If all goes well, Aaron Saunders is going to be a busy man in 2021 and beyond.
As the recently appointed director of construction at Spartan Investment Group, Saunders, who previously spent nine years at Casey Industrial working in various top-level construction positions, will be overseeing a number of self-storage projects over the coming year, as the industry and economy slowly adjust to a post-pandemic world, hopefully.
Owner of 13 self-storage facilities in Colorado, Texas, Washington, Arkansas and Georgia, Spartan Investment Group currently has one facility under development in Washington and another in pre-construction phase in Texas. Other projects include expansions and conversions in Texas and Arkansas.
In coming years, Spartan Investment hopes to develop three to four new facilities a year, in addition to overseeing expansions of current properties.
Saunders recently spoke with the Storage Beat about how the pandemic affected self-storage construction and how builders have adjusted to the new realities.
Storage Beat: How has the pandemic affected the ability to start or complete new construction projects?
Aaron Saunders: There’s really been two things impacting the construction market. The first one being the escalation of material prices. That has been a bit of a challenge, locking down pricing with some of our vendors. But we have some great business partners we’re working with in the industry. We’re working hand-in-hand with them to get the most up-to-date prices and then locking them in.
The second thing has been a challenge with [a shortage of] construction labor in the field. Again, having the right industry partners has allowed us to stay on schedule because they do have traveling teams of construction workers. That’s really helped.
You mention construction prices are going up. Do you see that changing soon or are we just going to continue to see prices rise?
We’re projecting costs to rise roughly through early summer, in the June timeframe. We’ve been talking to a lot of industry partners, trying to understand what their thoughts are on construction costs. The majority of the people that I’ve talked to think we’re going to see a plateau in the June-July timeframe, and then it’s going to level out and hopefully pull back a bit. But we’ll just have to see where the industry takes us.
Moving ahead, do you see a return to the pre-pandemic pace of construction – or will it remain something short of that for a while?
There were quite a few projects that were put on hold last year, not just in the self-storage space but in construction in general, especially on the larger-scale projects. So I think a lot of that pent-up demand is starting to break loose and we are going to see increases in construction throughout the rest of 2021 and 2022.
Any changes in how communities and municipalities accept or perceive new storage projects?
The municipalities I’ve met with since I started in January have actually been really open to things. They’re realizing that individuals need storage. There’s a demand there. There’s also a large demand for small-business storage. And a big thing around some of these cities is last-mile logistics. We have a facility in Fort Worth that has loading docks and we’re dedicating a big portion of that facility to last-mile logistics.
Explain last-mile logistics.
It’s where full-sized semi-trucks can come to unload packages and then smaller delivery trucks will come in, grab those packages and then run them off to houses and businesses.