Zen and the Art of Self-Storage
How a transcendental approach to doing business helped James York stake his claim
The lessons James York learned on his surfboard helped turn Dillingham Boulevard Self Storage into one of the fastest-growing businesses of its kind on Oahu. Just as with catching that perfect wave, York realized, he needed calm, perseverance and focus to succeed in an unpredictable marketplace. “The secret is to tackle one problem at a time,” he says, “to complete a task as opposed to multitasking without end.”
The native Californian, who moved to Hawaii in 1971 to surf, saw a need among Honolulu businesses. Last year he and his wife, Nannette, opened a 132,000-square-foot facility specializing in small business, records and residential storage in Dillingham’s urban corridor. RSVPstyle sat down with the surfer-turned-exec to find out more about his operations and philosophy.
RSVPstyle: One look around town, and it’s easy to see that self-storage places are tremendously popular. What sets your business apart from the rest of the pack?
York: Because we put our secured, four-story storage facility in the middle of the property, we have excellent egress and ingress and parking. We were also able to put 50 bays on the ground floor ranging in size from 250 to 300 square feet. They all include a roll-up door, loading area and 24-hour access, which is perfect for small contractors, suppliers or other businesses that need to downsize temporarily.
You could never find storage space that size. We were able offer it because of the layout of the premises. We also have one of the largest onsite U-Haul operations on our property. Not only do we get a percentage of their business, our customers get a discounted rate for transporting their goods with U-Haul.
RSVPstyle: You must get a lot of variety among your customers. What are some of the more unusual things you’ve stored for them?
York: Recently, a small family joined our ohana and moved into a 250-square-foot unit, which serves as their own private getaway. They set up with a comfortable couch, musical instruments, computer and mini refrigerator and use the space to teach children how to play these instruments and to simply escape their crowded home.
RSVPstyle: You’ve probably seen a lot of smart moves and a lot of common mistakes people make. What tips do you have for customers?
York: Stick with the same-size boxes and stack them one on top of the other to optimize space.
Second, shelving can help organize a space and make it easier for customers to find things.
Finally, always optimize the height of a space. People often forget to think vertically rather than just horizontally. I always tell customers, take advantage of the height of your unit, because you’re paying for it. If you have a bed frame, break it down and stand it up. If you want to store a surfboard or couch, stand them up. Just keep a stepladder in the unit.
RSVPstyle: You ran a successful commercial real estate management company for more than 20 years. What made you branch into self-storage?
York: First, we looked at the ratio of square footage of storage space per capita, and Hawaii was at about half the national average. Second, the central location of the property dictated that we would be able to pick up not only local business because of our proximity to downtown Honolulu, but also residential customers.
Third, Bishop Estate is developing land Ewa towards Mapunapuna and most of that is going to be condos, which are usually storage-challenged. So we thought we would be well placed for the next 20 years.
We also had a unique situation because we bought the property fee-simple 14 years ago. A lot of land is typically leasehold. That gave us a competitive advantage because we knew we wouldn’t have to deal with increasing ground rents, and we can pass that benefit on to our customers.
RSVPstyle: What’s on the horizon for you?
York: We’ve just started offering records keeping for attorneys and hospitals, and other businesses requiring extensive documentation. We purchased a new computer tracking systems for records, which allows us to track each box using a bar code.
Say a company has 1,000 boxes. Their staff will organize the files, box them, and notate the documents in each box. We then label each box with a bar code so if they need a particular box at any time, we can track and locate it using the bar code, and then deliver it right to them. And we not only deliver these boxes, we also pick them up. Plus our prices are a little lower than our competitors’.
RSVPstyle: So, bottom line: If we’re a potential customer, what would you be offering us? What would keep us coming back?
York: Spaciousness, accessibility, good parking and excellent customer service.
Our employees are super friendly and knowledgeable about storage, and we really make an effort to get each customer into the most affordable unit possible to suit their needs. Customers leave feeling like we have their best interest at heart. I always say, come for our location; stay for our great service.