2018 Facility of the Year
Many self-storage developers have a hard time pushing the idea of self-storage through cities these days, but that wasn’t the case with Oakley Self Storage in Oakley, Calif., a bedroom community in the Bay Area.
Developers Arthur L. Lorenzini, Michael W. Conley, and Ryan A. Lorenzini decided to dip their toes from mostly residential home builders in the area and enter the self-storage industry.
“We’ve built residential homes as well as working on commercial projects,” says Ryan Lorenzini. “This is the second self-storage we’ve built.”
The result is Oakley Self Storage, a mixed-use $12 million facility with 78,820 rentable square feet, 675 units, and four commercial/retail stores with a total of 5,120 square feet.
The facility opened in January 2018 with all its retail space rented and a better-than-forecasted lease-up rate.
Vacant Property Spells Opportunity
Lorenzini and his partners were running Claremont Homes, Inc., in Pleasant Hills, Calif., but they had worked on a lot of projects in the Oakley community. When they noticed a piece of vacant land located on 4700 Main Street in Oakley, they thought it might present a good opportunity. “Oakley Self Storage was formed to acquire this site,” says Lorenzini.
Oakley is located in the eastern part of Contra Costa County and is one of the fastest growing regions in the Bay Area thanks to the availability of land and relative home affordability.
The land had been vacant for quite some time. Conley says the property had previously been approved for self-storage, but The Recession put the project on hold and prior approval had long since expired. “We negotiated with the owner and they agreed to give us 12 months to get the required zoning, so they knew we could pay the price,” says Conley. “We went back to the city and got the approval, but only after our architect submitted a site plan with a retail component.”
Ariel L. Valli, president of Valli Architectural Group in Ivins, Utah, works extensively designing facilities in the self-storage industry. “Mike called me, and I learned they wanted a mixed-use retail facility,” says Valli. “I was very excited at the opportunity to do something special.”
Valli did some initial site plans and worked closely with the city to get the conditional use permit. Lorenzini says since they had worked with the city on prior projects, they worked in advance with the mayor and others in city government about what the city envisioned for the site. “We coordinated every effort to get everyone on board, including the planning staff,” says Lorenzini.
Lorenzini knew they also wanted a barrel shaped roof on the front retail building with an art deco design and a striking blue and gold color scheme. “We wanted to maximize efficiency of the site, so Ariel designed a three-story building surrounded by three single-story buildings. The site also has a large leasing office with retail space for self-storage tenants.
“I was concerned at first about the mass of the three-story building and the height,” says Valli. “But there wasn’t any negative visual impact, the curved roof sections over the retail makes it visually appealing.”
Valli added that he really had fun with the design colors. “It’s pretty bold for self-storage and we don’t often have the opportunity to work with bold colors,” says Valli. “They’re bold, but not overdone.”
Laws also required that the site include a storm water cleansing site, which comprised 12,430 square feet, or nearly one third of an acre. “This is approximately 10 percent of the total site area,” says Lorenzini. “If you’re working in California, this has to be planned.”
The OSS design integrates the storm water cleansing and larger storage components to the rear of the site, reducing visual impacts and places the rental office and commercial/retail space to the front of the site, maximizing visibility and curb appeal as required by the city.
The site also has something many modern new storage facilities are leaving out: a manager’s apartment. “In this particular market, people are attracted to having an on-site manager,” says Lorenzini. “We find it very beneficial, and it doesn’t even have to be the manager who lives there.”
On-site circulation of traffic was also planned and provided for in wide, concrete drive aisles ranging from 30 to 40 feet in width. The three-story building is located in the center of the property and vehicles can drive all the way around the facility easily. A loading zone with parking is provided at the covered elevator lobby, providing easy upper floor access for tenants.
Joshua C. McMurray, planning manager for the city of Oakley explains that the property is a visual “gateway property” to one of the most prominent development corridors in the city, where 5,000 homes are planned, as well as being on the main thoroughfare. “Accordingly, it was important to the city that the land use on this parcel was of the highest quality and visual aesthetic, from site design and architectural point of view,” says McMurray. “OSS achieved what the city designed in this respect.”
Once the conditional use permit was approved, the partners negotiated the purchase of the land and construction was planned.
Biggest Construction Challenges
Lorenzini recalls the biggest challenges of the project came during the design phase, getting what they needed to make the project pencil vs. exactly what the city wanted. Nevertheless, the construction phase also presented a few unforeseen challenges.
RDS Contracting in Lakeside, Calif., was involved from the beginning of the project after Valli recommended them for the build. “We got involved during the permitting process,” says Robert Stacks, president.
Stacks’ company primarily works in Southern California, but he was intrigued and challenged by the idea of working in Oakley. “We’ve worked on at least 30 different facilities, but this one was the most northern,” says Stacks. “I thought we had what it took to be successful there.”
One of the things Stacks enjoyed about this process was being a part of the project from the beginning. “It’s always nice to work with people who understand the process and makes us a part of the team,” says Stacks. Having the contractor on board during the design process also helped the project stay on budget.
Stacks explains that when the design started to go off budget they were able to find a light gauge radius truss company. “This allowed them to maintain the aesthetics and quality while keeping us on the original budget,” says Stacks.
One of the things the developers didn’t plan for was an emergency responder repeater system. “This came up at the last minute with the fire department; and when it did come up, we got a jump on the design process,” says Stacks.
“Robert was good about adjusting cost; it hurt and we didn’t get the savings in the budget, but we didn’t have to write a check,” Conley explained.
According to Lorenzini, one of the biggest challenges during the first part of construction included beautifying the street frontage as required by the city. “Main Street has very heavy traffic, but there are pockets not developed yet, and this was one of them,” says Lorenzini. “We had to get utilities underground, as well as laying curbs and sidewalks.”
Once the street portion of the property was developed, they were ready to break ground. However, clay proved to be a challenge with the topography. “We started with the office and storage toward the front, but the clay needed to dry out,” says Stacks. “We changed it to phase the construction from back to front. That may have delayed the project a little, but we were able to make up for it in the end.”
On any given day, depending on the phase of construction, Stacks says he had 10 to 60 people on site. “It’s always a challenge coordinating people and equipment, but this wasn’t an unusual project for that,” says Stacks. Lorenzini adds that labor is always an issue in this busy building climate.
MAKO Steel in Carlsbad, Calif., provided the steel for the project. “The main challenge for us was from the architectural aspect with the curved metal roofing,” says Caesar Wright, president. “But when done right—and this was—it is a very nice look.” Gussie Steel performed the installation.
“That roof really made the project jump, and it is a very pretty facility with the retail in front and the storage toward the back,” says Wright.
Janus international provided the interior hallway and door systems.
PTI Security provided the security system. “It is definitely one of the most secure facilities in the area,” says David Browning, security consultant for PTI. “There are alarms on the doors and restricted access that only allows tenants to get into certain areas.”
There is gate access and Oakley has the Easy Code system that allows tenants to use their mobile phone to open the gate. In addition, site graphics enable the office staff to track people in the facility and digital logs allow them to look back and see who had access at what time.
The facility is monitored by 21 high-definition cameras, which are observed on two 40-inch video monitors in the leasing office.
One thing that can never be planned are weather and natural disaster delays. The 2017 North Bay fires delayed utility work on the site, which caused a delay in construction, as well as the opening of the three-story building.
“PG&E worked through it very well,” says Lorenzini. “But the elevator couldn’t function, and so that opening was delayed.”
Once again, the city was very accommodating and issued temporary occupancy permits for the three other buildings. “We wanted to get the people who were interested in renting so they wouldn’t go elsewhere,” says Lorenzini. “We then opened the third building a month later.”
In all, the construction process took a year.
Marketing In The 21st Century
By the time Oakley opened, all four of the retail spaces were full. The retail stores include a tobacco shop, an insurance agent, beauty salon, and dog groomer. While Lorenzini says the rent the retail owners pay isn’t a great sum of money, the customers that patronize those stores are drawn to the storage portion of the property too. “It’s a great benefit in terms of traffic,” says Lorenzini. “Anyone going into those businesses are a captive audience for our facility as well.”
Additionally, the storage facility helps the retail tenants by promoting them on the Oakley website.
Lorenzini’s company understands the importance of hiring someone with good people skills as a manager. They hired Connie Sanseverino two months before opening Oakley. Upper management in modern self-storage facilities aren’t necessarily looking for people with experience in the industry, but good sales skills is a must. Lorenzini says they were lucky to have found a person who had success at both running another self-storage facility as well as in marketing.
Before the facility opened, Sanseverino was working on community outreach, visiting the sales offices of new homes, restaurants and other businesses, apartments, and connecting with the chamber.
Oakley also made use of social media marketing prior to opening. “One particular campaign was to give away a free 10-by-10 storage unit for six months,” says Lorenzini. “To enter, all one had to do was like our Facebook page. This was quite successful, and we were able to build our social media audience while also meeting our contest winners.”
A temporary website was launched during construction to build buzz and interest. JVF Consulting handles Oakley’s website and search engine optimization efforts.
The marketing outreach was so successful that, even before opening, they had a list of 70 interested tenants. “When we opened for business in mid-January 2018, we were able to convert approximately 50 of the folks on the interest list within the first 30 days,” says Lorenzini.
at Oakley understands the importance of a good web marketing program, but also
understands that good old-fashioned community involvement goes a long way. “We
think it’s really important to be involved in the community and have a
community page on our website,” says Lorenzini. “The page announces upcoming
events throughout the community.”
OSS also reached out to community groups such as the Girl Scouts, who sold cookies on the property during the annual cookie sale, as well as veterans, Relay for Life, and other groups.
Moreover, the facility holds charitable events. One event was to benefit the victims of the North Bay fires. “In partnership with a local restaurant, we sponsored a free pancake breakfast to benefit those affected by the North Bay fires,” recalls Lorenzini. “Anyone who donated a new pair of children’s pajamas received one free pancake breakfast.”
“Much of our advertising is tweaking and making changes as necessary, experimenting and trying things out to learn what works,” says Lorenzini.
The facility is currently at 55 percent occupancy and Lorenzini hopes it will reach 65 percent by the end of the year. “We hope to be at full occupancy, which is 90 percent, sooner rather than later, but no later than May 2019.”
Builder / Owner / Operator: Oakley Self Storage, LP
Management: Oakley Self Storage Management, LLC
Architect: Valli Architectural Group
Management Software: SiteLink
Security System: PTI Security Systems
Roof System: Mako Steel
Door System: Janus International
Interior Systems: Janus International
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.