History of Self Storage

History of Mini Storage or Self Storage

Self-storage is the term applied to the facilities which offer do-it-yourself, month-to-month storage spaces. They are also referred to as "mini-storage" or incorrectly "mini warehouses" by some. While many types of structures have been utilized, including warehouses, car dealerships, and other prior-use buildings, the most common types of facilities have been built for this purpose.

A 'typical' storage facility might be on 2.5 to 5 acres with long rows of five to seven one­ story buildings containing from forty to one hundred-thousand square feet of rentable area. The buildings have exterior doors with most units offering direct, drive-up access. This enables the space to be fully utilized. The tenant uses his own padlock and has sole access.

Some storage facilities are simply renovated buildings transformed into storage operations. Some new multi-story facilities offer individual unit access only from interior hallways. Generally, customers prefer drive-up, single-story self-storage facilities, however, many newer facilities are constructed this way.

A number of other types of self-storage are found in the marketplace. This includes: outdoor storage for boats and motor vehicles, the use of modified intermodal containers or other types of movable modules as mini-storage facilities, vaults or high security safety boxes, and climate-controlled storage for business records and fragile or expensive items and materials.

Facilities vary greatly in quality, construction, materials, and security, as well as in size. There are many in the 10,000-30,000 square foot range and many larger than 100,000 square feet. Some have corridor units, two stories, multiple on-site apartments, etc. Existing properties have storage units which range in size from less than 50 square feet to more than 1,600 square feet. The average unit size is typically about 100 square feet. Most facilities offer a range of unit sizes from 5'x 5' to 10'x 30'.

Storage spaces are basically bare rooms without utilities or other appurtenances. They are intended to provide "dead" storage space and have no utilities other than a light fixture. Some facilities offer air-conditioned units in hot, humid areas. Others offer limited heating in cold climates, although this option is not very common for a variety of reasons. As a general rule, self-storage operators simply rent space to customers who store personal items and are not allowed to work in their space, live in it or storage perishables/animals.

Personal storage has existed from earliest of times. While on a trip to Xian China, Buzz Victor, the founder of the Self Storage Association, saw where the Chinese people stored their belongings in clay pots in public underground storage pits as far back as 6,000 years ago.

Credit for the beginning of the modem personal storage must go to England. It all began when British banking institutions were asked to safeguard valuables for clients embarking on extended voyages. John Yelland, one of the first self-storage pioneers in California, noted that when British banking institutions were asked to safeguard valuables for clients embarking on extended voyages, the bankers would seek space from the moving (drayage) companies. Overcrowded vaults forced bankers to seek help from the drayage companies for those who had brought in these valued possessions. These drayage companies procured storage space in primitive lofts which were little better than stables.

In the 1850s, the original moving and storage pioneers such as Bekins, devised the first warehouse specifically constructed for household goods and treasured personal items. One storage warehouse developed in 1900 was not unlike a modern self storage facility known as private room storage. Minneapolis Van Lines and Weimer Storage in Elizabeth, New Jersey were other moving and storage companies that offered personal storage during the 1920s. Belongings were shipped via horse and cart, then unloaded downstairs and taken to the tenant's individual room on the second floor. The early storage facilities were two-story structures. All packing was performed on the lower floor and private storage rooms were located on the second floor. This principle of storage prevailed for the next sixty years, but the moving and storage warehouses grew into four, six and ten story structures with freight elevators. Some of the floors were open areas where the belongings were stacked. Other floors had shelves and racks, although storage rooms were the major method of storage.

Arthur Trachte, of Trachte Building Systems, built interconnected metal garages for "cars without homes" in 1928. Typically, in these examples, the operator or landlord had responsibility for the items being stored. When a landlord or "warehouseman" takes "care, custody, and control," it creates a bailment arrangement with the customer, and the liability falls upon the warehouseman.

During the 1950's, the storage industry was faced with rising cost. As a result, the palletized warehouse was developed in a 26-foot high concrete tilt-up building with tenant belongings crated and stacked three high in wooden boxes. The boxes were moved around with a forklift. This worked well when the storage involved long distance moving, however, it was inconvenient and costly to the customer if the customer wanted access his belongings.

In the mid-1960's, the first self-storage facilities were opened in Texas. Self-storage proved immediately successful. Since the mid-60s, mini storage facilities have spread throughout the United States and Canada, with facilities now being constructed in Australia and Europe. The early “self-storage” pioneers, as we know it today, started in the mid-1960s included Russ Williams, Bob Munn, Charles, Ronald, and Richard Bowyer, Louis Rochester and his many partners, Tom Brundage, Guy Robertson, and Sam Judge. To put their accomplishments into perspective, each of them were building years before Public Storage built their first facility in El Cajon, California.

Russ Williams, and his stepson Munn, built the first self-storage facility in Texas called "A-1 U-Store-It U-Lock-It U-Carry the Key" in Odessa. Russ Williams worked his entire life in the oil industry, and in the 1960s he owned an oil industry service company. Russ and Bob were both avid fishermen, and they needed a place to store both their boats and their oil field equipment. Other firms in the oil industry also needed to have quick access storage for their equipment in the event of an emergency. According to Munn, Williams had seen some apartments somewhere with four to 10 garages side by side with common walls between them such as one project in Irving, Texas built by Paul Nelson in 1962. Others have reported that Williams heard about the concept while ill in a hospital. Williams discussed the idea of building a storage facility with Louis Rochester in 1964. Rochester chose not to become a partner in the original project and sold the land to Williams for that first facility.

The first facility was located in an industrial area and was 100 feet by 30 feet in size. The facility had asphalt drives and was built with block walls, block partitions and panel garage doors. The units were 10 feet by 30 feet to accommodate 24-foot bass boat trailers. To call attention to the facility, the building was painted yellow and the doors black. Williams observed that the residential customers wanted to store household items instead of boats. In attempt to keep up with the demand, Williams added on to the facility several times, and also added an office.

They built a second facility in a more residential area of Odessa and named it "A-1 U-Store-It Warehouses". Their third facility was built in 1966 in Midland, and it consisted of 300 storage units. Williams and Munn continued to build in the west Texas market close to El Paso in 1969. Henry Taylor also built "AA Storage" in El Paso that same year. Friends of Munn and Williams, Stephen and Paul Payne of Lubbock started building their "A-ABC Self Storage", "A-1 U-Store-It", and "Aardvark Self Storage" in Lubbock in 1970.

Williams also formed a partnership with Foy Hall from Corpus Christi. The new facilities were being built under the registered name "A-1 U-Store-It Warehouse, Inc." In 1966 Foy Hall built his "A-1 U-Store-It" in McAllen, and had his son-in-law, Bob Mallory, manage the facility. Mr. Hall went on to build several others in south Texas, the first self-storage in Austin in 1967, and the first in Corpus Christi in 1969. Mallory suggested to an old Air Force friend, Gene Flesner from Colorado Springs, that he should get into the storage business. After checking it out, Mr. Flesner bought the name "U-Store-It" from Foy Hall. Starting in 1971 Flesner built at least two "U-Store-It" facilities in Colorado Springs, and Public Storage presently owns both facilities. Mr. Flesner also developed under the name "Valley Mini Storage." On the advice of his son who was going to school in Texas, Frank Blumeyer checked out both Mr. Hall’s Corpus facility, and Flesner’s facilities in Colorado. He then started building "A Storage Inn" facilities in St. Louis in 1972.

Charles Bowyer and his father saw the A-1 U-Store-It in Mc Allen, Texas, and they built their first "Stor-More" facility in their hometown of Brownsville in 1967. Charles and his brothers Richard and Ronald proceeded to build approximately 31 facilities throughout south Texas. Currently, most of these facilities are owned by Doug Mayer and are operated under the name "Best Little Warehouses in Texas." While visiting relatives in Fresno, California in 1968, Bowyer tried to obtain bank financing to build additional facilities. Though he was unsuccessful in getting financing, the bank officers seemed very intrigued with this new form of real estate. At approximately the same time, Darrel Ridenour started to build the "Darrel’s Mini Storage" in Fresno. It may only be a coincidence, but this appears to be the link to start of facilities in California.

Melvin "Dutch" Ehler, a retired colonel from the Air Force, lived in San Antonio, and while visiting a friend in South Texas, he saw this new concept of self-storage. Liking the concept, he formed a partnership with Frank Stanush to build the first facility in San Antonio on Loop 410 in 1969. Ehler and his wife, along with Stanush decided to name their facility "A-1 Self Storage," thus coining the term "self-storage." Several years later, the Ehlers agreed to sell a set of their plans to Don Daniels for $55.00 with the understanding that he would not build them in San Antonio. Daniels and his partner, Charles Barbo, built their first facility in Tumwater, Washington in 1974. This partnership later became "Shurgard Storage Centers."

A previous business partner with Frank Stanush, Tom Brundage saw the A-1 Self Storage, and in turn, he started building the "A-AAA Key Mini Warehouses" in 1969. Brundage typically built larger facilities, more in the range of 50,000 square feet. He also built more than one in a particular market. Approximately 38 A-AAA Keys have been built in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Illinois.

 A facility called "A-OK Mini Storage" appears to be the first facility built in the Houston area in 1970. After seeing Foy Hall’s Corpus facility and the A-Ok Mini, Sam Judge built the second facility in Houston called "U Store Um" on South Shaver. Judge went on to build several others in Houston and five in the New York area. One of his projects was the first high-rise conversion in Yonkers, New York called "Big Yellow." Several other developers completed self-storage projects that year in Houston.

Shortly after Judge opened his first facility, Guy Robertson opened his first "Pilgrim Self Service Storage" on Gufton in Houston. The Pilgrims were typically large projects of 80,000 to 100,000 square feet, and many were two stories with stairs to the second level. Robertson went on to build approximately 40 Pilgrims in Houston, Dallas-Ft.Worth, Atlanta, and Indianapolis and other cities. Various operators including Sovran and Public Storage currently own all of the Pilgrims. In 1987, Robertson started Private Mini Storage. Private now has approximately sixty-four facilities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. Robertson has also been credited with building the first climate-controlled facility in 1987.

Though Pilgrim built twelve facilities in the Dallas and Ft. Worth area, the first in Tarrant County was by Richard Farrell. He had lived in Odessa and had seen the original "A-1 U-Store-It." When he moved to Arlington, he built the Lakewood Shopping Center and a self-storage facility in Pantego in 1968. C.B. Dodson built the "Mini Warehouse Company" in Arlington in 1969. A few years later, Charles Bowyer moved from Brownsville and started building "Stor-More" facilities in Tarrant County.

George Fields had seen the Russ Williams building in Odessa, and he formed a partnership with Bob R. Hudgin Jr. to build the first in Dallas County in 1968. While driving back from a trip to south Texas, Fields and his wife were trying to think of a simple name for the facility. At that time, mini-skirts were in vogue, and his wife suggested "Mini Warehouse." They registered the name "Mini Warehouse," and that was the name they chose for their new 55-unit facility located on Kirby in Garland. Fields visited the Bekins warehouse on East Mockingbird (now a Public Storage), where they rented individual spaces separated only by chicken wire. In order to set his rental rates, he took the Bekins’ prices and doubled them. Also in 1969, Jack Goodall and Van Ellis built two "Any-Fill Midget Warehouses." In that same year, the Stor-All’s were built in Irving. Mike Dyer, Paul Rawley, and Barton White were all early developers of self-storage in Dallas. In 1971, Alex Hudson of "American Warehouse Company" built "Stowaway Self Storage" on Sheila Lane. A year later, Norman and Pat Williamson started managing the Stowaway facility. They continued managing the property until July 2000, making them the longest continuous managers of a self-storage facility in the United States. One of their first tenants was Stanley Crossman, who later started developing the "The Attic Self Storage" facilities.

Probably the most influential pioneer in our industry was Louis Rochester. Rochester, as mentioned above, sold the land to Russ Williams for that first self-storage project in Odessa. Rochester, owner of Ector Shopping Centers Inc., was involved in many real estate activities. Observing Williams’ success, Rochester built his first "Colonial Warehouses" in San Angelo in 1969. He and his brother-in-law, Tom Murphy, went on to build approximately 25 facilities in West Texas and New Mexico. Later, under the name of "Colonial Storage Centers," Rochester also formed several partnerships with Mike Dyer (Dallas area), Norm Mason (North Carolina area), James Pruett (Mid-Cities and East Coast area), Charles and Fred Gatlin (Mid-Cities area), Joe Fugit (East Texas), and others.

Pruett noted that there was a general need to change the name from "warehouses" due to zoning and potential liability problems. The various partnerships built approximately 250 self-storage facilities throughout the United States. According to Rochester, Prudential Insurance provided the partnerships with financing with the requirement that their facilities were to be smaller in size (100 to 250 units) and generally one facility to each market area. At this early stage in self-storage, Prudential was not sure of how well the concept would be received by the public. Now, with between 30-40,000 facilities throughout the United States, we know that Russ Williams’ original concept of self-storage buildings has caught on.

Second Generation and Third Generation Self Storage

The majority of facilities operating today are classified as "second generation" self-storage. These include: typical row buildings, some multi storage facilities and conversion of older buildings, perhaps remodeled warehouses or similar structures.

The newer "third generation" concepts may be located in light commercial or even multi-family residential neighborhoods (rather than the traditional industrial corridor or location in heavier commercial areas). These newer facilities emphasize aesthetics in construction, designed to blend in with the "retail" nature of the neighborhoods they serve. Landscaping has also become a prime consideration, as well as development of mini storage in conjunction with a planned tract of offices, retail stores, or business park development.

Some high rise mini storage facilities appear very similar to multistory office complexes. For example, one New Orleans area mini storage facility was designed and located in a structure which also includes a financial institution and high security vault type storage. A number of facilities are now combined with the "incubator" or "starter" office storage arrangements which appeal to novice businesses. Often facilities share a site with a shopping center complex facing the street and mini storage to the rear of the development

Self-storage has matured and is now prevalent throughout the United States and several foreign countries. Formerly viewed by many as substandard real estate, self-storage has proven its value to society and has become a sophisticated retail business. Self storage has spread, survived good and bad economic conditions, and developed as an industry with its own association and specialized suppliers.