If you’re ever in Franklin, Tenn., strolling through its downtown shopping area, featuring a stunning array of historical buildings, don’t be surprised if one or two of your fellow shoppers look strangely familiar. That’s because they may be one of the area’s top country music stars.
Franklin is located about 21 miles south of Nashville, the country music capital of the world. This suburb of nearly 70,000 citizens is home to some of the most recognizable country music stars who record in Nashville.
Around the city can be seen rolling hills, horse farms, and several Civil War battlefields, which the municipality arduously protects. A historic Civil War battle was fought in the city in 1864. With almost 10,000 casualties, 44 buildings were converted to use as field hospitals, some of which are still standing today.
Ranked as the seventh-largest city in the state, Franklin has expanded more than fivefold since 1980. Many of its residents commute to businesses in Nashville, but Franklin has witnessed considerable economic growth. Since the late 20th century, the city has grown rapidly in population while attracting many businesses.
City authorities are very particular about how businesses expand, given the historical significance of the battlefields and buildings. So, finding a site for a new self-storage facility would be no easy task. That’s the reason Gary Pharo and his partners zeroed in on a parcel near Columbia Avenue in Franklin; it had already been zoned for storage.
The previous owner abandoned the idea of building a facility there when the Great Recession hit. The site is not ideal, since it is set back away from Columbia with little visibility from the main road, but Pharo had his eye on the Franklin community for some time, so he pursued self-storage development at the location, overcoming several municipal, weather, and construction obstacles to build the 68,811-square-foot facility.
His perseverance resulted in a striking store with high visibility that caught the attention of the editors of Mini-Storage Messenger, who named Red Carpet Self Storage the 2017 Facility of the Year-Overall Winner.
In addition to its more famous country music residents, Franklin is also home to a large number of affluent families with high household incomes. To cater to this high-end market, the developers wanted to have an upscale design with a modern, high-tech, yet traditional and comfortable feel.
Pharo had done business for several years with Atlanta-based Universal Storage Group (USG), so he selected the firm to provide design, management, staff training, and marketing consultation. Industry veteran David Dixon, USG’s COO, oversees the operations and management of this facility.
Pharo enlisted M. Anne Ballard, USG’s president of marketing, training, and developmental services, to recommend layout and finishes for the new facility. “If you go into any of the newer facilities we’ve done, Anne’s artistic touch is always there, and it’s as nice as you’ll see in a super nice home,” Pharo says. “She’s got a real talent for colors and design.”
Working in tandem with Lowen & Associates of Nashville, Ballard chose porcelain tile, luxury vinyl tile, aluminum and nickel finishes, along with glass and granite. The spacious solid surface counter allows for more than one tenant to be helped at a time. It also allows for customer privacy with the manager.
“Gary Pharo wants to go after the affluent market and over-deliver to them on finishes and the look and feel of the office and conference room and everything we do,” Ballard says. “I knew we could have a homerun. Gary supports making sure customers are going to remember us.”
Ballard designed the three-story, climate-controlled building so that customers can access their units from four different locations. She redesigned the original plans to add covered loading areas and docks to provide comfortable, shaded spaces for customers to unload their goods. The building’s loading areas allow customers shorter distances when offloading their items. A glass door allows visitors to see other tenants or obstructions on the other side of the loading bay.
“If you keep your customers comfortable, that makes them happier and more likely to refer other people to you,” Ballard says.
The strategy was to make the storage facility easy to access and easy to use to attract a broad customer base, from all types of residential tenants to highly sought after commercial customers. These include retailers, service-based small businesses, contractors, hospitals, lawyers, and other professionals.
“We were somewhat tied to a plan that had already been submitted to the city,” Ballard says. “We took that plan and the office area and amenities, and I completely redesigned those.”
Red Carpet has 562 units, of which 523 are climate-controlled. The facility offers 38 unit sizes, including lockers for student rentals in 3-by-5, 4-by-4, and 5-by-4 unit sizes.
The single-story buildings house 39 drive-up, non-climate-controlled units that are earmarked for sports car storage, RV and boat parking, and possibly some of the toys of the country music tenants. “They’ve got to park their RVs and boats somewhere,” Pharo quips.
Attracting Commercial Customers
Ballard strived to make Red Carpet an attraction for small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and retailers in the area. The key move was to incorporate a business center at the facility.
To support the growing needs of these commercial customers, the business center is equipped with a conference room with a 60-inch color monitor, two workstations with laptops, a network printer, free Wi-Fi, coffee bar, a mini fridge with complimentary cold bottled water and fresh baked cookies for good measure.
These office-away-from-office amenities help to accommodate the new horizon of small businesses that are quickly making headway in the U.S. economy. Red Carpet provides professional space in which to conduct business, allowing smaller companies to store their inventory, records, or goods in the climate-controlled units, and their equipment and materials in the non-climate-controlled contractor units.
Commercial customers can meet with their clients in the on-site conference room, check email, and handle orders at the Wi-Fi enabled workstations. The business center is targeted to small business owners, manufacturers’ reps, small nonprofits, and home-based businesses.
“We believe that if you provide services to small businesses, local clubs, and nonprofits, that will bring more traffic to your store and enhance your lease-up and rental rates,” Ballard says.
Customers can use their personal codes at a keypad on the outside of the building to enter the conference room for after-hours access. They can use the conference room and business center for staff training, inventory, and client meetings.
Living up to their name, the Red Carpet staff offers concierge services to order everything from sandwiches to flowers to pastries. Red Carpet provides free coffee, snacks, and beverages in the business center. A restroom is open 24 hours for customers who use the conference room and business center. And all customers have access to the facility until 10 p.m., while commercial customers have 24/7 access.
Delays And Obstacles
Red Carpet Self Storage sits on three acres, which Pharo considers very tight for storage; however, it was one of few properties in Franklin that was already zoned for self-storage.
Despite the zoning, the City of Franklin made it challenging to win quick approval for the project. The city was very particular on aesthetics and environmental issues, and Franklin officials made planning and permitting extremely difficult. Changes the developer wanted to make required lengthy review and, in some cases, were not allowed.
The city was concerned about night lighting at the property and the appearance of the landscaping. Bioretention swales were recommended for water retention. Swales are shallow, landscaped retention ponds with sloped sides which tend to use more space than other types of receptacles. This made it even more challenging to fit a suitable number of storage units onto an already tight site.
Given the challenges the city presented, Pharo managed to find a silver lining in Franklin’s demands. “I’m glad they were [so particular]—I wasn’t at the time—but it made for a superior project, and that’s what we strive for every time we build one,” he admits.
The project also met with a number of other challenges and obstacles. “When we began construction, we were hit with a very wet spring that delayed site work a little later than it should have,” Pharo says.
The facility also encountered some construction issues that delayed the opening by several months.
To overcome the setback away from the main road, the property was graded to an elevation that allowed Red Carpet to achieve improved visibility from Columbia Avenue.
Red Carpet Marketing
Ballard, who has won 11 Facility of the Year awards over the past 24 years, executed USG’s renowned “guerrilla marketing” program in preparation of Red Carpet’s opening.
A “Coming Soon” sign was posted near the street to advertise Red Carpet’s opening along with a phone number for inquiries. This allowed USG to set up a priority list of potential tenants who could move in shortly after the facility’s opening.
Promotional items were passed out to community businesses, and USG staged a presence at the local ballpark, where giveaways and cold water bottles were distributed to attendees.
In addition, USG placed manager Brenda Boner on site during construction. “In this case, the construction was delayed, so she was probably there four months. She went around and met other competitors and joined the chamber of commerce while we were waiting for construction to finish,” Ballard says.
“She’s out there telling the story about the opening, and we got lots of calls during construction,” she says. “With her out in the community networking and the ‘Coming Soon’ sign, it does well to open the doors with leases in hand the minute you get your certificate of occupancy.”
Red Carpet Self Storage features the latest high-tech security and management systems. Access Control Technologies of Peachtree City, Ga., installed keypads, security cameras, and four flat-screen TVs. PTI Security Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., provided the keypads. In 2018, Red Carpet plans to roll out PTI’s EasyCode, which gives customers a simple touch interface to open gates and doors and monitor their storage unit activity.
Temple, Ga.-based Janus International Group installed the doors, units, and hallway systems. Janus is a roll-up door manufacturer specializing in custom self-storage solutions, which include the production of its third-generation industrial sheet roll-up doors and self-sustaining hallway systems.
By using its special maintenance-free dead axle assembly, the Janus design uses fewer materials, making its doors more efficient to manufacture and faster to install.
USG selected Raleigh, N.C.-based SiteLink for Red Carpet’s property management software. When bringing a new facility on line, management companies, like Universal Storage Group, that use SiteLink software at their stores are able to set up the site in quick fashion, according to Chuck Vion, SiteLink marketing director. In addition, system-wide settings and policies can be adopted from their existing sites that use SiteLink with the click of a button.
Integrating Red Carpet Storage into USG’s extensive web presence was facilitated by SiteLink’s API and SiteLink Marketplace partner Automatit, who created and expands Universal Storage Group’s highly functional website. Having website, call center, and listing service integrations makes it easy for Red Carpet’s managers to follow up with potential tenants. SiteLink API’s two-way sharing of data streamlines the display of real-time pricing, special discounts, and availability online, and allows customers to reserve units and make payments without having to visit the store.
Another benefit to the multi-store owner is the ability to see consolidated reports with activities such as reservations and conversions to rentals on one report. SiteLink also provides multi-facility owners location-level and aggregated reporting of all sites through the Corporate Control Center. Reporting is accessible via client software or from a browser, allowing the owner and district managers to keep tabs on their sites from any location.
Although Gary Pharo’s core business is in shopping center brokerage, he is no stranger to the self-storage industry. In fact, this is his second Facility of the Year award. His first was in 2011 for iStore Self Storage, a converted grocery store in Birmingham, Ala.
“I got into the storage game back in the recession in trying to see how we can reuse some of the retail facilities that would be coming available,” Pharo says. “My wife needed some storage and there wasn’t a lot of good quality storage and the light bulb went off. She’s the one who got me into it; she didn’t know it at the time.”
Pharo and his partners have developed five storage facilities that were either rehabs or ground up. They also purchased a portfolio of seven properties, which received improvements, added amenities, and new staffs. The portfolio was turned around in about 18 months and resold.
Pharo was attracted to Franklin because the affluent area saw a significant uptick in class-A apartment construction as well as a sprinkling of new single-family housing.
The Franklin market satisfied the developer’s demographic targets along with high average household incomes in a strong job-creation market.
“It’s an interesting little municipality with a very quaint and cool downtown where they’ve preserved a lot of their old buildings,” he says. “It’s a little niche suburb we’ve had our eyes on for some time.”
Red Carpet so far has been a rewarding experience for the developers. Ballard reports that physical occupancy reached 25 percent during the first six months of lease-up, which is more than 40 percent above projections. Plus, it’s earned Pharo a second Facility of the Year award that he can put on display.
“We’re very appreciative that MiniCo is giving us this honor,” Pharo says. “We hope we’ll have the opportunity to compete for a couple more in a few years.”
Facility Owner: Gary Pharo, CCIM
Management Company: Universal Storage Group
Architect: Lowen & Associates LLC
Office Layout and Finish Materials: Anne Ballard, USG
Accounting System: SiteLink
Security System: Access Control Technologies
Doors/Units: Janus International
David Lucas is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to all of MiniCo’s publications.