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Drew Joseph
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First Self Storage Investment

Drew Joseph
Posted Aug 27 2019, 18:01

Hi everyone,

I am hoping to use this as a deal diary for our first storage shed investment. In June of this year (2019) my dad and I purchased our first self storage facility in Gainesville Georgia. We've owned a few rental properties and a couple pieces of vacant land with the intention to build. We've always been interested in self storage, and the day I had to rent my first self storage unit, I was hooked...it was a painfully inefficient process and seemingly untouched by automation or technology. The worst part is this was a fairly large facility. First I had to call and the onsite manager was busy, so they had to return my call. Then I had to schedule a meeting between 9-5pm just to see a 5x10 box. Now the onsite manager was also busy, so there were only a few openings that week that I could meet her. I'm very busy during the day (full time corporate job) and had to take time away from work just to run this annoying errand. After arriving on time for my appointment, I had to wait in line for 20 minutes while the manager dealt with another tenants issue. Once I signed a million documents in person, I was shown the unit, given a code to the gate, and given a lock...an hour and a half of inefficiency and wasted time. 

Fast forward two years and my dad and I are talking to a friend who just so happens to know someone looking to sell their 2 acre property off a highly traveled road with 88 storage units. They own another business in town and are looking to retire. They were ready to offload the property since it was really more of a distraction and nuisance for them. It wasn't ran properly and we saw huge upside potential. They had a tiny sign, no website, and only accepted cash or checks every month in person. Despite that they were roughly 60-65% occupied. The kicker...there was an entirely undeveloped (graded) acre next to the 88 units that we could expand on. 

After a few months of DD, we purchased the property for $500k ($100k down, 20 yr am with a 5 year ARM and 10 yr balloon). We immediately transitioned tenants to our online portal/payment system and got updated lease agreements/emails/good contact information. We have 3-6 units that still havent paid (we are in our second month) and are likely going to auction. We have a fully operational website, with a call center since we dont have on site management and my dad and I have day jobs. We've had significant signup volume since the website has been gaining traffic (4 last week and 1 this week).

We're in the process of adding a large sign out front, updating the security cameras, replacing worn out latches and doors, and installing an automatic gate. Currently tenants have to manually unlock a padlock and open/close the gate which results in an open gate a lot of the time. 

The bigger plan is to pave the acre of flat land adjacent to the storage units and expand the fence to offer boat/RV storage. We aren't far from a major lake and we've already had people ask if we offer this kind of storage. It's not an insignificant investment, but we think there is significant demand.


In general we look to automate processes, implement systems to quickly collect payment, increase marketing efforts to normalize occupancy to 80%, and to expand into boat/RV storage. There are numerous under performing storage facilities in our area which are likely run by baber boomers who are looking to exit and retire. If we can prove the concept here we hope to expand by acquiring nearby facilities and implement the same processes and marketing efforts, all unlocking hidden value. 


I'll try to keep this updated weekly at a minimum, and will hopefully meet other storage facility owners in our North Georgia area, as well as lenders, vendors, lawyers and accountants! If nothing else it will be good to look back on years down the road.


Thanks for checking it out!


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Jace Perry
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Jace Perry
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Replied Aug 27 2019, 18:29

@Drew Joseph great to see you doing well! What technology solutions do you recommend for automating new and current customers? Cheers.

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Replied Aug 27 2019, 18:58

Congratulations Drew! I too am curious what management software you went with, and how their (I assume it is their) call center is working out. I own a boat and RV parking facility with a partner in Woodstock and while the call load isn't that often, it does seem to happen at inopportune times. It is very appealing to outsource to a call center. 

Hopfully you can get away with something besides asphalt or concrete for the parking expansion to cut back on cost. There are loads of gravel lots (ours included) and it doesn't deter customers. 

Look forward to hearing about your project. Best of luck! 

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Andy Bauman
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Andy Bauman
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Replied Aug 27 2019, 22:15

Congrats!  Sounds like an interesting investing, I'll be following!

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Thomas Jackson
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Thomas Jackson
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 03:09

Yeah I second @Jacob Bock.....you can most likely go with gravel for the boat/RV storage....at least for now. Concrete or asphalt is our second largest expense while building our current indoor RV storage facility. Also if you pave it all now, you won’t be able to add buildings later. I would highly consider building indoor storage for the local boat and RV owners.... also small business owners love them. 

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Jane Blake
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Jane Blake
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 05:01

Great to hear you are doing this! Are you possibly going to the conference in October? I have some ideas I’d like to talk with you about this. I just sold my house in Gainesville, Ga in April. I also still live in the area and glad to hear about this route your taking. 

Jane

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Amy Aziz
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Amy Aziz
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 10:27

Congratulations @Drew Joseph! What a way to see opportunity and seize it. Looking forward to read more updates! 

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Michael Wagner
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Michael Wagner
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 13:53

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 16:43
Originally posted by @Jace Perry:

@Drew Joseph great to see you doing well! What technology solutions do you recommend for automating new and current customers? Cheers.

 Hi Jace, thanks for the kind words. Full disclosure, we are very new and haven't proven anything out yet. What we have done is use an online platform, call center, and merchant/payment processing company who have made our lives a lot easier. We use easy storage solutions to handle our website, our call center, our marketing, basically all the day to day. They basically send us emails/texts when someone moves in or has a question. They also update all of our current proms or sales real time and help us increase rankings on google searches.

New customers are easy since all they know is the website. Old customers are difficult, and while we've only been at it for a couple months we have everyone accepting the new process and logging in to make payments. I was a little surprised at how many people would prefer to mail cash or checks every month than simply logging on and pressing pay. I suppose some of that is because the previous owners werent attracting tenants from google searches or anything, basically all word of mouth. 
 

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 16:49
Originally posted by @Jacob Bock:

Congratulations Drew! I too am curious what management software you went with, and how their (I assume it is their) call center is working out. I own a boat and RV parking facility with a partner in Woodstock and while the call load isn't that often, it does seem to happen at inopportune times. It is very appealing to outsource to a call center. 

Hopfully you can get away with something besides asphalt or concrete for the parking expansion to cut back on cost. There are loads of gravel lots (ours included) and it doesn't deter customers. 

Look forward to hearing about your project. Best of luck! 

Hi Jacob, thanks! We went with easy storage solutions out of Utah and they have been nothing but a pleasure to work with...from uploading our pdf hard copy lease to the website, to holding our hands setting up industry best practices and everything in between. I personally want to scale this thing and am not good at talking to tenants. It stresses me out and I am not really available between 9-5 with my current job. For me it was a must that we have someone else handle that. I would definitely check them out, it's not cheap but for us it was critical.

I'm really glad you brought the asphalt point up. I'd like to pick your brain a little. We were quoted about $37k just to pave the site which was a punch to the gut. Do you know how gravel typically compares to asphalt (50% for example)? I know its location and deal specific but I wasnt sure if there was a general rule of thumb. How often are you guys having to re gravel the parking lot? And how do you delineate parking spaces without painted lines?

Thanks!!

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:13
Originally posted by @Thomas Jackson:

Yeah I second @Jacob Bock.....you can most likely go with gravel for the boat/RV storage....at least for now. Concrete or asphalt is our second largest expense while building our current indoor RV storage facility. Also if you pave it all now, you won’t be able to add buildings later. I would highly consider building indoor storage for the local boat and RV owners.... also small business owners love them. 

 Thomas, this is huge...thanks for the input. I've kicked the idea around wasn't really sure what the maintenance cost was (how many loads to you bring in a year to maintain) and if there was a buyer perception around gravel, which sounds like there isnt. How do you guys mark off parking spaces in a gravel lot?

Thanks!

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:15
Originally posted by @Jane Blake:

Great to hear you are doing this! Are you possibly going to the conference in October? I have some ideas I’d like to talk with you about this. I just sold my house in Gainesville, Ga in April. I also still live in the area and glad to hear about this route your taking. 

Jane, nice to meet you! I'm not planning on making the conference unfortunately. I didn't know about it until recently. We should stay in touch and would love to hear about your ideas and discuss local strategies!

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:16
Originally posted by @Amy Aziz:

Congratulations @Drew Joseph! What a way to see opportunity and seize it. Looking forward to read more updates! 

Thanks Amy!!!

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:18
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

Thanks for the positivity Michael! Thats actually who we are using and love them! Great customer support and have exceeded expectations so far! It's too bad there aren't other national vendors like automatic gate installers, pavers, etc.

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Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:21

We used repurposed fire hose, which if I recall correctly we found cheapest on eBay. 

We use ESS for our parking facility and have been happy with their system so far. We haven't used the card center, but it is tempting to try. We found ESS to fall short at random aspects of parking vehicles, it is clear they are designed for enclosed units. These hiccups were pretty minor. 

The Georgia Self Storage Association seems to be a great resource. We were happy to get their lease for simply joining, which is updated to current law by a legal team specializing in SS, and much cheaper than having an attorney write you one. A lesson we learned the hard way. 

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Jace Perry
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Jace Perry
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:26
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Jace Perry:

@Drew Joseph great to see you doing well! What technology solutions do you recommend for automating new and current customers? Cheers.

 Hi Jace, thanks for the kind words. Full disclosure, we are very new and haven't proven anything out yet. What we have done is use an online platform, call center, and merchant/payment processing company who have made our lives a lot easier. We use easy storage solutions to handle our website, our call center, our marketing, basically all the day to day. They basically send us emails/texts when someone moves in or has a question. They also update all of our current proms or sales real time and help us increase rankings on google searches.

New customers are easy since all they know is the website. Old customers are difficult, and while we've only been at it for a couple months we have everyone accepting the new process and logging in to make payments. I was a little surprised at how many people would prefer to mail cash or checks every month than simply logging on and pressing pay. I suppose some of that is because the previous owners werent attracting tenants from google searches or anything, basically all word of mouth. 
 

 Thanks for the reply! What company do you use as the call center? Kind regards.

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Michael Wagner
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Michael Wagner
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:27
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

Thanks for the positivity Michael! Thats actually who we are using and love them! Great customer support and have exceeded expectations so far! It's too bad there aren't other national vendors like automatic gate installers, pavers, etc.

YES! How cool would that be to have a national directory/scheduler of sorts.  Just yesterday I hired a mechanic in Florida to do a pre purchase inspection on a truck I'm buying tomorrow (I live in NY so the $99 inspection fee was a no brainer)....All it required was one phone call and a couple clicks of the mouse.  Super cool....but I digress.  My point is I agree with you that the "disruption" is just getting underway and there is incredible opportunity for us as operators as well as for technology companies with inroads into our industry!!!

I think gate installation (and more specifically access control integration) is the biggest thorn in my side.  ESS is making some headway there but only on the equipment supply and integration side...installers are still hard to vet! I'm actually flying down to our Forest Property in NC Friday to hopefully get our gate up and running once and for all.  Its the last piece of the puzzle for that project..aside from filling it up of course.  

On a side note, You might consider starting a blog here on BP as a way to keep your "updates" front and center to the page...otherwise all these side conversations are going to distract from the continuity of your story.  The chatter can still happen on the blog but will be in a separate comment section.  Just an Idea.  Feel free to check mine out, All Things Self Storage to get a sense for how easy they make it to post and manage!

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Taylor L.
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Taylor L.
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Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:50

Well done, thank you for sharing! This is one of my favorite aspects of the self storage business, how much operational upside there is, and how low the adoption of technology has been by the mom and pops. Please do keep us updated

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Aug 28 2019, 17:53
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

Thanks for the positivity Michael! Thats actually who we are using and love them! Great customer support and have exceeded expectations so far! It's too bad there aren't other national vendors like automatic gate installers, pavers, etc.

YES! How cool would that be to have a national directory/scheduler of sorts.  Just yesterday I hired a mechanic in Florida to do a pre purchase inspection on a truck I'm buying tomorrow (I live in NY so the $99 inspection fee was a no brainer)....All it required was one phone call and a couple clicks of the mouse.  Super cool....but I digress.  My point is I agree with you that the "disruption" is just getting underway and there is incredible opportunity for us as operators as well as for technology companies with inroads into our industry!!!

I think gate installation (and more specifically access control integration) is the biggest thorn in my side.  ESS is making some headway there but only on the equipment supply and integration side...installers are still hard to vet! I'm actually flying down to our Forest Property in NC Friday to hopefully get our gate up and running once and for all.  Its the last piece of the puzzle for that project..aside from filling it up of course.  

On a side note, You might consider starting a blog here on BP as a way to keep your "updates" front and center to the page...otherwise all these side conversations are going to distract from the continuity of your story.  The chatter can still happen on the blog but will be in a separate comment section.  Just an Idea.  Feel free to check mine out, All Things Self Storage to get a sense for how easy they make it to post and manage!

No kidding, do you use any kind of technology to avoid a lock and key for individual units? The bluetooth automatic lock has me so intrigued. Once we get our house in order and expand into boat and RV its something I want to entertain more...in theory you could have a completely self sufficient facility with very little need for human intervention. I got a rough quote which was just shy of $90k for installation of bluetooth locks and new doors (all 88), but I'm afraid the location of the facility probably doesnt lend itself to more sophisticated tenants who would pay extra for that convenience. 

Good luck with the gate, we are in the process of getting that automated as well...quoted between 9-11k to install the operator and pedestal so that every tenant can have their own individual codes. Is that in line with what you are seeing?

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Michael Wagner
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Michael Wagner
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Replied Aug 29 2019, 03:04
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

Thanks for the positivity Michael! Thats actually who we are using and love them! Great customer support and have exceeded expectations so far! It's too bad there aren't other national vendors like automatic gate installers, pavers, etc.

YES! How cool would that be to have a national directory/scheduler of sorts.  Just yesterday I hired a mechanic in Florida to do a pre purchase inspection on a truck I'm buying tomorrow (I live in NY so the $99 inspection fee was a no brainer)....All it required was one phone call and a couple clicks of the mouse.  Super cool....but I digress.  My point is I agree with you that the "disruption" is just getting underway and there is incredible opportunity for us as operators as well as for technology companies with inroads into our industry!!!

I think gate installation (and more specifically access control integration) is the biggest thorn in my side.  ESS is making some headway there but only on the equipment supply and integration side...installers are still hard to vet! I'm actually flying down to our Forest Property in NC Friday to hopefully get our gate up and running once and for all.  Its the last piece of the puzzle for that project..aside from filling it up of course.  

On a side note, You might consider starting a blog here on BP as a way to keep your "updates" front and center to the page...otherwise all these side conversations are going to distract from the continuity of your story.  The chatter can still happen on the blog but will be in a separate comment section.  Just an Idea.  Feel free to check mine out, All Things Self Storage to get a sense for how easy they make it to post and manage!

No kidding, do you use any kind of technology to avoid a lock and key for individual units? The bluetooth automatic lock has me so intrigued. Once we get our house in order and expand into boat and RV its something I want to entertain more...in theory you could have a completely self sufficient facility with very little need for human intervention. I got a rough quote which was just shy of $90k for installation of bluetooth locks and new doors (all 88), but I'm afraid the location of the facility probably doesnt lend itself to more sophisticated tenants who would pay extra for that convenience. 

Good luck with the gate, we are in the process of getting that automated as well...quoted between 9-11k to install the operator and pedestal so that every tenant can have their own individual codes. Is that in line with what you are seeing?

I haven't done an automated lock/door facility yet. Looked at it very heavily for a conversion project we are doing down in SC and it was priced affordably enough ($45k for 190 doors) but I couldn't get around spending more on something that was so "new". To me, you still need someone to make sure unit is swept etc so I'd still need. "boots on the ground". A it's replacing is the lock out and lock out removal but we rely on our gate to do that and only lock individual units when lien goes in place...And, like you, this was a smaller, less sophisticated market so I suspect I will be the market leader even without this added ammenity. If I was more convinced of the "reliability" I may have done it.and I would consider again in a more competitive/affluent market!

$9-11K doesn't sound unreasonable assuming it includes cost of all equipment. I try to Target $8k but it depends on market...ànd I'd pay more for someone who could confidently get it done WITHOUT my involvement;)

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Jane Blake
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Jane Blake
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Replied Aug 30 2019, 12:10

@Drew Joseph agree on staying in touch. I currently rent 2 units up in the Cornelia area. My brother owns a storage place outside of Denver that has 600 spots, so he has a lot of tips I have picked up over the years. In case your interested there is an REI group that meets the last Wednesday of each month at Re- cess restaurant off the square in Gainesville at 6:30pm. You should check it out if possible.

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Sep 3 2019, 17:55
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:
Originally posted by @Drew Joseph:
Originally posted by @Michael Wagner:

Looking forward to watching this play out for you! Love to see Self Storage Success Stories. we've had great success using Easy Storage Solutions Management software and call center at all our locations throughout the country!  You should definitely give them a look if you haven't yet.

Thanks for the positivity Michael! Thats actually who we are using and love them! Great customer support and have exceeded expectations so far! It's too bad there aren't other national vendors like automatic gate installers, pavers, etc.

YES! How cool would that be to have a national directory/scheduler of sorts.  Just yesterday I hired a mechanic in Florida to do a pre purchase inspection on a truck I'm buying tomorrow (I live in NY so the $99 inspection fee was a no brainer)....All it required was one phone call and a couple clicks of the mouse.  Super cool....but I digress.  My point is I agree with you that the "disruption" is just getting underway and there is incredible opportunity for us as operators as well as for technology companies with inroads into our industry!!!

I think gate installation (and more specifically access control integration) is the biggest thorn in my side.  ESS is making some headway there but only on the equipment supply and integration side...installers are still hard to vet! I'm actually flying down to our Forest Property in NC Friday to hopefully get our gate up and running once and for all.  Its the last piece of the puzzle for that project..aside from filling it up of course.  

On a side note, You might consider starting a blog here on BP as a way to keep your "updates" front and center to the page...otherwise all these side conversations are going to distract from the continuity of your story.  The chatter can still happen on the blog but will be in a separate comment section.  Just an Idea.  Feel free to check mine out, All Things Self Storage to get a sense for how easy they make it to post and manage!

No kidding, do you use any kind of technology to avoid a lock and key for individual units? The bluetooth automatic lock has me so intrigued. Once we get our house in order and expand into boat and RV its something I want to entertain more...in theory you could have a completely self sufficient facility with very little need for human intervention. I got a rough quote which was just shy of $90k for installation of bluetooth locks and new doors (all 88), but I'm afraid the location of the facility probably doesnt lend itself to more sophisticated tenants who would pay extra for that convenience. 

Good luck with the gate, we are in the process of getting that automated as well...quoted between 9-11k to install the operator and pedestal so that every tenant can have their own individual codes. Is that in line with what you are seeing?

I haven't done an automated lock/door facility yet. Looked at it very heavily for a conversion project we are doing down in SC and it was priced affordably enough ($45k for 190 doors) but I couldn't get around spending more on something that was so "new". To me, you still need someone to make sure unit is swept etc so I'd still need. "boots on the ground". A it's replacing is the lock out and lock out removal but we rely on our gate to do that and only lock individual units when lien goes in place...And, like you, this was a smaller, less sophisticated market so I suspect I will be the market leader even without this added ammenity. If I was more convinced of the "reliability" I may have done it.and I would consider again in a more competitive/affluent market!

$9-11K doesn't sound unreasonable assuming it includes cost of all equipment. I try to Target $8k but it depends on market...ànd I'd pay more for someone who could confidently get it done WITHOUT my involvement;)

Yea thats a great point about the gate kind of filling the security role, or a similar function as the bluetooth locks. The gate company has been around for 20 years and seem very professional so fingers crossed!!

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Sep 3 2019, 17:57
Originally posted by @Jane Blake:

@Drew Joseph agree on staying in touch. I currently rent 2 units up in the Cornelia area. My brother owns a storage place outside of Denver that has 600 spots, so he has a lot of tips I have picked up over the years. In case your interested there is an REI group that meets the last Wednesday of each month at Re- cess restaurant off the square in Gainesville at 6:30pm. You should check it out if possible.

That sounds great! Thanks for the headsup. I actually work and live in Atlanta so I'll have to plan a meeting kind of far out but would love to attend! 

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Sep 3 2019, 18:04

Week of 8/26:

We had a pretty solid week...we put down a deposit on the new sign ($700) and the deposit on the automatic gate ($4.8k) which is all really exciting. Our website traffic continues to increase and we had one new signup. The month of August ended in the negative for cash flow due to timing of certain bills and a $700 maintenance charge for someone to come out and replace a bunch of old latches.

Other than that, fairly quiet. We are going to run a "cross sale" to see if we can market to our current tenants (can get an equal size or smaller unit for half off). It's just an idea, and since we inherited so many tenants we dont have a lot of email addresses so I don't expect too many takers. Hopefully as we get our own tenants signing up, the email list will be more valuable. 


We're kicking around the idea of mandatory auto pay for new customers. It's surprising how many are continually late, and we have to chase them with snail mail which adds up. We also have 3-9 units going to auction depending on the next few weeks. So many subscriptions (Netflix, Spotify, gym membership, etc) are all auto pay so I dont think it will be a shock. I also think it would screen out undesirable tenants. I'd be really interested to hear if you guys have tried this, and/or how you think about it?

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Drew Joseph
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Drew Joseph
Replied Sep 3 2019, 18:11

Also (and I hope this is okay, I couldnt seem to find a definitive yes or no) I was wondering if you guys had any advice or thoughts on our website https://www.phoenixstoragepro.com

I'm adding real pictures instead of the stock ones, but if you have any formatting or buttons that have worked well for you, please let me know! I'm also trying to build our Google business page by blogging, posting offers, and posting new pictures. We are considering purchasing add space but for 88 units, I'm not sure the cost makes sense.

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Jane Blake
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Jane Blake
Pro Member
  • Gainesville, GA
Replied Sep 3 2019, 18:30

Drew

Looking down through your post, if your installing an electronic gate, require an email address so you can send the gate code to them. That would take care of getting the needed email addresses.

Jane