2017 Construction Facility of the Year Winner: Storage Inns of America, Dayton, Ohio
What traits identify a winner?
While the question is surely debatable, ingenuity must certainly be among them.
Ingenuity provides the resourcefulness needed to navigate any number of
obstacles, expected or unforeseen. Case in point: Putting up a storage facility
of more than 500 units with a host of special features in a neighborhood with
exacting design requirements—and doing it on a peculiar, triangle shaped site.
Inspired by a warehouse in Chicago that had been converted to retail use, the
result is a visually pleasing structure sporting a brick façade, floor to
ceiling windows, outdoor sconce lighting, and attractive landscaping. And
that’s just on the outside. In
the lobby area there’s a 2,000-square-foot “boutique museum”.
Past Projects Constructing such a meritorious facility was the challenge facing Tom and Debbie Smith of Dayton, Ohio, but the Smiths are no strangers to adversity. Deciding to enter the industry during its early 1980s infancy, the couple took out a second mortgage on their home to put up their first store, a 40-foot by 60-foot building in their hometown of Mansfield, Ohio. Expanded several times over the years, that original facility still operates under the name the Smiths first chose for their business, Storage Inns of America, a name which connotes hospitality and not just a place to store belongings.
After moving to Dayton in 1987,
the couple built their second facility in the neighboring community of
Centerville, followed by several others over the succeeding years. Dayton, and
the surrounding areas, including Moraine, Huber Heights, and Troy all began to
host the now familiar Storage Inns of America sign. Today the company boasts no
fewer than nine locations, ranging in size from 40,000 to over 100,000 square
A Special Site With this wealth of experience, the Smiths were well-seasoned pros when they decided to expand once again in early 2016, this time to the Patterson Park neighborhood of Dayton. A location close to the campus of the University of Dayton, several mature residential subdivisions, and a dense base of retail and commercial businesses, Patterson Park is known as a somewhat upscale area. Market research indicated the area was underserved and had an extensive amount of pent-up demand.
The exact site chosen was one
quite familiar to locals. From 1950 to 2010, the address, 1450 Wilmington Pike,
was home to WHIO-TV and its radio counterpart, WHIO-AM. As the very first TV
station to begin operations in the Dayton area, the broadcaster’s art deco
building and landmark transmission tower reigned for decades as community
fixtures, and are fondly recalled by generations of Daytonians.
The station represented the crown
jewel of its parent company, Cox Media Group, which was founded in the 1920s by
former Ohio Governor James Cox. The station’s original building was demolished
several years ago, but the location still triggers cherished memories.
“We knew the site was very
special to the people of Dayton, and we were intent on honoring that legacy by
offering a quality facility that everyone would be proud of,” explains Debbie
Office Artifacts Immediately on entering, it’s easy to agree. The welcoming interior contains enough artifacts celebrating the history of the site and Dayton’s culture of aviation to legitimately be called a museum. One wall pays homage to WHIO, featuring vintage images of the studio, broadcast tower, traffic copter, and staff. Honoring aviation heritage, a wood propeller and fabric swatch from the Wright Brothers’ Vin Fiz Flyer are on display. The Vin Fiz Model EX was the first biplane that flew coast to coast across the U.S. in 1911.
The museum also serves as a marketing tool, with reminders
of some of the more specialized services offered, including climate-controlled
wine storage. Denoted by showcase style displays of wine bottles, long-stem
glasses, and fine cedar presentation boxes, wine storage is a new offering for
the Smiths. “We keep those units at a constant 55 degrees and 75 percent
humidity, which is optimal for wine,” says Tom. A typical customer is a
restaurant with a large inventory to store, often from taking advantage of a
distributor’s volume discount.
Topping off the lobby/museum is a restored 1928 Ford
Model A, promoting the facility’s larger units, which are big enough to store
Planning And Design Issues Shepherding the project to completion was no small achievement. In addition to their own standards, the Smiths had to meet community expectations and mandates from the City of Dayton’s Planning Division, necessitating a high degree of coordination.
“There was a long approval
process, with many layers,” says Debbie. In addition to obtaining the blessings
of nearby residents and businesses, approval through the city’s planning
division and ultimately the City Commission would also be required, steps that
proved to be quite time consuming.
“The first step was to go door to
door and present our self-storage to our future neighbors. We created a buzz
and, in turn, gained the support of those nearby. Next, we presented drawings
of our project to the Planning Division at public hearings. We stayed for hours
answering questions and concerns and gradually gained support.”
For its part, the city had its
own requirements. “We were looking for a pedestrian oriented structure,” says
Brian Inderrieden, Acting Director of Planning and Community Development. “By
that I mean a building that is closer to the street to engender a more urban,
pedestrian focused environment than an auto based, suburban model. Our goal was
to create an atmosphere of walkability.”
“The end result was what we
wanted,” he adds. “The streetscape and the brick walls give the site a
different type of feel. They were even able to retain some mature, existing
trees which added natural beauty to the site.”
The final step was approval from
the Dayton City Commission. The Smiths offered a comprehensive PowerPoint
presentation designed to explain precisely what self-storage is and who uses it.
They also highlighted their well burnished reputations as good corporate
citizens, citing their support of the Centerville Arts Commission, the Boy
Scouts of America, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Jaycees.
While laborious, the effort paid
off, winning the Smiths all the necessary approvals, and allowing the project
The land was still owned by the
Cox Media Group. While negotiations to purchase it proceeded, design and
engineering work could begin. In addition to Storage Inns of America, Tom Smith
operates Incorporated Investments, Inc., a construction management company that
specializes in building self-storage and retail projects. Over the years he’s
developed a standard template for facility construction.
“Normally with self-storage, the
design is straight forward,” explains John Roll, the project’s architect. “Each
job is essentially a kit of parts that link together to fit on a typical site,
which makes the architect’s job fairly straightforward. But when Tom brought
this to me, I could see it was different. The City of Dayton was rather
demanding as to the quality of whatever was built on the site. They certainly
didn’t want anything that looked like a storage facility facing Wilmington
The shape of the site also
presented challenges. The longest side of the facility, measuring some 100
yards, directly fronted Wilmington Pike. The solution was to enclose the
facility behind a series of interlinked, architecturally interesting brick
walls. Roll sought to build this main wall along a “human scale” and punctuated
it with several pilasters and brick piers designed to disguise the more
uniform, functional purpose of the building. At either end is a raised
pavilion, intended to provide visual balance. One houses the lobby/rental
office and other administrative functions, while the other contains additional
units. Each endpoint marks the location of the two vehicular entrance gates.
Additional brick walls, though
not quite as elaborate, enclose the two remaining sides of the facility,
effectively hiding its true identity. Each wall was executed in a dark brown
color that lends an air of formality.
The façade of the main building is
set back only slightly from the street, allowing for an easement landscaped
with manicured grass, white hydrangeas, and newly planted trees. But, beyond
this, the site plan makes maximum use of all available space. Almost 50 percent
of the rentable units are accessible from the other side of the main structure,
dubbed “Building A”. The roof line on side facing inward is slightly lower than
the street side, allowing for even greater concealment. Sited at 45-degree
angles from Building A are seven free standing structures (Buildings B, C, D,
E, L, and K) which house units ranging in size from 5-by5 (a virtual “closet
size” says Debbie) to 10-by20—large enough for a small car or boat. The wide
range of sizes itself works as a marketing tool. “While there was no other
storage in the immediate area, the closest competition did not have the various
sizes available to accommodate the requests we receive daily,” says Debbie.
Perpendicular to these are three
additional buildings (G, H, and I), which, like Building A, are each clad in exteriors
of dark brick, since the structures are visible from nearby residential streets.
Viewed as a whole, the facility reflects a serious commitment to design and an
ingenious degree of space planning.
Since Tom wears another hat as a
construction manager, he’s developed close relationships with suppliers of key
structural components: roofs, doors, interior, and security systems. The Wayne
Dalton Division of the Overhead Door Corporation of Dundee, Ohio, was
responsible for providing the doors and interior systems. Doors and galvanized walls represent the “guts”
of a self-storage facility, with the manufacturer’s name being clearly visible.
For this reason, installers from Wayne Dalton, a fellow Ohio-based concern,
took special care with Wilmington Pike.
“The fact that we’re a fellow Ohio company undoubtedly
played a role in the effort our crew put forth. They gave it that extra touch,”
says Brian Wilcox, senior project manager.
An unusual feature Tom included in the specs were
mullions between 19 exterior units. Mullions allow a partition wall separating
two side by side units to be quickly removed to yield a module twice as wide. For
example, a 10-by-15 can be modified to a 10-by-30 in just an hour. Making such
a change allows management to meet a specific customer request or reconfigure
available offerings based on market conditions. Mullions also allow for quick
removal of two smaller doors and replacement with a larger one. This
makes it possible to offer the customer a larger, integral unit.
Security, Software, And Services Most self-storage facilities have two separate software systems: one dedicated to all security functions (i.e. monitoring gates, alarms, and motion detectors) and one devoted to the management side of the business.
The Smiths worked with PTI Security
of Scottsdale, Ariz., to supply the security system and software. A longtime
player in the industry, PTI offers several hardware and software options. For
the Wilmington Pike facility, the owners selected version five of StorLogix
software with the Falcon XT controller, the most recent iteration. The hardware
chosen includes some of PTI’s most reliable keypads, cameras, alarms, and gates.
Combined, these tools allow the server to archive up to 40,000 events inputted
from outdoor or indoor cameras or alarms by use of Ethernet or USB
connectivity. Customer access is accurately monitored and controlled, and is
offered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year.
“The products that Storage Inns
of America chose are basic but very robust. They opted for a well-lit and gated
site with key pad access, some of the most effective deterrents available,”
explains Christine DeBord, marketing manager at PTI. “And, since our software
is scalable, it’s capable of handling additional hardware the Smiths may want
to add down the road.”
For management software, the
owners decided to partner with DOMICO, a provider based in Walnut Creek, Calif.
DOMICO’s program makes everything
look easy. The main screen consists of a graphic diagram of the facility, with
each unit color coded to reveal its status at a glance: occupied, late, vacant,
or reserved. Simply hovering the mouse over any specific unit displays the
tenant’s relevant information on the side panel: personal details, move-in data,
payments, and credits. The main menu can display tables containing aggregate
figures with a simple click. An example of include a summary list of unit inventory displayed in list form.
The system also performs POS functions, such as accepting in person rent
payments and the sale of packing supplies.
“Our program doesn’t have the
most ‘flashy’ of features. Instead, it’s rather a tried-and-true solution, and
has proven itself to be the most efficient and straight forward management
software in the industry,” says Rodney Vernon, vice president for business
development for DOMICO.
A logistical necessity is for
management and security software to interface when handling functions relevant
to both. One example is the question of access to customers whose accounts are
“When a customer rents a unit,
our system generates an access code which is shared with the management
program. If a customer falls behind on their bill, the management software
tells our program to deactivate that code and deny access until the account is
paid,” says DeBord. “We have a long history of working closely with DOMICO and know
how to seamlessly mesh with their products.”
But despite all the Wilmington
Pike facility has to offer, the biggest reason for its success is something
intangible: the matchless level of customer service they continuously offer.
For the Smiths, service is an ongoing process. Debbie explains it as if she is
advising others, “Listen to your customer now and over the years. Keep doing
what works. Change can be good also, so have an open mind. Feedback from
customers helps with planning future projects.”
For the Smiths, the “personal
touch” aspects of customer service and networking are both musts. These include
knowing each tenant by name and becoming an established fixture in the local
business community. By becoming acquainted with and patronizing area restaurants,
landscapers, and home improvement companies, the couple has cultivated a loyal
fabric of local commercial customers.
Seeing themselves as stewards of
their customers’ belongings, the Smiths remain ever humble, always striving to
improve their level of service.
Builder: Incorporated Investments, Inc. Architect: Roll and Associates Management Software: Domico Self Storage Software Roof: DBCI Doors and Interior: Overhead Door Corporation
Paul Vachon is a freelance writer, editor, and public speaker based in Detroit. He is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.