Soaring above the rest of this year’s applicants is a high-tech and sophisticated self-storage facility that truly is a modern marvel. Indeed, Mini-Storage Messenger’s 2018 Facility of the Year Overall Winner, National Self Storage Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., which was designed to provide an intuitive and superior customer experience, could even be dubbed the Ritz-Carlton of self-storage properties as some of its design elements were chosen to resemble the nearby hotel of the same name.
Situated in an up-and-coming area of Tucson with new home subdivisions and golf courses, Travis Morrow, president of the self-storage division at Strat Property Management and co-owner of National Self Storage Dove Mountain, designed the property to cater to the high-income families within the underserved market. “There was nothing close by or modern near there,” he says about the area’s existing self-storage supply, adding that he wanted to match the digital format and customer service experiences present within other industries. “The customers determine their level of interaction with the manager.”
The Drawing Board It’s safe to say that Morrow was more than familiar with the Dove Mountain area of Marana/Tucson, Ariz., as he resides about within a mile of the site. Living in that market since 2009, he had driven by the parcel at least four times each day. “I kept thinking that someone should build self-storage there,” Morrow recalls. “Then, two years ago I decided to do it.”
With a vision for a high-class facility, Morrow contacted the landowner to discuss his intentions for the plot. After talking with the town’s planning department, and initially receiving a “no”, Morrow and one of his partners, SSA Hall of Famer Robert Schoff, set up a meeting with the town to show them how a modern design could make the self-storage site a gem among the area’s commercial staples that include a Frye’s grocery store, a Chase Bank, and a Circle-K gas station.
“That corner has its own special zoning,” says Morrow, “and the use was up to the town.” Their presentation convinced the town to allow them to proceed with the project. Subsequently, the landowner subdivided a piece of the parcel so that Morrow and his partners could purchase it.
Despite receiving a green light from City of Marana, there were two ordinances and restrictions to overcome before construction could commence. The most challenging of the two being that the city would only allow a two-story building with a maximum height of 38 feet to be built on that parcel. However, in order to make the project pencil, there would need to be more than two stories. Therefore, the design team devised a way to make three stories look like two stories from the exterior by utilizing eight-foot tall windows on the first floor and the window treatments prevent the multiple stories from being visible from the outside.
The crew also had to adhere to the city’s strict night light codes that limit the amount of light commercial buildings can emanate into the nighttime sky. “We had to be sensitive to that,” says Morrow, “but it’s still lit up well at night.”
In total, National Self Storage Dove Mountain was designed with four stories of self-storage space (a basement level and three stories) and approximately 636 climate-controlled units with a standard mix of sized ranging from 5-by-5 to 10-by-30 as well as a few different ones, such as 10-by-5 and 5-by-7.5, to offer in-between unit sizes. Situated on approximately 1.25 acres of land, the facility has 62,790 rentable square feet of storage space. From conception to completion, the project took two years to finish; the construction process took 10 months.
Putting On The Ritz As mentioned earlier, National Self Storage Dove Mountain didn’t skimp on the glitz. While the facility’s exterior was designed to fit in with the surrounding architecture, it also resembles the golf clubhouse of the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel. Since the hotel’s aesthetics wowed the City of Marana’s planning department, National Self Storage even incorporated some of its popular, eye-catching elements into the design of the Dove Mountain self-storage facility.
The end result is a stunning structure that has received rave reviews. “ … NSS Dove Mountain looks and feels more like a high-end hotel than a self-storage facility,” says Ramey Jackson, vice president of sales at Janus International.
The elements giving the facility its posh appearance are numerous. For starters, the stone work on the inside and outside, coupled with the grandeur of the turret (tower), which has a 20-foot-high ceiling; three large six-pane windows; and Spanish roofing tiles, provide an instant upscale look. A covered loading/unloading dock with half stone half concrete pillars and Spanish roofing tiles delivers a customer service element that evokes a valet-like touch. Similar pillars are repeated one a smaller scale alongside the parking area for a swanky retail air. In addition, stucco in warm earth tones add to its inviting, hotel-esque feel, while a large, vertical neon “self storage” sign affixed to the left side of the turret completes National Self Storage Dove Mountain’s glamourous façade.
What’s more, the interior is just as visually appealing as the exterior. On the entry-level floor, within the rental area, a stone wall with four large flat-screen monitors serves as an alluring digital focal point for new and existing customers to obtain details about community events as well as the facility’s current specials, customer reviews, and products/services. That same stone wall also serves as camouflage for the manager’s office, which is hidden behind it to keep the facility’s files and system controls neatly out of view. Also in the rental area is a metallic slat wall that’s utilized to display the facility’s various retail offerings.
Breaking away from the typical sterile white, National Self Storage Dove Mountain has created a more familiar, relaxed atmosphere for its local renters with concrete floors stains and hallway systems in a desert color palette to match the homes in Tucson. Although the trim and the majority of the roll-up doors, which were supplied by Janus International, are white, there are several red roll-up doors down two hallways on the street-facing side of the facility. “Red doors are easier to see from the street than white,” notes Morrow, who adds that they were selected to serve as the display doors through the site’s faux windows.
According to Tarik Williams, vice president of Gilbert, Ariz.-based TLW Construction, general contractor for the project, who, along with his father, Ted Williams, is one of the facility’s partners, “a lot of effort” went into the design side, yet the project remained cost effective. He also mentions that an interior designer was hired to help with the color selections for the bathroom and office. “We spent a little more there, but it made a big difference.”
Last but certainly not least, while the interior of the turret is not yet finished, it’s sure to be nothing short of spectacular. Since Morrow was uncertain about the use for that space, he decided not to complete it until it became clearer. He anticipates putting in a mezzanine to create a two-story work area with an awesome view, but who will utilize that space is still up in the air.
Keen On Customer Service National Self Storage Dove Mountain is unquestionably pleasing to the eyes, but it’s also extremely functional and customer service centric. Indeed, it’s blatantly clear that every minute detail of the customer’s experience was taken into consideration throughout its design. From initial contact to move-in, this team’s intent is to make the storage rental process as smooth as possible for its customers.
Upon entering the rental area of National Self Storage Dove Mountain, customers have the option to utilize its paperless and intuitive Tenant Interface software created by Storelocal to conduct business. Situated atop a custom Y-shaped work station, three touch-screen monitors provide this innovative self-service solution to new and current tenants. Therefore, three tenants can execute rental agreements simultaneously, with little or no help from the self-storage manager. Every aspect of the rental process—from selecting units, entering contact information, and signing rental agreements to selecting insurance coverage, making payments, and downloading a mobile app for site/unit access—can be completed from the Tenant Interface stations.
Per Lance Watkins, founder and CEO of Storelocal, the goal at National Self Storage Dove Mountain was to offer customers a self-service option that would remove the desk, and the manager sitting behind it, thus allowing the manager to work with customers in more productive ways. “Collaboration happens side by side, not face to face,” Watkins says, adding that Morrow was truly able to recognize the value of what customers want. “The Tenant Interface cuts the rental process to under two minutes.”
Storelocal was also responsible for creating the site’s four-monitor video wall, which is essentially digital signage. His team configured how the content for the video wall could be distributed and what kind of content would be featured. As mentioned earlier, some of the content presented includes prices, promotions, seasonal information, features, products, services, and even current customer reviews. “Putting recent reviews on screen helps keep the managers honest,” says Watkins. “The result is better performance.” Obviously, the video wall assists with upsells as well, which helps boost the facility’s income without having to solely rely on managers to ask for the sales.
“It’s a pretty effective way to send alerts, notices, and ask for reviews,” Watkins says, noting that it’s also a great tool for providing consistency in branding. All digital aspects used by the facility (digital signage, Tenant Interface, website, and SecurGuard Smart Entry app) have National Self Storage’s logo and signature red incorporated to promote the brand. Of course, another perk of the digital signage is the ability to alter or update the content “on the fly” without printing costs.
Other customer conveniences found at National Self Storage Dove Mountain include two oversized freight elevators that are climate controlled. According to Williams, the 100-percent stainless finishes and diamond plate floors within the elevators are “very durable” and, with nine-foot-high ceilings, they are “comfortable and easy” to use. The location of the elevators provides customers with reassurance as well; as they exit the elevators, they have visibility of the exterior loading bay to keep an eye on their vehicles. These specific design elements have enabled the facility to maintain premium rates for units not located on the entry-level floor. “We don’t need to discount units that require elevator access,” says Williams. “It’s not a hassle with oversized elevators.”
When it comes to hauling goods and finding units, National Self Storage Dove Mountain has its tenants covered. The site provides custom, one-ton, ergonomic carts that are wider than traditional carts to reduce the number of trips tenants need to make to their units. Moreover, large facility maps are present on every floor, adjacent to the elevators, to ensure that tenants can easily navigate their way around the facility’s extra-wide hallways.
Futuristic Storage Security The facility’s customer-centric features also include some of the self-storage industry’s latest innovations in security. In addition to 21 strategically-placed high-quality cameras, National Self Storage Dove Mountain is equipped with Janus International’s SecurGuard Smart Entry system. This high-tech solution consists of an electronic lock inside every door with a motion detector inside each unit and a Bluetooth controller on each unit and entry point. Thus, tenants can use their smartphones or Bluetooth fob to enter the facility and access their units. Even the building’s main doors are lockless; managers enter the property using a “digital key” (an app on their smartphones). The sliding glass doors of the loading bay are accessed with digital keys as well.
SecurGuard has enabled the facility to entirely automate rentals. “At NSS Dove Mountain, customers can rent a unit online, receive a text message with a code and a link to download the app, and fully move in to their unit all without having to speak to a live person if they decide they want to rent a unit without any assistance from facility staff,” says Jackson. “The SecurGuard system from Janus also automates lock checks for managers because the status of each unit (locked, unlocked, rented, vacant, and overlocked) can all be viewed via an online web portal.”
SecureGuard automates the overlocking process as well. Managers don’t have to go to a unit to put on a yellow lock; instead, they can restrict access to a unit through the system’s online portal. Moreover, the SecurGuard system, coupled with the layout of the site’s parking lot, access road, and one-building design, eliminated the site’s need for an access gate system.
To familiarize new tenants with the digital key concept, Janus created a demo unit for the facility’s rental area. Complete with a spring-loaded roll-up door and a SecurGuard Smart Entry system, the demo unit enables customers to see the system in action before renting a unit. Of course, the icing on the cake is the fact that there’s a mini-fridge filled with ice cold bottled water inside the demo unit—a refreshing gesture to seal the deal.
Finishing Touches All of the above items undoubtedly make National Self Storage Dove Mountain a winning facility, but there are also a few subtle details that give it an at-home charm. For instance, all the hallways are named, and those names are displayed on street signs on the walls of the halls. Selected by the various facility owners to pay homage to places and people of personal significance, the street names also help customers navigate their way throughout the building. Morrow divulges that he named one after his son and another after the street in his hometown on which he lived as a child.
Another nice touch from Morrow: He had colored string lights permanently installed on the facility. A control box allows the manager to select a color based on the holiday. “They’re hidden from view, but ready to go,” he says.
On another note, there was one issue that had to be corrected after the facility opened. Due to a problem with nearby roadwork that resulted in a change in grade, National Self Storage Dove Mountain’s driveway was being inundated with storm water. “We had to do some corrective work to manage site water,” says Williams, who estimates that redirecting the water away from the driveway area with curbing and storm drains was a $30,000 repair.
Five Stars With a focus on customer service, high-tech security, and an attention-grabbing design, National Self Storage Dove Mountain really is a five-star self-storage facility. In addition to being named the 2018 Facility of the Year overall winner, the property is ahead of the competition in asking rates and it’s surpassing its lease-up projections. National Self Storage Dove Mountain is charging a 35 percent premium over like competitors in the Tucson market and was 35 percent occupied within about four months. What’s more, according to Morrow, the site will likely meet its lease-up projection about a year ahead of schedule (two years instead of three).
Kudos to the entire National Self Storage Dove Mountain team for raising the bar of industry excellence to astronomical heights!
Facility Owners: Travis Morrow, Robert Schoff, Ted Williams, and Tarik Williams Management: National Self Storage/Strat Property Management Architect: RKAA Architects, Inc. Construction Company: TLW Construction Security System: Janus International SecurGuard Smart Entry Management Software: StorEdge
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.