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Q&A With Brett Copper of Copper Storage Management

Brett Copper has grown up in the self-storage industry. As Bob Copper’s son, he has worked with Self Storage 101, the country’s leading self-storage consulting firm, since he was a teenager. After college, Brett worked with CubeSmart to gain further insight into third-party management and operations before joining Self Storage 101 full time.

For the last five years, Brett has worked with hundreds of self-storage owners and operators on management, marketing, acquisitions, feasibility and training for facilities all over the United States. Seeing a growing need for alternative management solutions in the industry, Brett, along with the rest of the Copper family, created Copper Storage Management, which has become the largest (non-REIT) third-party management company specifically catering to remote self-storage facilities. Copper Storage Management currently manages nearly 200 facilities nationwide and continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. The Coppers have also acquired and sold large portfolios of unmanned facilities under the brand Copper Safe Storage.

What led to the creation of Copper Storage Management? What is your mission and what services do you provide?

 About four years ago, we wanted to create a remote management model for ourselves so we could take advantage of secondary/tertiary value-add facilities. We realized that if we could cut a large portion of traditional management costs, we could drastically increase the NOI for smaller sites and get similar returns to bigger sites -but without competing with REITs or large equity groups. Once we started operating with our new model, we quickly realized how successful and efficient it became. We quickly scaled our management platform and opened it up to the public. 

In the last four years we have grown to approximately 200 facilities in almost 30 states. We provide full third-party management services for self-storage and boat/RV facilities all over the country. All of our stores are remotely managed, which allows us to operate at a significant advantage over traditional management. Our mission is to create a meaningful impact through innovation, partnerships and value creation.

 How is the company structured, and why do you believe the model works well? 

We are structured similarly to the other top third-party management companies, just without heavy onsite costs like payroll. We also do not believe in relying on one onsite manager to be proficient in marketing, revenue management, sales, collections, auctions and maintenance. Instead, we have specialized divisions of experts who focus on their own department and only their own department. We then utilize 1099 Boots on the Ground contractors to do the simple onsite tasks like cleaning, picking up trash, getting units/spaces ready to rent, auditing the property and small maintenance tasks. We feel that not only does this give us incredible cost savings, but it allows for better performance due to our specialized teammates and departments.

 Why should RV and boat storage operators consider working with a management company? Can you tell us pros and cons?

 Effective management companies bring a lot to the table. Experienced companies should bring much effective marketing and sales to any facility. Utilizing global websites, call-center agents, better SEO, paid ads and processes allow for much higher lead generation and higher conversation rates for rentals. Management companies should also have a specialized revenue management team, which means much higher rental rates and rate increases for Current tenants. 

Lien laws can also be a hassle for Owners. Management companies remove that hassle and handle any issues with collections, auctions, removing unpaid vehicles or any other complicated issues that might arise. Why not trust experts with decades of experience get the most out of your business, while you continue to focus on growing? 

The biggest con to using third-party management  is not having full control of day-to-day operations. Management companies operate the way they do for a reason. They rely on best practices and consistencies so there can sometimes be little room for customization.   

What are some of the most important aspects of managing a facility that newcomers to the industry should be aware of? 

 Most newcomers drastically underestimate the amount of work required for day-to-day operations. There are so many important aspects of operations that are extremely nuanced. Make sure to understand all of the legal ins and outs of how facilities are supposed to operate in your state. It is extremely overwhelming for newcomers to choose the right vendors needed for operations. This included services like websites, gate software, facility management software, Tenant insurance, etc. Do plenty of research and ask who experts recommend for the best vendor partnerships.

Do you have any examples of mistakes new operators have made by assuming they can manage a property without having experience in the industry?

By far the biggest mistakes are typically made on the legal side of storage. This includes improper leases, illegal delinquency processes and improper insurance processes. It is very important to research and seek our resources to fully understand these processes so you do not end up in legal trouble.

How do you help owners through the lease-up phase?

Our best resources for lease up are our call center and marketing strategies. Traditionally, facilities relied upon an onsite Manager to be their primary sales apparatus. The problem is that managers might only get one-to-two sales opportunities per day during the busy season.

Our call center has a sales queue where only the highest rated sales agents receive sales calls. These agents might have 50-100 sales opportunities per day. This allows for much higher conversion rates than traditionally managed facilities. Our agents also answer the phone 12 hours per day, seven days per week. This means a much longer window for renting to tenants.

As for marketing, we use a global website platform. That means all of our stores–no matter the branding–are all located on one website. This means each facility shares in the traffic and rankings across all of our locations. This allows for much better performance and rankings for all of our owners.

What are some key differences between managing a traditional self-storage property and an RV and boat storage property? 

Typically, the biggest differences are security requirements, tenant insurance penetration and auctions. Boat and RV facilities really need to have great security. This means good lighting, cameras and has to be fenced and gated. There is usually a much lower overall Tenant insurance penetration rate because all boat and RV Tenants are required to have insurance coverage before storing anyways. A lot of states either have lengthy auction processes or do not allow them at all for boats and RVs. However, most allow you to have the vehicle towed pretty quickly. We have also found that boat and RV sites require less time from the boots on the ground for uncovered boat and RV facilities, as there are no units to clean and make ready to rent.

Can operators use a traditional self-storage rental agreement for boat and RV storage? 

For a 100% boat and RV facility, the lease will need to be tailored as such. There are different exclusions and requirements for property value, along with what is allowed to be stored. For facilities with a mixture of regular storage units and boat and RV spaces, we typically use separate leases or a boat/RV addendum.

What does the lien process look like in the RV and boat storage industry?

These can vary greatly from state to state. However, in most cases, it is much easier and more effective to have the vehicle towed in accordance with local laws and time lines.

What do you like best about your job? And, what do you like to do when you’re not working? with your time off? 

This is a great question! I have been in the storage industry since I could walk. To be honest there is very little I do not love about the industry as a whole. A lot of storage veterans have gotten to see me grow up in this business and I always love getting to speak, teach and find ways to innovate our model. As for time off – by far my favorites are music festivals, football and F1! Tickets to any of those is always the quickest way to win me over.

Get a Class A education in RV and boat storage

To learn more about developing, operating and investing in RV and boat storage, register for the upcoming Toy Storage Nation Executive RV and Boat Storage Workshop in Fort Myers, Fla., Dec. 1, 2023. This exclusive, one-day workshop provides the A-to-Z compendium of RV and boat storage knowledge, including a session led by Brett Copper covering the benefits of contracting with third party management to accelerate your success in this rapidly growing, prosperous industry. Register today. 

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