Fast-growing West Coast Self-Storage is facing a challenge familiar to many other expansion-minded storage operators: as it searches for sites the company faces more competition than ever to find land for new facilities.

“It is getting much harder,” said John Eisenbarth, vice president of operations and one of four owners. “Land costs are going up. The world is getting more dense and there are more people at the table wanting to get into the business.”

He added, “It’s always been hard and gotten harder. We are always looking aggressively for land we can build storage on.”

Plowing ahead

Still, WCSS, which is based in Everett, WA, and opened in 2006, has found places to build. It has a total of 53 locations in just three states: Six in California, 10 in Oregon and 37 in Washington. Eisenbarth expects the company to have 60 locations by year-end.

WCSS also offers third-party management services to self-storage operators in addition to developing and managing its own properties. WCSS also will perform pre-work for other operators that plan to build a facility, as long as those operators agree to hire WCSS as manager once the site is completed.

John Eisenbarth, vice-president of operations at West Coast Self-Storage.

Getting crowded in here

This touches upon another big challenge for WCSS: More competition than ever from companies that also offer third-party management services, Eisenbarth said.

Public Storage recently ramped up its effort to snag more management contracts, joining the ranks of big players like Extra Space Storage and CubeSmart. Still, many owners prefer to work with smaller enterprises like WCSS.

“We have a long tenure in this industry. We have a good management platform for clients, so we can manage the facility for them,” Eisenbarth said.

People matter

Eisenbarth, 44, also credited WCSS’ service commitment and employee-training program for contributing to company growth.

The company has 112 employees – and it’s hard to find good ones, Eisenbarth said. “It’s always been difficult because we’re looking for what I call ‘uncommon people,’ those who care about the job, care about people and can do a variety of things,” he said. “We’re always looking for the not-your-common hire.”

New employees enter a 30-day training program, working with training managers and store managers, with one-on-one sessions and in-store work.

A “genuine love and passion” for the business pushes the owners to take care of customers, employees and vendors, Eisenbarth said.

“We’re very hands-on,” he said. “We focus strongly on the basic blocking and tackling, and take care of the business and the customers. It’s really a people business, and our people love to work with people and take care of them.”

A deep bench

WCSS is owned by former employees of Shurgard Self Storage, which was acquired by Public Storage in 2006. Eisenbarth’s background includes running more than 56 Puget Sound stores as a market manager for Shurgard, which he joined in 1995.

The other owners are Jim McNamee, president, who has 31 years of industry experience, almost all of it with Shurgard; Mike Spaulding, vice president, finance, who was an asset manager for Shurgard’s 130 storage centers on the West Coast; and Steve Tangney, vice president, real estate, who worked for Public Storage and joined Shurgard in 1999 as senior development manager. He has helped to develop more than 100 new self-storage facilities in California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

Bruce Goldberg