By Casey Cavell
President, CSSM, QSM
Always Open Storage
My name is Casey Cavell and I am a full time real estate investor. A little over a year to this date I did not know much about the self storage industry. I had spent my previous years in residential real estate as the owner of apartment buildings.
I finally got word of this great business and was referred to someone in my home state of Indiana to talk with about the Industry. Scott Meyers of www.selfstorageinvesting.com helped introduce me to the business. He then proceeded to teach me all there was to know on how to analyze and purchase existing self storage facilities. Now here I am a year later with one storage facility under my belt and ready to close my next one.
The first thing I did in my quest of self storage ownership was to contact all the experts in the field. I remember initially talking to Scott Meyers, RK Klibenstein, Jesse Luke, and Rick Jordan to name a few. All of which are well known and successful in the industry. I then went out and bought every self storage publication on the market. I read them all cover to cover two maybe three times a piece. Books such as Self Storage Investing by Scott Meyers, How to Make Money in Self Storage by RK Klibenstein, How to Manage Self Storage by Tom Littion and the list goes on. If it was a book on self storage I was reading it.
Along with reading up on all this great material I was also doing my best ask for advice. You would be amazed with how much successful people will share with you in this industry. They truly helped make my first property a super success.
People like Scott Meyers let us learn from other people who have been there and done that. It is always best to study the successes and failures of others so we put ourselves in a position to succeed. Everyone makes mistakes and there is now way around it. The key is learning from them and doing all that is possible to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes. If at all possible it is best to follow in a path of someone successful in the field you are getting into. That is why I called, email, and talked with these experts before I invested one cent into the self storage industry.
I also took and completed the Qualified Storage Manager’s course from Inside Self Storage. It truly is a must for anyone who wishes to be involved in the industry. It provides so much education that is a must for anyone looking to break through to this industry. After all the reading, educating, and networking possible I was now ready to sign on the dotted line and jump into my first property.
On March 24th 2009 I purchase my first storage facility located in Danville, Illinois. I started the process back in November of 2008 initially talking to the potential seller who lived four hours from me over the phone. It took some relationship building and feeling each other out to structure the best win-win scenario for the both of us. In any transaction you want to try to meet the needs of both parties to provide the best possible result. This takes a lot of communication and contact directly with the selling party, not the broker.
In the months coming up to closing that is when I put together an action plan. I evaluated the market occupancies, demand for storage in the area, the location of the target facility, and how this facility works within community. The goal in my business plan is to find out what I can do to make this facility more valuable. In most cases in order to make any property more valuable you have to increase in the income while decreasing the expenses.
This facility has been a mainstay in the community for years and was well known but was starting to lose its appeal. It was located on a major road in town, which I have found is a must. I also noticed on my site visit the property looked tired and need some new energy. Bushes were not trimmed, leafs were not racked, signage was old and falling apart, the issues went on and on. My mind wondered as I jotted down all the things I wished to improve with the facility in my notebook.
It was now time to evaluate how they were managing the facility, and the answer is poorly. I called the facility to do a few mystery calls and was not greeted with a friendly voice. It was as if I was a nuisance and they were not sure why I was calling them. They did not get my name, my phone number, or any other information from me. The call lasted about 30 seconds and they gave price to me right away as they hung up to go to more important things. Price as you will learn is about the 3rd or 4th thing that is most important to a storage customer thus should not be given early in the sales pitch. I also called other times and left voicemails that were not returned. These days each tenant is worth between $600-$900 in my market and they cannot even get my name, number, or return my phone call. This was great news for me as I can teach any fifth grader to answer the phone properly and professionally.
The other main management upside I saw was that there storage office was about a mile down the road. They also managed other properties which is why I am sure there focus was not on their storage business. It is always nice to find properties where the owner’s main business is not self storage. These properties will provide upside in most cases. The market was still strong and people needed storage. After all of this poor management they were still at 65% occupancy.
How were the competitors doing you may ask? There occupancies were much higher than my target facility which was a good sign. Another good sign was that the competitors did not get my name, phone number, or any other details from me during phone conversations. They answered the phone similarly to my target property. The calls were short and sweet. No appointments were set up or other avenues were put in place to close the sale. I thought to myself wow if there occupancies are much higher than mine and if they still are not answering the phone properly I think I can beat the pants off of them.
A couple months go by and I have my plan for action ready to go. Hire and train a manager, improve curb appeal and customer service, renovate an existing onsite office that was not currently being used. I also planned to install a security gate with key pad entry to help deter crime and late payers from vacating and entering the premises without paying. The list goes on and on. Each of the following would help me increase occupancy and raise rents.
The key to the whole story is that I would not have known any of this if it was not for the education that I received and the people that I talked to. My advice to you is that if you are interested in this business contact industry professionals and others like myself who have been there and done that. You would be surprised on how much information successful people will share with you. All you have to do is have the courage to ask.
Following in the shoes of someone successful, learning from other peoples mistakes, and having the vision to make a property successful are three main ingredients to become a self storage success story. Three short months after I bought the facility our action plan was in full force. Our new marketing efforts and management strategies were in place and working well. We exhibited the best customer service possible and followed the management program of a great friend of mine Rick Jordan over at www.rwjstorage.com. Although I did read every publication possible before I signed on the dotted line I still never managed a property myself. This is why I enlisted the help of Rick Jordan as a consultant for my newfound business. Remember learning from other people mistakes and follow the path of others who have been there and done that is a key to success. The fee that I pass long to him is nothing compared to the value that I have added to my facility with his help.
In conclusion I want to say thank you to the people mentioned in this article along with everyone else that has helped me along the way. The next time you are off looking to purchase an existing facility ask yourself, what can I do better than they are currently doing? Is there a problem here that I can fix? I found the problem(s) and have now fixed them all and I have the passive income to prove it. I wish you the best and good luck.