After a long and distinguished career working mostly at large self-storage companies, including a few self-storage REITs, Cynthia Ashby decided it was time for a change.
A year ago, she struck out on her own and founded Georgia-based Dynamic Self Storage Solutions, a sort of hybrid project management, consulting and auditing firm within the self-storage industry – but with a twist. She would focus mostly on helping small and medium-sized self-storage companies grappling with a quickly changing industry landscape.
“I wanted to get back to self-storage as I once knew it,” said Ashby, whose parents used to run Crocker’s Lockers in Yuma, Arizona. “I wanted to help smaller and mid-sized operators, telling them how the bigger (firms) do things, how to be more competitive without losing their smaller touches.”
A little bit of everything
A year later, Dynamic Self Storage has indeed signed up about 15 small and mid-sized self-storage clients in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
From helping clients buy the right sales software to giving them advice on tenant relationships, Dynamic Self Storage does “a little of everything,” says Ashby. Specifically the company offers auditing, due diligence, advance training and feasibility study services.
Not that Dynamic Self Storage doesn’t have larger clients. It’s currently doing some work, for instance, for iStorage at National Storage Affiliates. It also recently brought in a new partner, Kevin Leebrick, an industry veteran, who himself brought to Dynamic six self-storage properties under management.
Larger clients, as well as properties under management, are a needed source of recurring revenue for the company. But Ashby emphasized that the firms primary focus is helping smaller firms that are struggling to get by in an increasingly competitive industry environment.
Ashby said she’s now putting together a new business plan that she hopes to unveil next year to further that goal. She declined to give details, but she said she envisions something similar to how National Storage Affiliates or ERA Real Estate works, or one larger entity helping smaller entities with their everyday needs in marketing, accounting, staffing, operations and other matters.
No more index cards
There’s certainly a demand for such help, some of Ashby’s clients say.
Tim Puffer, president of Focus REI in Lansing, Michigan, said he and a group of investors recently purchased their first self-storage facility.
“The previous owners were still doing billing on index cards,” he said. “Everything was paper.”
With Ashby’s help, Focus REI purchased the right industry software to handle operational and procedural aspects of the business, among other things, he said.
“Eventually, I guess we could have figured out about 75 percent of our problems on our own,” he said. “But with her it just really helped.”
“She’s been a life saver for us,” Judy Camden, property manager for Cedar Park Storage in Verona, Virginia, said of Ashby. “She’s filled a niche that we needed. She has such vast industry knowledge.
Camden said Ashby has helped improve operations at the 630-unit facility in areas such as tenant relations, sales and end-of-year audits. Cedar Park Storage’s operations have become more efficient and professional as a result, she said.
“It’s definitely money well spent,” said Camden.