Developing Success in Self-Storage: A Case Study with Brian Hoel
In a candid and insightful conversation we join Brian Hoel, the president of Braine Trust Storage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as he shares his journey as an entrepreneur in the self-storage industry. While Brian walks us through his story starting in the self-storage industry, Brian emphasizes the importance of research and planning before making the plunge into the world of self-storage.
Braine Trust Storage was born out of a simple yet powerful idea that struck Brian five years ago. He used to pass by an old, derelict building on his way home every day and saw the potential for a self-storage facility. After two years of research, he took the plunge, purchased the site, and embarked on the journey of building a thriving self-storage business.
However, Brian's entry into the self-storage industry was marked by unforeseen challenges. Upon acquiring the property, it became evident that the existing structure was plagued by insurmountable issues, dashing the initial vision of creating modern storage units. It was a moment of reckoning for Brian, and the stark reality of the situation weighed heavily on him.
But Brian's commitment to preserving his vision for his new facility led him to partner with MakoRabco. Their ability to execute his designs, especially for a project that involved originally using shipping containers, impressed him. “It was supposed to be built out of containers that was really sleek and sexy and matte black and all about natural light and technology. And I really wanted to protect that, that vision and that feeling. That is what MakoRabco brought to the table for us. Cause we basically had designs that we could hand off that we said, ‘Hey, we want it to look like this’, And they absolutely executed on that.”
For Brian, construction is a passion. Whether it's ground-up projects or conversions, he embraces the unique challenges that each type of project presents. “I love just construction in general. It doesn't really matter to me if it's ground up or it's conversions, because they all come with their different challenges. And that's really kind of where I thrive is trying to figure that stuff out. I think that one of the things I love about conversions is you really are in this little box. You have to make your idea work within a given space. And it's how do we do that in the most efficient and productive way possible. Whereas the fun of ground up is everything's a possibility. So the building can be literally whatever you want. And so there's a certain amount of freedom and fun that comes with that as well.”
One of the key takeaways from Brian's journey is the importance of perseverance. It took him four and a half years from the initial site purchase to commencing construction. Finding the right lending partners and assembling an investor team were challenging but essential steps in the process. Brian's commitment to preserving his vision for Braine Trust Storage led him to partner with MakoRabco. “Having people like that on your team is invaluable when we're trying to do something that's a little bit different from what the rest of the industry is doing,” Hoel said about working with MakoRabco.
Another project that Brian undertook was the conversion of a former Slumber Land in Iowa City, which presented its own set of challenges. “The second project that we took on was actually a conversion of a former Slumber Land in Iowa City. That one was fun with its own challenges because it was a relatively small space. It was only about 30, 000 square feet. So in order for that project to make sense, we knew that we needed to add a second story to that entire space and that had its own set of challenges, specifically the floor that was in that space,” said Hoel. “We found out after the fact couldn't be used. So in the middle of winter, we had to remove four inches of concrete and pour it back in. But as any developer knows, those are the things that you just kind of have to adapt and work through, but we made it happen.” Adaptation and problem-solving are crucial qualities for a successful developer, especially when dealing with converting a pre-existing facility.
What truly keeps Brian passionate about self-storage is the integration of technology. Brian's unwavering commitment to ensuring that every aspect of his business, especially the public-facing ones, looks and feels impeccable help set Braine Trust apart from the competition. Brian firmly believes that a successful business must be a reflection of his own standards and personality. He understands that in order to charge premium prices, he must provide a premium service. Regardless of the construction type, Braine Trust Storage relies on cutting-edge technology, including keyless Bluetooth locks and AI-based camera systems. Brian is excited about the possibilities of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements in making self-storage more efficient.
Furthermore, being an environmentally conscious developer is a priority. “Being an environmentally conscious developer is important in today's day and age. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I think that it also was something that our tenants want to see.
So going forward, we're trying to implement as much green, big building technologies as we can,” said Hoel. “It used to be the green building technology was something that you would do because it just sounded good and it looked good in a brochure. But I think as technology advances and as our building practices and materials advance, it really starts to make financial sense.” Braine Trust Storage is exploring green building technologies, with the possibility of developing LEED-certified buildings and implementing solar power solutions to reduce the environmental footprint.
Today, Braine Trust Storage boasts two flagship facilities in eastern Iowa, with the Cedar Rapids facility and the Iowa City facility. The Cedar Rapids facility has even earned accolades as the MSM New Construction Facility of the Year for 2022, as well as local design awards. Brian and his team are actively seeking opportunities in new markets, focusing on ground-up projects and conversions that align with their vision.
Brian Hoel's journey in the self-storage industry is a testament to the power of innovation, determination, and a commitment to providing top-notch service to tenants. His story is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs in the field. To sum it up in his own words, “The self-storage business is about removing obstacles for tenants and making their experience as efficient as possible.” Brian Hoel's journey is proof that with the right vision, the right partners, and perseverance this can be achieved successfully.
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