion, Edison Lock-Up has managed to more than hold its ground in the face of major competition.
“We are certainly sold out of most if not many of our units. We are about 95 percent physically occupied,” Visceglia said.
Know Your Customer
Thirty-five percent of the facility’s rentals are renewals or referrals from existing customers. The operator keeps rent hikes to a minimum to retain customers.
“We keep our tenants considerably longer than the industry average because of the way we run our business,” Visceglia said.
When the Great Recession led many customers to vacate their units to save money, Edison Lock-Up’s focus on customer service gave those tenants an incentive to come back. “We saw our old customers return,” Visceglia said, “and we did not take that for granted.”
One ace-in-the-hole Edison Lock-Up has that its competitors don’t is resident manager Greg Klemm.
“He’s been the manager since we opened up our doors in the mid-1980s,” Visceglia said. “He knows almost every one of our 1,000 customers by sight.”
Klemm said his approach to customer service is simple: “You put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask how you would like to be treated.”
More often than not, Klemm said, customers are coping with life events such as death, divorce or selling a home.
“It is a very stressful time, and you have to keep that in mind. When they walk in the door, something is wrong, and they need help,” Klemm said. “Treat them with dignity and concern for their needs.”
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Klemm said he’s stuck with the job for so long because he finds it rewarding to help people. Klemm, a former manufacturer’s representative, said he takes satisfaction in watching Edison Lock-Up’s business customers grow and prosper.
“It is exciting to see a small business come through here and they have one unit. Then a year later they have six units, then they outgrow us,” Klemm said. “It’s neat they got their start right here at Edison Lock-Up.”
Edison Lock-Up caters to business tenants by offering services and amenities that appeal to them, such as accepting deliveries. “If there is something they need and don’t have it, we’ll go out of our way to make that accessible,” Klemm said.
Keeping Up With Trends
Another key to Edison’s success is the ability to change with the times—particularly when it comes to technology.
“Since the falling off of the Yellow Pages [advertising], it has been a much more competitive landscape than it was six to eight years ago for single-owned properties like ourselves,” Visceglia said.
That means paying more attention to the company’s Internet marketing. Visceglia takes a hands-on approach to that by, among other things, managing the facility’s Google AdWords advertising.
“I think a strong Internet presence is important, which is something we are able to do on a manageable budget,” he said.
In addition, Visceglia has worked to improve the facility’s website and offer online payment options. Four years ago, most customers mailed in rent checks; today, 80 percent pay online.
“We are able to provide the conveniences offered by the large operators while keeping true to our core values,” Visceglia said.
Expanding Over Time
Edison Lock-Up has expanded several times over its 31-year history to become what it says is New Jersey’s largest self-storage facility, with 100,000 square feet of rentable space. The company last expanded in 2005, when it maxed out its 5½-acre site.
Visceglia said the Edison Lock-Up market is saturated as far as new self-storage development is concerned, but demand for storage space in the New York City metro area is rising.
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“In certain storage sizes, we cannot keep up with demand,” Visceglia said. “That is why we are in the process of converting the resident manager’s home into another 12 units.”
Klemm isn’t going far—he’ll still live within a mile and half of the facility.
“With new security systems, having someone reside on-site isn’t as important to users as it once was,” Visceglia said.
An Offer He Can Refuse
Summit Associates is one of the most prominent real estate companies in New Jersey. The company has developed office, warehouse and medical properties, and it owns and manages more than 4.5 million square feet of offices and warehouses in the Garden State. The company also owns and operates the New Jersey Expo and Convention Center in Edison.
But Edison Lock Up holds a special place in the company’s portfolio. In fact, it’s the only self-storage facility that Summit Associates owns.
“The company is very pleased with the way this asset has performed,” Visceglia said, “and very happy with the management we have there.”
Visceglia, 40, took over responsibility for the facility about eight years ago. His father and uncle are the company’s president and executive vice president, respectively.
Does Visceglia ever seriously entertain other operators’ offers to buy Edison Lock-Up? No way.
“I never hear their numbers,” he said. “There is a certain emotional attachment to this facility that I don’t have with any of the other projects I manage. I literally work on Edison Lock-Up every day, without fail. It is the one property in our portfolio that I can make subtle changes to see an immediate impact.”