Mr. Boeguitas – Juan Pablo II, San Salvador, El Salvador
Back in 2003, a small company based in Guatemala City opened a self-storage facility in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, a suburban city on the outskirts of San Salvador, the political capital, commercial center, and most populated city in the country. It was called Mr. Bodeguitas and it was the first self-storage store in the country.
The choice of Santa Tecla was a bit of
a gamble for the holding company, Mr. Bodeguitas International, or MBI, as all
the company’s prior stores were in Guatemala City. The store proved successful,
and Mr. Bodeguitas has gone on to open two more stores in the San Salvador
market and has one more in the planning stages. The city now counts five
self-storage stores total.
None of the five, including the prior
Mr. Bodeguitas facilities, have made the impact of the third store, built on the
northeast side of the city, in the wealthy community of Escalon. Technically
called Mr. Boeguitas – Juan Pablo II, this one was revolutionary (if one can
use this word safely in Latin America) in that it was the first, four-story,
urban and modern-designed self-storage in San Salvador, if not Central America.
It also changed the face of self-storage tenancy in the region. One more thing:
It is the winner of the 2016 International Facility of the Year award.
What made the Mr. Bodeguitas – Juan
Pablo II facility different from even the company’s successful stores in
Guatemala City, which are better than 85 percent occupied, is that most of the
early self-storage facilities were marketed to, and utilized by, commercial
entities. The Juan Pablo II store built and designed to attract the residential
customer, in particular, wives, generally considered the general manager of
family life in Latin America.
The Juan Pablo II store was opened in
November 2013, and, by the end of the next month, occupancy was up to 15
percent. After 12 months of doing business, occupancy rose to 62 percent; by
the 30-month mark, occupancy hit 95 percent, where it is today.
“Our first facilities were mainly
commercial driven,” explains Federico Rolz, CEO of Mr. Bodeguitas. “We probably
were about 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential. With this new
facility, we have evened the demand for storage and we are seeing more of a 50
percent commercial and 50 percent residential split.”
The product, the look, design, calls
for more residential users, Rolz adds. “We have incorporated a lot more
comfortable design features for women. The previous facilities had the heavy
doors, and the look and feel was heavy duty. We have feminized the operation. Most
of our managers are women. All the facilities were attractively painted and the
marketing inside was done to cater to women. The residential users tend to be
women, and, as can be expected, for commercial, the majority of tenants are male.”
For example, the Juan Pablo II store
has slightly wider and brighter hallways, which give a feeling of amplitude,
and each storage unit has a Janus International roll-up door, where the lock is
in the middle of the door instead of at the bottom for the comfort of female
tenants. “These adjustments are not rocket science or big changes, but it’s
important to our residential customer base,” says Rolz.
Secondly, the site was on the steep
slope of a dormant volcano, which planners used to create two separate entries
for commercial and residential users. The latter can access the building from
the first floor, while commercial users do so at what is technically the second
floor because of the way the ground slopes upward.
Outside of core San Salvador, the land
becomes mountainous very swiftly and, on the northeastern side of the city,
where the upscale Escalon community can be found, the rolling land at some
locations gets steep quickly.
“We knew if we wanted to be on this side
of the city, finding flat land was not going to be easy,” says Rolz. “So we
worked with the slope a lot, creating two ‘first floor’ access points. We had
to do some earthmoving, some parts of the buildings are ‘underground,’ but on
the right side of the building we were able to build loading docks for trucks,
where the unloads go directly into the second floor. With this design we have
reduced significantly the need of elevator use for the first- and second-floor
tenants. The site can handle 40-foot freight containers.”
The residential customers have their
own entrance on the left side of the buildings, and the heavy commercial users
access on the right side directly through the truck unloading bay. El Salvador
has dry and rainy seasons, the latter of which is fairly intense, so the
residential side of the building has a canopied approach. If people are unloading
goods they can do so without getting soaking wet.
“Residential customers store mainly
excess household belongings,” says Rolz. “We have very different markets. In
San Salvador, we see more established families with large residences but still
have other belongings they no longer want in their houses and they need
storage. There are some customers that could be ex-pats but not many, not in El
Salvador and Guatemala. More of those ex-pat
customers can be found in our site in Costa Rica.”
In Central America, Mr. Bodeguitas
managers have seen how cities are growing very fast with new residential buildings
going vertical. People who were living on the outskirts of the city are now moving
into downtown to avoid traffic, living in smaller spaces but not wanting to get
rid of all their belongings.
“That verticality phenomenon is going
on also in San Salvador,” says Rolz, “where the residential customer is mainly
established families that want to retain belongings.”
While the outsiders view of Central
America is one of vast poverty, there is also a lot of wealth and, indeed, many
communities are equal to any developments in a first-world country.
“Residential customers are fairly wealthy compared to the rest of the population,”
All In The Name
To attract both the wealthier
residential and successful commercial customers, the founders of the Mr.
Bodeguitas company chose its name and logo to reflect a successful North
“What we wanted to portray with our
name was somewhat of an American type of business, which is why we put in the
“Mr.” instead of, perhaps, “señor”. The word “bodeguitas” means little
warehouse. The logo includes the words “self-storage” and the slogan, “la
bodega que usted necesita,” which means “the space you need”. The picture in the
logo is of a strong-looking man, because “We wanted to say: ‘We are a big,
strong, and established company’.”
The company’s long-term goal is to
become the largest Latin American self-storage operator. It has already developed
a store in Costa Rica, which is its ninth facility, and it is in the process of
getting building permits for two other facilities: one in San Salvador and
another in Guatemala City. The company already has five stores in Guatemala
City, three in San Salvador, and one in San Jose, Costa Rica. In San Salvador,
the company now has two stores in the Escalon area and will build its fourth
store in Santa Tecla that will be a five-story building with 3,500 square
meters (about 37,700 square feet) of net rentable space.
Mr. Bodeguitas’ first store in San
Salvador was 2,300 square meters (about 24,800 square feet). The Juan Pablo II
store in Escalon is 2,900 square feet (about 31,200 square feet). The Juan
Pablo II counts 240 units with the average rental at 12.1 square meters (about
130 square feet).
“Our goal is to be building two to
three facilities a year over the next five years,” says Rolz.
While in college, Rolz joined a
company that rented portable toilets. From there, he easily transitioned into
doing the rental of light construction equipment. Then he joined a construction
company that owned a lot of large equipment and wanted to lease the unused tractors,
cranes, etc., to third-party customers. Rolz established a sub-company to turn the
idle equipment into a profit center.
Although a native Guatemalan, Rolz’s
mother is an American; he spent some of his middle-school years in North
Carolina and part of his MBA years in Chicago at the Kellogg School of
Management at Northwestern University, which had an exchange program with the Pontifical
Catholic University of Chile, from which Rolz achieved his Masters.
He joined Mr. Bodeguitas five years
ago. At the time, the company already had five stores in Guatemala City plus
two in San Salvador but needed to expand and improve operations, so it brought
Rolz in to run the company.
“My goal was to modernize the company,
bring in all the systems, and redefine the marketing strategy and business
intelligence to build a platform that would allow us to grow rapidly and be the
best in the region,” he says. “After implementing SiteLink, our management
software, and getting our management team on board to manage our existing
portfolio with a service driven mindset, we started with our multi-story building
venture. Originally, Mr. Bodeguitas was developing more suburban type,
two-story facilities. As we did all the research, we decided the new Mr. Bodeguitas
buildings would be multi-story, more urban, more like you see in later-generation,
type-A facilities in the United States. This Mr. Bodeguitas site was our first effort
in building a new multi-story facility with all the latest technology, and we
are very happy with the results.”
With multi-story, the company wanted
to change the design scheme to what Rolz calls a more modern look.
“We traveled to cities such as
Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami and we looked at a lot of what the U.S. developers
were doing,” says Rolz. “Our construction company is part owner of Mr.
Bodeguitas, so the architectural department with a clear vision and direction understood
what we wanted. We did a main block design and then we hired an external
architect with the main idea to really give it a final twist. Since we were
building in a very high-end area we wanted to convince not only the users but
the local authorities that this building was going to be the nicest on the
In its application for Facility of the
Year, Rolz had written: “After a great deal of planning, interviewing loyal
customers, and pondering the possibility of going vertical, we decided to make
this site in El Salvador the first multi-story, latest-generation facility in
the region. The proprietors, the architects, designers, and everyone involved
were all on board and we decided to go forward with this dream. With the Juan
Pablo II facility, we once again changed the face of the industry in the
region. We were well aware that this model had worked well in the United States
and in Panama, so we made sure that it would work in El Salvador as well.”
For the design of its first “latest-generation”
facility in Central America, the management team and directors wanted to build
a site that would create a noticeable impact on the market. A Tetris design
incorporated large windows, which exhibited the company’s signature red doors
on the inside. To show those red doors, about 20 percent of the façade consists
To give the store high visibility, the
architects indulged the Tetris-type edifice with subdued block colors against extreme
“The layout of the building helped
us,” says Rolz. “We have a huge area of exposure as to how the lot is set up
and just the coloring and the red doors give it a pop. Light colors on the
façade, with a lot of windows, display those doors, especially during the
night. During one of our construction supervisions, I was traveling with one of
our senior partners who told me, ‘We need to light this up like a spaceship’.
We told the architect to really go in and light it up. We knew during the
evening the road was going to be high-trafficked. During the evening the
building really brightens up the neighborhood.”
Inside the store, the designers went
with “fine finishing” on the flooring, walls, restrooms, the colors, and
“It’s the best you can get locally,”
says Rolz. “When people get there, they often say it looks like a hotel. They
say, ‘I never imagined a warehouse could look so beautiful’.”
The lobby boasts air conditioning, but
the rest of the building and the individual units are not air conditioned.
“On the building itself we use an
insulated panel that keeps the heat away; and through air flow design we push
the hot air out and bring the cooler air in,” says Rolz. “We don’t feel that
there is a need for air conditioning or climate-controlled units in the
country. People have not asked for it, and our research shows people wouldn’t
pay for it.”
San Salvador and Guatemala City have
high crime rates, so it is particularly important for customers to not only
feel safe when visiting the facility, but they obviously also want to assume
their belongings are secure as well.
“The security issue is always
present,” says Rolz. “You don’t just offer space; you need to offer safe space.
We bring a difference. When you come in you see all the security measures you
have to go through. People will to pay for that.”
In the Juan Pablo II store, Mr.
Bodeguitas’ designers installed several security practices to ensure rigorous
control both on site and off site. To start with, the company installed a
wireless alarm system and keypads. It offers individual alarms in each unit and
a 24/7 armed-guard security. In addition, the store boasts 32 CCTV cameras
surveying the facility and appointed a private security company to monitor the
cameras off site several times a day, 365 days a year. The store makes sure the
security company assigns supervisors to visit the facility several times a day
as well as in the evening hours.
A panic button has been installed with
easy access for the manager and security guards. A log is kept for each
customer visit to the site and managers have smartphones with apps that allow
them to gain access to the surveillance system in order to maintain supervision
during closed office hours.
To gain access to the store, three access
keypads have been installed: one at the gate, a second to access the building
from the parking, and one to exit the building. The keypads have been set up to
work with SiteLink and they keep track of the tenants who visit the facility.
Additionally, before accessing the building, a security guard checks that the
visitor is the rightful user of the unit, checking that he or she brings the
membership card issued and has a valid ID.
The company supplying the security
systems was Van Nuys, Calif.-based QuikStor.
QuikStor’s modular system, the consultant and the facility can go through the
site’s needs and build the right system from the ground up,” says Shania
Cossairt, business development consultant for QuikStor. “In this case, Mr.
Bodeguitas wanted to secure several ingress and egress points (entrance and
exit gate keypads) as well as an access door by the facility office (access
door keypad), all with intercoms to facilitate communication with their
Mr. Boedguitas also wanted
each unit in the facility to be individually alarmed, and QuikStor’s
patented wireless unit alarms worked well for this purpose. “In combination
with the keypad system, this allows each tenant to disarm and re-arm the
alarm on their unit only, providing a safe and secure experience for
everyone,” says Cossairt.
To compare the modern Juan Pablo II
with Mr. Bodeguitas’ first store in Santa Tekla, the main difference is smaller
rental units—mostly because this store caters more toward residential tenants.
The Santa Tecla facility has almost all big units. At Juan Pablo II, a customer
can start renting between $60 and $85 a month for a unit that is four meters to
six meters (13.1 feet to 19.7 feet). The most popular size at the Juan Pablo
facility for the residential customer is six square meters (64.6 square feet).
For the commercial tenant, the most
popular units range from 15 square meters (161.5 square feet) to 18 square
meters (193.8 square feet) and would cost about $200 to $250 a month.
So, besides occupancy, how can you
tell if you have been successful? The Juan Pablo II store was built on a new
road connecting two busy thoroughfares. It was the first major commercial
building on the street and since it opened the avenue has boomed, including
four new housing developments.
“Our building is a landmark to the area,”
Rolz says. “People often orient themselves by saying, ‘We are going to live
near the Mr. Bodeguitas building’.”
Facility Owner: Mr. Bodeguitas International (MBI)
Builder: Construcciones Nabla
Architect: Coral Blue International Group
Structural Engineer: INNCO
Accounting System: Diamante
Management Software: SiteLink
Security Systems: QuikStor
Security Company: ADS S.A. de C.V.
Roof: Aceros Nabla, S.A.
Doors & Interior System: Janus International
Bergsman is an author, journalist, and columnist. His stories have appeared in
over 100 newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and wire services around the
globe; and his most recent book is “The Death of Johnny Ace.”