Mr. Boeguitas – Juan Pablo II, San Salvador, El Salvador
Back in 2003, a small company based in Guatemala City opened a self-storage facility in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, a suburban city on the outskirts of San Salvador, the political capital, commercial center, and most populated city in the country. It was called Mr. Bodeguitas and it was the first self-storage store in the country.
The choice of Santa Tecla was a bit of a gamble for the holding company, Mr. Bodeguitas International, or MBI, as all the company’s prior stores were in Guatemala City. The store proved successful, and Mr. Bodeguitas has gone on to open two more stores in the San Salvador market and has one more in the planning stages. The city now counts five self-storage stores total.
None of the five, including the prior Mr. Bodeguitas facilities, have made the impact of the third store, built on the northeast side of the city, in the wealthy community of Escalon. Technically called Mr. Boeguitas – Juan Pablo II, this one was revolutionary (if one can use this word safely in Latin America) in that it was the first, four-story, urban and modern-designed self-storage in San Salvador, if not Central America. It also changed the face of self-storage tenancy in the region. One more thing: It is the winner of the 2016 International Facility of the Year award.
What made the Mr. Bodeguitas – Juan Pablo II facility different from even the company’s successful stores in Guatemala City, which are better than 85 percent occupied, is that most of the early self-storage facilities were marketed to, and utilized by, commercial entities. The Juan Pablo II store built and designed to attract the residential customer, in particular, wives, generally considered the general manager of family life in Latin America.
The Juan Pablo II store was opened in November 2013, and, by the end of the next month, occupancy was up to 15 percent. After 12 months of doing business, occupancy rose to 62 percent; by the 30-month mark, occupancy hit 95 percent, where it is today.
“Our first facilities were mainly commercial driven,” explains Federico Rolz, CEO of Mr. Bodeguitas. “We probably were about 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential. With this new facility, we have evened the demand for storage and we are seeing more of a 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential split.”
The product, the look, design, calls for more residential users, Rolz adds. “We have incorporated a lot more comfortable design features for women. The previous facilities had the heavy doors, and the look and feel was heavy duty. We have feminized the operation. Most of our managers are women. All the facilities were attractively painted and the marketing inside was done to cater to women. The residential users tend to be women, and, as can be expected, for commercial, the majority of tenants are male.”
For example, the Juan Pablo II store has slightly wider and brighter hallways, which give a feeling of amplitude, and each storage unit has a Janus International roll-up door, where the lock is in the middle of the door instead of at the bottom for the comfort of female tenants. “These adjustments are not rocket science or big changes, but it’s important to our residential customer base,” says Rolz.
Secondly, the site was on the steep slope of a dormant volcano, which planners used to create two separate entries for commercial and residential users. The latter can access the building from the first floor, while commercial users do so at what is technically the second floor because of the way the ground slopes upward.
Outside of core San Salvador, the land becomes mountainous very swiftly and, on the northeastern side of the city, where the upscale Escalon community can be found, the rolling land at some locations gets steep quickly.
“We knew if we wanted to be on this side of the city, finding flat land was not going to be easy,” says Rolz. “So we worked with the slope a lot, creating two ‘first floor’ access points. We had to do some earthmoving, some parts of the buildings are ‘underground,’ but on the right side of the building we were able to build loading docks for trucks, where the unloads go directly into the second floor. With this design we have reduced significantly the need of elevator use for the first- and second-floor tenants. The site can handle 40-foot freight containers.”
The residential customers have their own entrance on the left side of the buildings, and the heavy commercial users access on the right side directly through the truck unloading bay. El Salvador has dry and rainy seasons, the latter of which is fairly intense, so the residential side of the building has a canopied approach. If people are unloading goods they can do so without getting soaking wet.
“Residential customers store mainly excess household belongings,” says Rolz. “We have very different markets. In San Salvador, we see more established families with large residences but still have other belongings they no longer want in their houses and they need storage. There are some customers that could be ex-pats but not many, not in El Salvador and Guatemala. More of those ex-pat customers can be found in our site in Costa Rica.”
In Central America, Mr. Bodeguitas managers have seen how cities are growing very fast with new residential buildings going vertical. People who were living on the outskirts of the city are now moving into downtown to avoid traffic, living in smaller spaces but not wanting to get rid of all their belongings.
“That verticality phenomenon is going on also in San Salvador,” says Rolz, “where the residential customer is mainly established families that want to retain belongings.”
While the outsiders view of Central America is one of vast poverty, there is also a lot of wealth and, indeed, many communities are equal to any developments in a first-world country. “Residential customers are fairly wealthy compared to the rest of the population,” says Rolz.
It’s All In The Name
To attract both the wealthier residential and successful commercial customers, the founders of the Mr. Bodeguitas company chose its name and logo to reflect a successful North American firm.
“What we wanted to portray with our name was somewhat of an American type of business, which is why we put in the “Mr.” instead of, perhaps, “señor”. The word “bodeguitas” means little warehouse. The logo includes the words “self-storage” and the slogan, “la bodega que usted necesita,” which means “the space you need”. The picture in the logo is of a strong-looking man, because “We wanted to say: ‘We are a big, strong, and established company’.”
The company’s long-term goal is to become the largest Latin American self-storage operator. It has already developed a store in Costa Rica, which is its ninth facility, and it is in the process of getting building permits for two other facilities: one in San Salvador and another in Guatemala City. The company already has five stores in Guatemala City, three in San Salvador, and one in San Jose, Costa Rica. In San Salvador, the company now has two stores in the Escalon area and will build its fourth store in Santa Tecla that will be a five-story building with 3,500 square meters (about 37,700 square feet) of net rentable space.
Mr. Bodeguitas’ first store in San Salvador was 2,300 square meters (about 24,800 square feet). The Juan Pablo II store in Escalon is 2,900 square feet (about 31,200 square feet). The Juan Pablo II counts 240 units with the average rental at 12.1 square meters (about 130 square feet).
“Our goal is to be building two to three facilities a year over the next five years,” says Rolz.
While in college, Rolz joined a company that rented portable toilets. From there, he easily transitioned into doing the rental of light construction equipment. Then he joined a construction company that owned a lot of large equipment and wanted to lease the unused tractors, cranes, etc., to third-party customers. Rolz established a sub-company to turn the idle equipment into a profit center.
Although a native Guatemalan, Rolz’s mother is an American; he spent some of his middle-school years in North Carolina and part of his MBA years in Chicago at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, which had an exchange program with the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, from which Rolz achieved his Masters.
He joined Mr. Bodeguitas five years ago. At the time, the company already had five stores in Guatemala City plus two in San Salvador but needed to expand and improve operations, so it brought Rolz in to run the company.
“My goal was to modernize the company, bring in all the systems, and redefine the marketing strategy and business intelligence to build a platform that would allow us to grow rapidly and be the best in the region,” he says. “After implementing SiteLink, our management software, and getting our management team on board to manage our existing portfolio with a service driven mindset, we started with our multi-story building venture. Originally, Mr. Bodeguitas was developing more suburban type, two-story facilities. As we did all the research, we decided the new Mr. Bodeguitas buildings would be multi-story, more urban, more like you see in later-generation, type-A facilities in the United States. This Mr. Bodeguitas site was our first effort in building a new multi-story facility with all the latest technology, and we are very happy with the results.”
With multi-story, the company wanted to change the design scheme to what Rolz calls a more modern look.
“We traveled to cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami and we looked at a lot of what the U.S. developers were doing,” says Rolz. “Our construction company is part owner of Mr. Bodeguitas, so the architectural department with a clear vision and direction understood what we wanted. We did a main block design and then we hired an external architect with the main idea to really give it a final twist. Since we were building in a very high-end area we wanted to convince not only the users but the local authorities that this building was going to be the nicest on the block.”
In its application for Facility of the Year, Rolz had written: “After a great deal of planning, interviewing loyal customers, and pondering the possibility of going vertical, we decided to make this site in El Salvador the first multi-story, latest-generation facility in the region. The proprietors, the architects, designers, and everyone involved were all on board and we decided to go forward with this dream. With the Juan Pablo II facility, we once again changed the face of the industry in the region. We were well aware that this model had worked well in the United States and in Panama, so we made sure that it would work in El Salvador as well.”
For the design of its first “latest-generation” facility in Central America, the management team and directors wanted to build a site that would create a noticeable impact on the market. A Tetris design incorporated large windows, which exhibited the company’s signature red doors on the inside. To show those red doors, about 20 percent of the façade consists of windows.
To give the store high visibility, the architects indulged the Tetris-type edifice with subdued block colors against extreme lighting.
“The layout of the building helped us,” says Rolz. “We have a huge area of exposure as to how the lot is set up and just the coloring and the red doors give it a pop. Light colors on the façade, with a lot of windows, display those doors, especially during the night. During one of our construction supervisions, I was traveling with one of our senior partners who told me, ‘We need to light this up like a spaceship’. We told the architect to really go in and light it up. We knew during the evening the road was going to be high-trafficked. During the evening the building really brightens up the neighborhood.”
Inside the store, the designers went with “fine finishing” on the flooring, walls, restrooms, the colors, and furniture.
“It’s the best you can get locally,” says Rolz. “When people get there, they often say it looks like a hotel. They say, ‘I never imagined a warehouse could look so beautiful’.”
The lobby boasts air conditioning, but the rest of the building and the individual units are not air conditioned.
“On the building itself we use an insulated panel that keeps the heat away; and through air flow design we push the hot air out and bring the cooler air in,” says Rolz. “We don’t feel that there is a need for air conditioning or climate-controlled units in the country. People have not asked for it, and our research shows people wouldn’t pay for it.”
San Salvador and Guatemala City have high crime rates, so it is particularly important for customers to not only feel safe when visiting the facility, but they obviously also want to assume their belongings are secure as well.
“The security issue is always present,” says Rolz. “You don’t just offer space; you need to offer safe space. We bring a difference. When you come in you see all the security measures you have to go through. People will to pay for that.”
In the Juan Pablo II store, Mr. Bodeguitas’ designers installed several security practices to ensure rigorous control both on site and off site. To start with, the company installed a wireless alarm system and keypads. It offers individual alarms in each unit and a 24/7 armed-guard security. In addition, the store boasts 32 CCTV cameras surveying the facility and appointed a private security company to monitor the cameras off site several times a day, 365 days a year. The store makes sure the security company assigns supervisors to visit the facility several times a day as well as in the evening hours.
A panic button has been installed with easy access for the manager and security guards. A log is kept for each customer visit to the site and managers have smartphones with apps that allow them to gain access to the surveillance system in order to maintain supervision during closed office hours.
To gain access to the store, three access keypads have been installed: one at the gate, a second to access the building from the parking, and one to exit the building. The keypads have been set up to work with SiteLink and they keep track of the tenants who visit the facility. Additionally, before accessing the building, a security guard checks that the visitor is the rightful user of the unit, checking that he or she brings the membership card issued and has a valid ID.
The company supplying the security systems was Van Nuys, Calif.-based QuikStor.
“With QuikStor’s modular system, the consultant and the facility can go through the site’s needs and build the right system from the ground up,” says Shania Cossairt, business development consultant for QuikStor. “In this case, Mr. Bodeguitas wanted to secure several ingress and egress points (entrance and exit gate keypads) as well as an access door by the facility office (access door keypad), all with intercoms to facilitate communication with their tenants.”
Mr. Boedguitas also wanted each unit in the facility to be individually alarmed, and QuikStor’s patented wireless unit alarms worked well for this purpose. “In combination with the keypad system, this allows each tenant to disarm and re-arm the alarm on their unit only, providing a safe and secure experience for everyone,” says Cossairt.
What People Want
To compare the modern Juan Pablo II with Mr. Bodeguitas’ first store in Santa Tekla, the main difference is smaller rental units—mostly because this store caters more toward residential tenants. The Santa Tecla facility has almost all big units. At Juan Pablo II, a customer can start renting between $60 and $85 a month for a unit that is four meters to six meters (13.1 feet to 19.7 feet). The most popular size at the Juan Pablo facility for the residential customer is six square meters (64.6 square feet).
For the commercial tenant, the most popular units range from 15 square meters (161.5 square feet) to 18 square meters (193.8 square feet) and would cost about $200 to $250 a month.
So, besides occupancy, how can you tell if you have been successful? The Juan Pablo II store was built on a new road connecting two busy thoroughfares. It was the first major commercial building on the street and since it opened the avenue has boomed, including four new housing developments.
“Our building is a landmark to the area,” Rolz says. “People often orient themselves by saying, ‘We are going to live near the Mr. Bodeguitas building’.”
Facility Owner: Mr. Bodeguitas International (MBI)
Builder: Construcciones Nabla
Architect: Coral Blue International Group
Structural Engineer: INNCO
Accounting System: Diamante
Management Software: SiteLink
Security Systems: QuikStor
Security Company: ADS S.A. de C.V.
Roof: Aceros Nabla, S.A.
Doors & Interior System: Janus International
Steve Bergsman is an author, journalist, and columnist. His stories have appeared in over 100 newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and wire services around the globe; and his most recent book is “The Death of Johnny Ace.”