By Mario Toneguzzi
Bluebird Self Storage is riding a wave of growing demand for storage space as it aggressively expands in the Greater Toronto Area with future plans to grow the company in other parts of Canada.
And part of the strategy going forward is to include retail space with the self-storage facilities.
Toronto-based Bluebird currently has four locations in the Toronto area with stores five through 11 in various stages of permitting and/or construction. All the locations are in the Toronto area.
“Our plan is to strategically and prudently grow the Bluebird brand across Canada with a focus on the major markets starting with Toronto of course where we’re already established but we’ll be on to some of the other markets in Canada as well,” said Reade DeCurtins, co-founder and partner of Bluebird.
“Our plan is to grow through three different arms here. One is development and development can be either ground up development or the conversion of existing buildings. The second way we’re growing the brand is through acquisitions of competitors and the third is through third party management whereby we would take over management of another brand, re-brand it to Bluebird, add them to our website and more sophisticated management platform.
“We don’t have a specific number. Our growth is going to be driven through the opportunities and smart growth decisions.”
DeCurtins said each location is on average about 130,000 square feet.
The number of units varies by location but range from 600 to 900 units.
“In markets like the GTA in particular we’ve read that the density in and around Toronto is second only to Manhattan in North America. So I think the reason that self storage has become so popular is awareness and this is by way of better, more visible retail types of locations and secondly you have people moving into smaller and smaller homes - condos and apartments,” said DeCurtins, adding that he sees that trend continuing.
“And something else we’ve known in the industry is that with each younger group of people that you look to there’s higher penetration. So there’s going to be a higher percentage of Millennials that have or are using self storage than the Baby Boomer generation for instance. We still don’t know the true demand potential because the demand is increasing with each younger generation.”
When it comes to conversions, DeCurtins said the first thing the company looks at is a retail location with strong presence. In the case of converting industrial buildings, its challenge is to find a place that allows for storage use that is in more of a retail type of corridor or at the edge of a retail corridor.
“So we are looking for over 20,000 cars a day in front of our doors and a population density of over 60,000 people within five kilometres and we are typically looking to build or convert 225,0000 square feet or more,” he said.
“When we’re looking for industrial buildings we know that we need to be able to build out to our requisite footage and that can be done via the conversion of the building exclusively or a combination of repurposing the building and adding more square footage in the excess property that will house it.”
When asked if Bluebird would consider the possibility of going into vacant big box retail space, DeCurtins said the company does foresee there being opportunity.
“They are a nice play for us as they have the retail types of locations that we’re seeking anyhow and by virtue of the size we feel like it would be a good fit for self storage as well,” he said.
“Beyond that right now, a number of our sites that we’re working on in the GTA are partnerships with retail development groups whereby we’ll be building mixed-used types of buildings that will have retail on the first floor including the Bluebird Self Storage office and then it will be self storage above the first floor. Right now we are in discussions on four retail mixed-use sites in the GTA. We would look to the landlords and partners with the retail specialty to plug in the tenants.”
DeCurtins said the company would look on a case-by-case basis at locations within malls but one of the things it would need for a self storage facility is ease of access for customers. A mall would present some challenges in that regard, he said.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.