Many non-profits nationwide lack adequate funding to serve the communities or causes they support. It’s no secret. But it’s a problem easily overlooked. Westport Properties, which operates under the US Storage Centers (USSC) brand, recognized early on their capacity to help shift this narrative with their existing business model. The 36-year industry veteran, originally a small Southern California company that now manages roughly 150 assets across 16 different states, has supported the communities where they operate through facility-based philanthropy programs since day one.
“Westport is more than just a self-storage company, we give back to the community as well,” stated Mike Brady, COO at Westport Properties. “There is this whole separate element to our operation, and it has become a big part of our culture. We stand for something bigger than just trying to make money, and the charitable programs our company supports help us live that promise each day. At Westport, we focus on underfunded cancer research, and that hits home for a lot of people. But for others that want to give back, it really comes down to your community and whatever charity your facility supports. Giving back to our community is such a big part of our identity, we have something more to offer our employees as we grow our team — more than just a paycheck or job, Westport is a place where you can support your community as well.”
Westport’s commitment to give back and be involved, still one of the company’s core values, was driven in large part by founder Barry Hoeven. Hoeven, a member of the Self Storage Hall of Fame who passed away in 2016 after a 17-year battle with kidney cancer, founded Kure It Cancer Research in 2007, was instrumental in the creation of the SSA Foundation Scholarship, and co-founded Charity Storage with Lance Watkins in 2011. Now an independent 501(c)3 non-profit, Charity Storage has helped self storage operators leverage storage auctions to support local charities for over 10 years. In addition to supporting the non-profit’s administration during its early years of operation, Westport continues to honor Hoeven’s legacy as a tireless champion of Charity Storage both at their facilities and within the industry. Each year, USSC locations are consistently among the top 10 Charity Storage contributors in the nation.
According to Brady, Wesport Properties is defined by their commitment to excellence and execution towards a long-term vision — traits that are apparent both in their operation and commitment to the community. “Our decisions are not based on what will save us or make us the most money. We think about it more from a long-term perspective. What does this mean for our company? What does this mean for our reputation? We have core values that we live up to, and those help drive our customer experience and keep our customers, employees and partners happy.” While this philosophy has fueled their commercial success, Westport equally leverages this attitude to drive adoption of charitable engagement throughout their organization.
US Storage Center employees have always been encouraged to participate in their local communities, but the focus of that engagement has evolved over time. Now, the company is laser-focused on Charity Storage and Kure It — a strategy that enables them to have a targeted impact and extend the legacy of the operation’s founder. “We’ve been trying to push really hard as a company with our team members to incorporate those charities into everything that we do,” stated Brady. “I think it shows in our results. We focus on it on a monthly call, and it’s really helped us stay focused. The things you talk about are things that get done in a company. This keeps it at the top of everybody’s mind when we talk about it every month. You’ve got to put a process in place and you’ve got to execute it. I think that’s the secret to our success.“
With several years dedicated to Charity Storage, Westport has refined a process that helps them raise thousands of dollars each month for causes close to their heart. But they would be the first to advocate that any donation can make a difference, and attribute much of their success to the passion and participation of individual facility managers.
“It’s all about our managers,” stated Brady. “We don’t raise any money without the dedication of our managers at the sites. They’re empowered to talk to our tenant base, and really drive the success of the program. One of our philosophies is a lot of people giving a little bit adds up to a lot. We like our managers to always talk about our charities with their customers. It works with Charity Storage donations when a manager says; “Hey, we are a charitable drop off location for items, you can donate your items here and get your tax deductible receipt.” People don’t have to make a separate trip to Goodwill. It keeps our managers focused on our charities and talking to our customer base, which really makes a difference.”
For operators that want to get started with Charity Storage, Westport recommends the following best practices to kick off your program for success:
Dedicate the right size space. Start witha 10×10 unit, nothing too big. A larger unit can take too long to fill and limit your bidder pool. A small unit can be sold more frequently and is often more manageable for buyers.
Prep your team for success. Train your managers to promote the charity and direct customers to the unit. Look at typically donated items and train your managers to look for those items and engage with vacating tenants.
Stage your unit to sell. Unlike a typical storage lien sale, there are no legal requirements around charity auctions. Stage the contents for the best visual appeal, take a lot of pictures and make sure to include several detailed shots.
“It’s really simple if you’re with StorageTreasures,” stated Brady. “You can run the unit online for 7 days, sell the unit, and they automatically collect the money and distribute it to Charity Storage. In general, participation in Charity Storage is a very simple process, easy for an owner to implement and doesn’t take a lot of time. The biggest thing is executing on the fundamentals. Make sure you talk to your managers and train them on the program. It’s no different from what they do everyday with their tenant auctions. That was the idea; it’s got to be easy for the owner and not something they’re going to spend a lot of time or money on trying to set up. That was one of the goals we really focused on that’s helped us succeed — trying to make it an easy process to execute on for owners, managers, customers and buyers.”
Another key benefit of the platform is the freedom facilities have to support the charity of their choice in each community. This provides flexibility for independently-owned properties in Westport’s portfolio, and is a key tenet of the platform for other operators. “With this program, you get to choose which charity means the most to you,” stated Brady. “So if you have something special in your heart that you really want to focus on, you should set that charity up with Charity Storage and donate there.”
“You can be more than a self storage operator. Anybody can give back and we absolutely recommend other operators get involved with Charity Storage. It’s so easy to do. We need to be involved in making the world a better place. This is just one way that you can do that. Donate a little space and incorporate a charity auction with your normal auctions that are already part of your everyday business. I talked earlier about how everyone giving a little bit adds up to a lot. Our Kure It “Round Up for Research” program has many tenants giving 50 cents a month which is now adding up to over a $20,000 contribution to Kure It each month. Imagine if everyone in the industry was holding charity auctions and what that would add up to every month. It can be a huge driving force for a lot of different charities — something bigger our industry can support.”
About Charity Storage
Charity Storage was conceived by Lance Watkins, who had first-hand experience with the storage industry and with the reality television show Storage Wars. The late Barry Hoeven, founder of Wesport Properties, co-founded Charity Storage, bringing many years of self storage and philanthropy experience to the endeavor. Today, Charity Storage is an independent 501(c)3 national self storage industry nonprofit that is supported by many self storage owners, operators, management companies, industry associations, organizations and vendors. 90% of all funds raised are distributed to qualifying charitable organizations (60% to the charity chosen by the operator/facility; 20% to Kure It Cancer Research; and 10% to the Self Storage Association Foundation (SSAF) Scholarship Program).
Charity Storage utilizes existing storage facility operations to raise funds to support charities throughout the United States. Donated and abandoned items are placed into a vacant unit and the contents are auctioned off onsite or online, via StorageTreasures.com or other online auction platforms. Operators online with StorageTreasures.com can opt-in via their account dashboard today and start selling charity units immediately. To learn more about the program or sign up, contact Charity Storage.