Self-storage operators are stepping up their game to play a more proactive role in their communities, and are making sure those efforts are front and center with city officials and potential customers.
Self-storage isn’t always warmly embraced in a community, as operators and developers often bump up against resistance and concerns from neighbors and city officials. That’s why it’s more essential than ever for a self-storage facility to be a good neighbor.
Taking an active role in the community goes a long way in establishing good rapport, which can be an asset in securing approval for new or expanded facilities, as well as attracting customers. Historically, 75 percent to 80 percent of tenants come from within a three-mile radius of a facility, said Kenneth Nitzberg, chairman and CEO of Devon Self Storage. Emeryville, CA-based Devon manages 50 facilities in 19 states.
“If you are not an active supporter in the community, it is not in your best interest,” Nitzberg said.
Being a good neighbor means different things to different operators. Operators often participate in a variety of community, neighborhood and business groups, ranging from sponsorship of local youth sports teams to membership in the local chamber of commerce.
“You have to look at each individual store as a separate entity in a separate market,” said Mel Holsinger, owner and CEO of Tucson, AZ-based Professional Self Storage Management, which runs 61 facilities nationwide.
For example, a school might be located near some facilities in Professional Self Storage’s portfolio. In those cases, managers will be active at that school. In one case, a facility stepped up to sponsor a school’s science fair. Other facilities might have a strong commitment to service personnel, so they offer discounts to police officers, firefighters and members of the military, Holsinger said.
Support for sports
Overall, Professional Self Storage-managed facilities participate in an assortment of neighborly initiatives, such as donating storage units to local nonprofits, providing holiday drop-off sites for Toys for Tots, and sponsoring youth baseball and softball teams. The company also encourages local managers to be active in local chambers of commerce.
Devon takes a similar approach in sponsoring sports teams and donating units to nonprofits. Across the country, the Devon name appears at various places it supports, such as baseball fields, swimming pools and senior centers. By engaging in such financially tangible contributions, beneficiaries are more apt to testify on behalf of Devon before a local planning commission or city council, according to Nitzberg.
That type of community involvement helps storage operators overcome municipal hurdles. Most cities tend to favor businesses that can boost sales tax revenue or add jobs. Self-storage facilities don’t contribute significantly on either account.
Stepping up design
On top of that, many planning commissioners and city council members hold an outdated view of self-storage facilities as old-style rectangular buildings surrounded by chain-link fences. “They don’t want that on the main streets in their cities, and I don’t blame them,” Nitzberg said.
As such, another key to proving a self-storage facility can be a good neighbor involves elevated design standards. “What’s happening today is that operators have to go further down the architectural road with drawings and plans to show [city officials] that you are not going to build something that looks offensive,” Nitzberg said.
Convincing city officials and neighborhood groups that a storage facility’s appearance will be (or is) compatible with a neighborhood goes along with convincing them that the facility won’t impede traffic or parking, and will be clean and safe. Part of that involves making security a high priority by installing surveillance cameras, coded entry gates and storage-unit alarms.
For self-storage operators, being a good neighbor is nothing new. However, the growing number of facilities and the increased competition have brought neighborliness into sharper focus. “I think more operators recognize that it is important to be part of your community,” Holsinger said.