Everything’s bigger out West, right? From Texas-sized margaritas to California king beds, the western U.S. has always embraced a bigger-is-better attitude. In fact, self storage has its roots in Texas - the first storage facilities were built there in the late 1960's, and more western states quickly followed suit. Dozens of facilities featuring drive-up, garage-style storage units and outdoor parking had emerged by the 1970's, and the modern self storage industry was born.
With their pioneering spirit, the West paved the way for self storage in America, and many of these properties have continued their success to this day. Now, a new trend is emerging: retrofitting. The storage renter’s world has changed quite a bit since the 1970's, leaving many western facilities in desperate need of updates. The trend of retrofitting existing storage properties (some dating back to the dawn of the industry) is taking off from small towns in Texas to big city metros in California, and today’s storage owners are facing new and unique challenges that their predecessors didn’t. Read on to find out what’s driving this change and how western self storage construction trends are setting the stage for the rest of the industry.
A Wave of Change in the West
Western cities have absolutely exploded around early storage facilities. In 1970, California’s population was roughly 20 million. Now, close to 40 million people live in California, the majority residing in dense metro and suburban areas. Texas’s population boom has been even more mind-boggling: they’ve grown from 11 million residents in the ‘70s to close to 30 million residents today. Land prices have also soared with the population growth, and self storage is in higher demand than ever. All of that is great news for our industry, but with rapid growth comes growing pains.
This major population boom has spurred the need for owners and operators to renovate and modernize existing storage facilities from the plains of the Midwest to the salty shores of the Pacific Ocean. The update isn’t about just slapping on a new roof and fixing the paint: western operators are updating both their physical structures and the technology tools they use to to rent units and bring in new tenants, like kiosks, websites, software, and gate and access control tools.
What’s Trending Now?
Converting malls and department stores into modern storage spaces is all the rage, but there’s even more innovation happening in the areas of the country that pioneered self storage. Hundreds of storage facilities across the western U.S. are adjusting unit mixes, modernizing their buildings, flipping old warehouses into storage space, and adding climate controlled units to breathe new life into their aging properties.
Adjusting Unit Mixes at Existing Facilities
While it’s rare to find a storage facility from the 1970's in New York, it’s not uncommon to find a self storage facility in Texas that’s thirty or forty years old. For many owners, as their storage business grew, so did the metro area surrounding it - in a big way. As cornfields were quickly replaced with apartment complexes and high schools, and suburbs expanded with fast-growing housing complexes, demographics changed and storage owners’ unit mixes became outdated.
Whether aging facilities have too many extra-large units or not enough 5’ x 10’ units, the need for updating existing facilities’ unit mixes across the western U.S. is constant. When space is limited, expansion isn’t always an option. In these cases, existing structures have to be refurbished with new units to create a better unit mix for the area’s new demographics and improve the facility’s economic occupancy.
Upgrading to Offer Class-A Self Storage Features
Many veteran storage facilities around the U.S. are upgrading their buildings to keep up with class A, amenity-rich storage brands like Greenbox Self Storage, Lockaway Storage, and Beyond Self Storage. So what separates “class A” storage facilities from the rest? Features like excellent security systems, cameras, gates, online rental tools, mobile-optimized websites, climate controlled units, free wifi, in-office package deliveries, easily accessible elevators, and much more. Class A storage facilities have all the bells and whistles, and with all these amenities comes a top-of-the-market rental rate.
Just like new apartment buildings are often built with luxury in mind, self storage facilities are being renovated and designed to be more attractive and provide better services to the community. The modernization of old storage facilities is even more pronounced in saturated markets like Houston and Los Angeles, where competition is high and storage brands have to work extra hard to stand out from the crowd.
Converting Malls and Department Stores to Self Storage
Toys R Us has filed bankruptcy, and with their recent departure, left hundreds of empty department stores across the U.S. that are in prime shape to be converted to climate controlled storage buildings. As more and more brick-and-mortar chain stores like Sears, Younkers, Kmart, and Kodak join Toys R Us in liquidating their storefronts, starry eyed self storage developers are eagerly scooping up warehouse spaces at auction and creating premium storage centers in sought-after areas of primary and secondary markets.
While it may take developers up to a year to work out zoning issues with the city after purchase, abandoned retail spaces are still converting to self storage fairly rapidly - and you’re likely to see more self storage centers popping up in place of old malls across the western U.S. in the future as more consumers turn to online shopping in place of brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Adding Climate-Controlled Units and Multi-Level Buildings
Traditional, single-story, block building storage facilities with a large footprint are by and large being rejected by city planners in urban and suburban areas. More and more city planners are requiring storage developers to build modern, multi-level storage buildings with an emphasis on attractive design and landscaping. For existing storage facilities with high occupancy and strict zoning from the city or municipality, city requirements leave them with nowhere to go but upwards when considering an expansion.
As more multi-level storage buildings are built, more climate controlled units and modern amenities are added to existing facilities. Outdoor parking options and relocatable storage units can also be added to get the most out of parking lot space. Aging storage facilities are being renovated to look more like modern office buildings than self storage, and owners are adding bright branding to signs and buildings to help bring in new renters.
What Will We See Next?
Western storage facilities are undergoing massive renovations to get up-to-date, with major upgrades like state of the art technology, aesthetic building design, and premium amenities. And looking to the future, we can expect even more change than we’ve seen since the ‘70s.
Self storage is going high-tech (finally, right?) with more facilities embracing bluetooth locks, smart storage units, in-app payments and rentals, and on-demand valet storage services like moving, delivery, and pickup. Additionally, more facilities are building or renovating their properties with future Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements in mind by installing automated unit doors (or keeping doors light and easy to open), adding elevator access, and including fold-up loading ramps.
We’ll have to wait and see which of these trends are here for the long haul and which are just passing fads, but one thing is for certain: self storage is rapidly modernizing and embracing technology and all the conveniences it has to offer. Before you get started on your next renovation project, think long-term and consider updating your facility to stay relevant in an ever-changing market.