2023 Unmanned Facility of the Year: StoreEase – Tooele, UT

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Feb 14, 2024 10:05:42 AM

Back in October of 2020, Kelly Gallacher, owner of a facility in Tooele, Utah, managed by StoreEase, toured the StoreEase headquarters and facilities in Birmingham, Ala., to get a feel for its office setup and see its virtual management in action. Although he has been developing self-storage facilities for 35 years (125 facilities spread out over three continents, five countries, and 30 states), he wanted that in-person experience to better understand how to design his own StoreEase facility. Two years and three months later, the ultramodern facility known as StoreEase – Tooele, Utah, which is virtually managed from Birmingham, is generating astonishment from its high-tech features and accolades from everyone who enters its office door.  


Virtual Value 

No matter the time of day, within 10 seconds of stepping inside the office of StoreEase – Tooele, Utah, you are greeted by a virtual manager who appears on screen at the rental counter. The greeting is never delayed because the on-site manager is taking a break, assisting another tenant, conducting a lock check, sleeping, or any of the other countless activities that could prevent a manager from promptly and properly acknowledging an on-site customer.  


StoreEase FOY 2


It seems futuristic, but like motion sensing lights, sensors within the rental office activate the initial greeting that welcomes the visitor to the facility. Following the greeting, an “in-call transfer” is completed, routing the interaction to one of StoreEase’s 12 virtual managers. According to Josh Boyd, CEO of StoreEase, tenant notes within the management software are used to provide a tailored experience to each customer.  


To that end, Boyd says StoreEase’s virtual management platform “aligns more with the traditional management model” than remote or “unmanned” management systems even though the managers are not physically on site. “It doesn’t have that [unmanned] feel,” he says, because the company’s virtual managers are so attentive, providing fast, friendly service to everyone who enters the office regardless of the time of day. Customers can build rapport with the company’s virtual managers as well thanks to “force ranking” within its software that connects customers with the same virtual managers they’ve communicated with during previous on-site interactions. Per Boyd, five-star Google reviews that mention the virtual managers by name serves as confirmation that relationships are being formed between management and tenants.  


“They are delivering exceptional customer service from 1,500 miles away,” says Boyd, who mentions that 519 customers have entered the property since March 1st and the average time it’s taken customers to be greeted by a virtual manager upon entry is 6.56 seconds. StoreEase’s virtual management platform also boasts a two-minute move-in app that simplifies the rental process. 


On the operational side, self-storage owner-operators like Gallacher are reducing payroll costs and increasing revenue through the StoreEase virtual management platform. “Payroll is $25,000—a fraction of the cost of traditional payroll,” Boyd says, adding that virtual management enables the office to stay open around the clock. “There’s no closing the office or ‘be back soon’ signs.” Extended office hours and a kiosk enable StoreEase – Tooele to capture rentals whenever it’s convenient for customers to rent a unit.  


However, it wouldn’t be possible for this facility to be virtually managed without a smart access control system. The Nokē Smart Entry system enables StoreEase’s virtual managers to conduct lock checks, overlock units, automate auctions, and monitor the premises from across the country. The thermal motion sensors notify staff and tenants of unauthorized or suspicious unit activity. With the smart entry system, they have better visibility and control over the site. The Nokē Smart Entry system also elevates the customer experience, providing one-touch entry, the find my unit feature, and digital key sharing. Additionally, StoreEase – Tooele has 26 security cameras linked to StoreEase software that enables staff to view what’s happening on site in real time. 


StoreEase FOY 6


Virtual Is Visual 

For unmanned and virtually managed facilities like StoreEase – Tooele, providing visuals for customers is essential. They help ensure that customers can navigate the property, easily utilize the various technologies, and make choices with confidence as they complete the rental process. For that reason, signage and demo units should be present within the rental office.  


At StoreEase – Tooele, three unit sizes are on display to allow customers to make side-by-side comparisons and determine which unit size will best meet their storage needs. Having demo units located near the rental counter also streamlines the rental process; by not having to walk the property to look at units of various sizes, the amount of time it takes for a customer to make an informed decision is dramatically reduced. “It makes unit selection easier,” adds Boyd. 


While other remotely managed self-storage facilities may post regular signage throughout the office to direct customers, StoreEase – Tooele’s kiosk and rental counter screen serve as digital signage. However, unlike a typical sign, the rental counter with screen required a strategic location within the office. It was placed at a specific angle from the front door to enable customers to activate the on-screen greeting and to maximize visibility; its permanent placement permits customers to clearly see the virtual manager on the screen regardless of where they are standing within the rental office. Just like an in-person, on-site manager, virtual managers can walk customers through the entire rental process and show them how to operate the facility’s various technologies, including the Noke Smart Entry system.  


These visual aspects of StoreEase’s virtual management platform have effectively created a simple rental process that all the facility’s customers have openly embraced. According to Gallacher, the mayor and city council members commented on “how easy it is” to complete a rental during the facility’s grand opening. He’s also received nothing but positive feedback from tenants of all ages. For example, one tenant’s nine-year-old niece was able to effortlessly operate the unit’s Noke smart lock. Even the elderly couple with whom he has spoken is storing with ease, however key fobs are available for anyone without a compatible mobile device to download the Noke Smart Entry app.  


Setting The Example  

StoreEase FOY 5Speaking of visuals, StoreEase – Tooele serves as the gateway to the city, which meant the facility needed to have a façade that would set an exemplary example for future development with the rapidly growing rural area. “The city didn’t want a typical self-storage facility there,” says Gallacher, who points out that the property is on Tooele’s main road, across the street from the hospital and adjacent to a brand-new high school. A Home Depot is also visible from the facility.


Unfortunately, the first site rendering that Gallacher presented to the city was shot down. He went back to his architect, David Wytmar of Groundwork, Ltd, for revisions, but the second rendering was denied as well.  


“It took the team three attempts with the architect to come up with an exterior visual that the city council would support,” says Bethany Salmon, product marketing manager at Janus International. “They decided on a fortress-style building with no exposed doors to the surrounding community. In the end, the mayor and city council members were very impressed with the facility’s beauty and how close to the final product was to the renderings that the team provided.”  

Though Gallacher was initially disappointed with these design setbacks, he’s now pleased that the city pushed for additional changes because he admits that the end result is better than their original vision—an example that has set the standard for other self-storage facilities that may eventually enter the market. It took three meetings over three months for the design to be approved, and Gallacher states that the “lynchpin” for obtaining a green light was the inclusion of trellises that resemble REI stores.  


“To further enhance the curb appeal of the self-storage facility, the team wanted to avoid 300 feet of boring metal panels,” adds Salmon. “By incorporating intricate trellises, faux stone, and faux windows … they were able to create a beautiful presentation without an abusive cost.”  


Expanding on Salmon’s description, Gallacher explains that the faux windows at the office’s storefront entrance are merely a reflective metal that creates the appearance of windows—a feature supplied by Janus. He also mentions that StoreEase – Tooele may be the first self-storage facility to utilize Janus International for all of its storage products: security and door entry (Noke Smart Entry), roofing and structural (BETCO), and doors/interior systems. “They are the dream team,” he says. 


Development Details  

Despite having a “dream team” working on the facility, StoreEase – Tooele had its fair share of issues throughout the development process. For starters, it took Gallacher four to five months to determine who owned the land he wanted to purchase for the building. He eventually tracked down the owner, the same gentleman who, along with his partners, had sold land to the high school, hospital, and Home Depot for their developments, but attaining those 5.53 acres was a nearly two-year wait.  


“The first obstacle involved the property being adjacent to an intersection that didn’t have access to the southernmost boundary road,” says Salmon. “The Utah Department of Transportation had the road access closed off.” 


Per Gallacher, the land also has a stream bed that he decided to purchase and maintain so the parcel continues to attract wildlife. “We had a company come in to do the landscaping while keeping a very natural approach and optimizing the land’s existing beauty,” Salmon says. “The city was kind enough to allow us extra time for natural growth to occur, so we could wait for trees and bushes to mature naturally.” 


In regard to zoning, the plot was considered a “split zone;” half of it was zoned for commercial use and the other half was zoned for industrial use. The commercial half of the site needed to be rezoned, which tacked another nine months onto the process.  


Once it was properly zoned and all the approvals were obtained, construction of the primarily concrete and metal facility could commence. However, material shortages required Gallacher and the construction crews to pour slabs and build one building at a time.  


“With the robust development in the community, there was a large demand for concrete and the local companies were divvying out how much they’d allow customers to have,” says Salmon. “To avoid mobilization fees, we reprioritized projects and found ways to stay busy and boost productivity.”  


This approach was possible because Gallacher had pre-purchased all the steel required for the project to avoid potential price hikes and supply chain issues. “I saved $800,00 to $900,000 by pre-purchasing the steel,” he says.  

To meet city requirements and customer expectations, StoreEase – Tooele consists of 13 separate single-story buildings. “The city would only allow single-story buildings,” Gallacher says, “and there are no multistory facilities in the area. The customer base is used to drive-up.” 


In total, StoreEase – Tooele has 85,000 square feet and offers 580 units. One building (approximately 9,000 square feet) has climate-controlled storage space. Since their market study found 5-by-5 units on end caps to be unsuccessful in their area, the team decided to utilize larger (10-by-10s, 10-by-20s, and 10-by-30s) units with two or three doors as end caps. “They were the first ones rented,” says Gallacher. They charge a premium for those special endcap units, but customers who pack their units to the gills appreciate having additional doors to easily access their belongings.  


StoreEase FOY 4


Site Specifics  

Because the city wouldn’t permit them to put up much signage, Gallacher utilized community outreach to promote the property prior to opening. “They’ve done countless acts of service,” says Salmon, “which include donating a unit to the local high school and an organization [called SwitchPoint] that’s known for helping the local homeless shelter. From handing out giveaways to tenants to paying for lunches for subcontractors, Kelly and his team are always looking for ways to invest in and support their community.”  


Along with those public relations efforts, its social media presence and Google My Business listing have enabled StoreEase – Tooele to reach an occupancy rate of 30 percent since opening in January. While lease-up is off to a slower start than an anticipated, due to the interest rates that have hampered home sales, Gallacher still expects the facility to be stabilized within 14 months. “There’s a lot of development going on in Tooele and around the property,” he says, adding that he’s confident in the facility and its prime position within the city. “Storage operators are wanting to buy the property because it has high visibility on the main street.”  


Though flattered by the offers, Gallacher has no intentions of selling his award-winning self-storage facility anytime soon! 


Quick Facts  

Owner: Gallacher Development LLC 

Management Company: StoreEase Virtual Management 

Developer: Gallacher Development LLC 

Architect: David Wytmar of Groundwork, Ltd 

Security and Door Access Provider: Noke Smart Entry by Janus International 

Management Software System: StorEDGE 

Roof/Structure: BETCO Inc. and installed by Johnson Construction 

Doors and Interior Systems: Janus International 



Erica Shatzer is the editor of Modern Storage Media.