Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Hey everyone, welcome to our newest episode of the Janus Connected Podcast. Today we are so excited because we have a very special group of people joining us. Today we’ve got Lance Stockhausen, Todd Stockhausen, and Sandra Hack from Comfort Storage, located in Punta Gorda, Florida.
We’re so excited about this because we’ve been working with them for a while at Janus, and they’re truly the most wonderful group of people to talk to. It’s such a pleasure today to be able to chat with them and learn about their conversion project in Punta Gorda. So everyone, thanks for joining us today!
Lance Stockhausen: Thank you for having us!
Todd Stockhausen: Hi Rachael, thank you too!
Sandra Hack: Thanks Rachael!
Rachel Wheeler Dempsey: Awesome, well why don’t you guys tell us a little about yourselves, about this project, and how everything came into motion?
Lance Stockhausen: What started the whole thing is our family has been in the rental and storage business for going back about 5 generations, but Todd and I wanted to take it to a different level. Instead of a rental property, we wanted to get into storage. Not having to deal with people with water heaters; problems that way. This way we could just deal with the lockers. Somebody could come in, rent a locker, and let them put their goods in, and go from there. We always liked the storage facilities better than rental properties.
Todd Stockhausen: That’s pretty much the background. Like Lance said, it’s a more simple way to handle business. It’s just a box we’re selling; not a piece of property where you’re selling the rental as a unit and the size, where it’s located, the looks and carpeting – but it’s basically the simplicity of storage.
Sandra Hack: And my experience with the self-storage industry is a lot different than Todd’s and Lance’s. I started as a consumer of self-storage about 10 years ago, when I was going through the process of moving from Wisconsin to Florida. So I was here on the project with Todd and Lance, giving them more of the perspective of the consumer, as well as the female eyes on the project; What the women are going to be looking for – the safety, the security, the convenience, the cleanliness. So being on the project with them, I was here day in and day out during the conversion process, making sure that the female perspective was looked at.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: That is so important and I love that you said that. As we all know, women play such a big role in the storage rental process so that’s so great that you have that perspective to add.
So next up, how did you guys select the location in beautiful Punta Gorda, Florida?
Lance Stockhausen: We’ve been investing down here in Punta Gorda for about twenty years. My brother and I started buying rental properties down here and renting those properties out. We love the area, and back about ten years ago this Walmart building came up for sale, and Todd and I talked about converting it back then, but we had other projects to finish up back in Wisconsin. So we didn’t pursue it.
In the meantime, a gentleman bought it and put his own personal muscle car museum in that building. When he wanted to relocate about four years ago, he put it back up for sale. Todd and I started negotiating and after about a year and a half, we ended up finishing our projects up in Wisconsin and decided to pursue it even more. We ended up getting together and getting the deal done.
Basically it goes back twenty years. We love the town - quaint, with about 16,000 people; it’s on a very busy, US Hwy 41, so we get a lot of traffic going by. Obviously being a Walmart – they did the diligence of the location here was acceptable to them.
Todd Stockhausen: Another thing to add to is too is location for where we live – we’re only ten minutes away. It is very convenient to us; we can be at the site within ten minutes if there’s any emergencies or we need to help a client. So that meant that even during construction we could be on site at any time of the day so it made it easier to pick the site, being close to our house.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: And that was one thing that I’m glad you brought up. That’s something I wanted to hit on - the amount of involvement all three of you had throughout the entire construction process was just so impressive. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about how you had a hand in everything all the way up to the opening?
Todd Stockhausen: Sure. Going back to our background of five generations of construction knowledge, it gave us a good head start to be the general on the site, as well as having the license to do that, and the opportunity knowing how to work with subs and inspectors in the city being that we did develop other projects just as large as this, if not larger, so it gave us an edge.
We could keep the project rolling forward by being on site, so at that point if there was anything that was jammed in the construction site due to installation or engineering process, we could keep the subs onsite by answering the problem and solving it and going forward. By doing that, we did this project in roughly 9 and a half months. It was really an aggressive move that saved us money and financial, and we could open the doors 5 months earlier than a normal general would be able to.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Even though you did have this expedited timeline, you also did not cut corners when it came to design elements and all these features that you offer your customers. Let’s talk about that. Can you tell me about the design elements and like the floors, drive through climate control, RV spaces, and things like that?
Todd Stockhausen: That was the thing with us being hands on. We had a plan and concept – a big picture of what we wanted to accomplish, but also the ability to make changes on site that we saw going forward that would be valuable to us as owners and to consumers, who would be tenants, to enjoy. With Sandra being part of the design of the drive through was very important on the women’s side as she looked at it for security. That was a big thing for us.
With the floors, we did epoxy floors, which was important to get that clean look and to be long-term and durable. With us being now onsite as managers, we can also know every part of the function of the building to be onsite maintenance crews and technical support if there is any problems, which keeps it running very efficiently.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: The Walmart had a concrete area in the back that you used for RV spaces, or was that something else?
Lance Stockhausen: That was going to be a future addition that they were going to do, like a 30,000 square foot addition, which they didn’t get the city approval. So that made an ideal place for us to add the slab in back there for the RVs. Again, taking advantage of those areas. We had to go back through some DNR and city regulations to get that approval but it all worked out.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Let’s talk about that interaction with the city and the local municipality. How did all of that go with the planning, the interaction, and how they’ve received the project?
Lance Stockhausen: The city was very welcoming to what we did, and the biggest thing was going and meeting with the city instead of just giving them the plans and saying “Here, this is what we want.” Meeting with the fire marshal, the head building inspector, the mayor and city council, and getting their input and going back to the drawing board and re-tweaking things. Like with any project, I don’t care if you’re in California or Wisconsin, doing that leg work up front is very important, and it makes the city feel proud and basically brings them into it, and makes the approval process so much easier.
Todd Stockhausen: I’d like to add that before we started the project, we had a meeting with a nearby neighborhood that was behind us. We got together, and it was close to about 50 of those, and we basically told them who we are as people, that we were a small company, we are living in the area and want to give back to the community and be local. They accepted that very well and appreciated us telling them who we were and what our intentions were, as they were scared of the building size and what it could have potentially been. It was just a total change to their neighborhood and now that we are open we get compliments on what a good job it was and they are proud that we are part of their community.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Right, because you’re really approaching them as people, and with a great attitude, instead of coming in like a very boorish business and slapping down your plans on the table like, “Ok, this is what we’re doing!” They received your message so much better since you were empathetic and wanted to learn, wanted to listen.
Something else I wanted to talk to you guys about was your really unique focus on customer service and the way that you use technology. Can you guys talk about how and why you came to the decision to provide these really premium offerings?
Sandra Hack: During the conversion process when we had first heard about SecurGuard™ and the Bluetooth locking system, how people can enter and exit the facility, we realized that it was basically the way the future was going. So I guess you could say the discussions and the debates Todd, Lance and I had were pretty extensive; the pros, the cons, taking a look at our community here and it being more of a retirement community, wondering if they were going to take to the mobile app and what was going to happen. Was it going to help us? Hurt us? In the long run, we decided it was going to help us more than it was going to hurt us, looking into the future and what was going to happen with the self-storage industry – it was the smartest decision for us to do it during the construction process instead of a year from now saying, “Well, let’s put the system in now.”
With the help and support of all of you guys at Janus – helping us make the decision, supporting us through it, we chose to do that and it has proven to be very, very successful here at our site. Everyone is very open to it and excited about it. It’s actually a really great thing to see when our customers are in here and all of a sudden that mobile app is downloaded on their phone and they see their unit number, they walk over to it and it works, their faces sometimes look like kids at Christmastime! Like, “Wow, here it is and it works!” The response from the community has been outstanding, to say the least.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Well that is so awesome! I’m so glad to hear that. Especially, like you mentioned, in a retirement community. I think a lot of people assume they might be a little resistant to it, but to hear that people are really picking it up and really enjoying it, and enjoying their customer experience – that’s so great to hear.
Sandra Hack: The process has been so smooth and a whole lot easier than I expected months ago when we were debating, “Are we going with the SecurGuard? Are we not?” It has been seamless, and like I said, just very, very user friendly both for us as site managers and for our tenants.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: So glad to hear that! And so glad you guys are having a great experience with that. So kind of along those lines, do you have any advice that you would give people looking to build storage for the first time? Or do conversions for the first time? You’ve got such a rich experience with this project and all the different choices you’ve made, and I’m sure a lot of our listeners are saying, “Please tell me what I should do!” So do you have any tips for anybody?
Todd Stockhausen: I guess what I would say is do your due diligence. It’s the old cliché of “plan it out.” It’s like going on a vacation, building a house; do enough planning, talk to people in the community you want to do this in, get some consulting (I highly recommend that), and as you proceed with the project I would say to figure 15% more of what your budget is when you’re going to do a renovation. It’s like remodeling your house: you don’t know what’s in the walls until you get in there. You will have extras! I think if you figure at least 15% of the total project, that should be enough to cover your base.
Sandra Hack: I would add to that, definitely educate yourself and surround yourself with a strong team. We had participated in numerous state self-storage seminars, meetings, talked to who we considered experts in the field. Then we turned to them often over the phone if we felt we were stuck with something or needed help making a decision (or finalizing a decision), we had our go-to people who were well-versed in the self-storage industry who we could give a quick call and say, “What would you do? What are your thoughts on this versus that?” Todd, Lance and myself made such a strong team, being onsite every day with Todd and Lance being the general contractors, and then myself in and out throughout the day working on the operations piece behind the scenes, then coming onsite and offering my viewpoint as a previous consumer of self-storage and also as the female perspective. Definitely the team to get you from start to finish is a need.
Todd Stockhausen: To add to what Sandra said, a team is very important. Being a GC on site, it’s important you know who your subcontractors are. You don’t always have to take the lowest bid – the lowest bid can give you a problem which will end up costing you more in the long run. Also being on site, check on your subs during construction, take a visit. Even if you’re not part of the build-out, stop by your site to see how it’s going. By knowing your subs, you’ll get a better job and you’ll get the knowledge from them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions out there to each sub, because each of them will give you a different answer; put them all together and you can figure the puzzle out and get your best person onsite to go forward and be on schedule. Some can make it rough, but it’s your duty in the beginning to pick the right contractors onsite.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Thank you so much for that! That’s great advice for anyone listening who’s approaching any phase of their operation and project.
So the last question that I have for you guys: what were some of the biggest challenges or lessons learned throughout this project? And I do want to hear about the alligator in this! Our listeners don’t know about the alligator but I do, and it’s one of my favorite stories.
Sandra Hack: Well I can tell you about the alligator! We have a retention pond onsite and there was an almost 7 foot alligator that had been living in that pond for some years, and the previous owner of this facility had named him ‘Chevy.’ So Chevy was there, floating around in the pond, and through the construction, Todd and Lance had to do different things with that retention pond. Number 1, clean it up, get all the overgrowth out of it to make it more appealing to the community. And then pieces of it had to be moved so we could make our RV out there. So we had called the state to help us take care of the alligator, and they had to come catch Chevy out of the retention pond to keep the area safe for the neighbors because we had taken down a fence, as well as the contractors – we were concerned for their safety. The day came where the Florida DNR came onsite and caught Chevy, and took him to the alligator farm.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: [Laughs]“The Alligator Farm!” He’s ok, right? That doesn’t mean the farm in the sky?
Sandra Hack: [Laughs] He’s ok!
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: That’s such a unique Florida problem, that’s so great! Were there any non-alligator-related challenges that you guys had to overcome?
Todd Stockhausen: Not really, we were on the site before negotiating with the previous owner of the building, doing our research, pulling measurements, seeing if we could get the mezzanine in the building and how much of a mezzanine we could be putting in. We were doing all of that previous to make things go smoother. So with that part, not really.
Another one was the weather, concern about the weather. Being in Florida with hurricane season, it was a worry that if a hurricane hit, would we lose a lot of our subs? It would’ve been hard to get the job to move forward with subs going onto emergency calls. That was probably a major concern for us, was the weather being in this area.
Sandra Hack: Todd and Lance’s background in the industry on construction sites (land development, etc.) with all the things they’ve done throughout their lives, when a problem came onsite it always seemed like one of them pretty much knew immediately how to solve it. If not, they had that team person I was talking about earlier to get on the phone and talk to. Knowing that the two of them were here onsite through the whole process eased a lot of my worry and concern that the project was going to fall behind if something like that happened. Whatever came about, they were able to take care of and keep things moving in a timely manner.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Right, and you guys as a team are so self-sufficient and can really tackle those problems because of your prior knowledge and due diligence. You guys are like the dream team when it comes to self-storage!
Lance Stockhausen: I think if you surround yourself, I don’t care what you’re doing, if you have a football team and the coach or manager is surrounded by a great team with great players, good coaches, assistant coaches, that’s what makes it come together. So when a problem arises, you can get on the phone and talk to those people, like the people at Janus – they’ve been outstanding. Give them a call and say, “We’ve got this problem, how can we work through it?” And put your heads together and come up with a solution and a quick one. I think it’s very, very important to get the right contractors.
Rachael Wheeler Dempsey: Thank you all again, Lance, Todd and Sandra! Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy day of owning and operating this amazing facility in Punta Gorda. If our listeners have any questions about things you’ve talked about or they want to get in touch with you, what’s a good way for them to contact you?
Sandra Hack: They can contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call us directly if they want to talk to any of the 3 of us at 941-787-4202.