Look Who’s Talking – Mike Jobb, CEO of Canam Self Storage
Eighteen years ago, Mike Jobb, owner of Ontario-based Canam Self Storage, was getting his first taste of self-storage development with his father, Sheldon Jobb. Together they built a portfolio of four properties called SelfstorageCo. The father-son duo sold SelfstorageCo to Public Storage Canada in 2018 in what they referred to as a very pleasurable experience working with Andy Hick and the rest of the Public Storage team.
In 2016, Jobb was eager to continue developing self-storage, working with Canam Vice President Julian Mallah and acquiring four more commercial industrial buildings to convert into self-storage: one in Waterloo, which they sold to Mini Mall after stabilization; one in Cambridge, which is one of the largest self-storage facilities in the country at 142,000 square feet and was recently acquired by SmartStop; one in Fort Myers, Fla.; and one undisclosed location.
Together, Jobb and Mallah have acquired over 550,000 square feet of commercial/industrial properties for conversion since 2018. In total, Jobb has converted eight commercial/industrial buildings for a total 1.1 million square feet. “We plan to stay the course,” he says, “and we continue to look for opportunities.”
South Of The Border
Most recently, Jobb and Mallah have completed an opportunity in N. Fort Myers, Fla. Frequenting Fort Myers for vacations, Jobb had passed the industrial warehouse on N. Tamiami Trail during his travels. Despite its aging exterior, he noticed the structure had potential as a self-storage facility. The 106,000-square-foot building is on a 4.5-acre lot in a healthy market with a quickly growing population.
Having had great success in Canada, and being familiar with the market, Jobb and Mallah decided a development project in the United States would be a worthwhile investment. “It requires the same steps,” Jobb says about the development process. No matter where you are building, whether in Canada or the United States, he reminds developers that providing the city’s planning committee with all the information they need will help the project move forward in a timely manner. Although the permitting process has lengthened for nearly every municipality since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jobb mentions that understanding what a city requires beforehand, and diligently assembling all of that information and/or documentation prior to applying for approvals, can diminish delays. Having a strong team helps too.
With the building secured and design completed, Jobb and Mallah decided to work with Mike Gabor of Gabor General Contracting. “Mike Gabor has been excellent, and he has access to exceptional engineers, trades, and skilled labor,” Jobb says. “We found our American team to be welcoming, hardworking, and helpful.”
He goes on to say that he didn’t find there to be many differences between building in Canada and building in the U.S. “It has been a good and rewarding experience,” says Jobb. As far as development expectations go, Jobb feels the demands that city building requirements are imposing on self-storage facilities aren’t unreasonable. He notes that most of the newer requirements revolve around life safety, mandating that properties achieve a specified fire rating to protect customers and staff, as well as the building, from harm. These life safety obligations certainly impact construction costs, but it’s money well spent should a conflagration occur.
Of course, there are increasing expectations for curb appeal as well, with some cities requiring the façade of a facility to resemble an office building, but according to Jobb, that doesn’t usually break the budget. “You just need something aesthetically pleasing,” he says.
Weathering Hurricane Ian
While Jobb, Mallah, and the Gabor Contracting crews did experience supply chain issues throughout the development of the Fort Myers facility, which extended the anticipated build time by approximately three months, the property managed to open in early October 2022, four short days after Hurricane Ian battered western Florida with unruly winds and torrential downpours.
Hurricane Ian caused between $50 billion and $65 billion (USD) in insured damages, making it the United States’ costliest disaster in 2022 and the second largest insured lost on record, but Jobb’s property had no damage nor water intrusion from the devastating storm.
“The after affect was bad,” recalls Jobb, who notes that the buildings that weren’t swept away by the storm surge faced restoration challenges after the water receded, including mold remediation due to the state’s notoriously high humidity level. How was his property unscathed by Ian? The building had just been renovated to meet the state’s hurricane-related building codes, also known as the Florida Building Code (FBC). Adopted in 2002, this statewide code mandates that new construction be able to withstand hurricane-force winds and feature shutters or impact-resistant glass in all openings. To comply with the FBC, the facility was outfitted with a new roofing system as well.
Its renovations and timely completion ended up being somewhat of a silver lining for Fort Myer’s residents. According to Jobb, there was little storage space available following the hurricane due to widespread water damage. Knowing that folks were in desperate need of storage space for their salvageable belongings, Jobb and Extra Space Storage opened the facility’s doors as quickly as possible. In four turbulent weeks, the third-party management company leased half of the facility’s 80,000 net rentable square footage (NRSF); all the larger units were quickly occupied. Fifty percent, or 40,000 NRSF, equated to approximately 325 of the site’s 780 units. With impressive figures like those, it’s safe to say that reaching stabilization won’t be an issue.
The Plan For Canam
As a “merchant builder” operating all of the developments under the Canam Self Storage brand, Jobb currently owns two facilities. The other six properties developed were stabilized and then sold to larger self-storage operators. This is the “course” he intends to follow for the foreseeable future.
Wanting recognition as one of Canada’s premier merchant builders for self-storage, Jobb and Mallah’s objective is to grow the company at a healthy pace. Canam would take on no more than three development projects at once in order to maintain a high level of quality. “We don’t want it to grow too fast,” he says, adding that keeping the company’s projects simple and self-financed is important to him and Mallah.
“We are trying to build a great product, only Class-A properties,” says Jobb. Class-A properties located in top metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are the most desirable to larger self-storage operators and real estate investment trusts (REITs). Because Canam aims to sell its developments once they stabilize, attracting their interest is imperative to the company’s continued success.
Although conversion opportunities are becoming more difficult to find, thanks to limited vacancy in urban markets, Jobb points out that Canam Self Storage has an advantage that makes development more affordable when an opportunity does arise: a complete, start-to-finish, in-house development team and excellent sub trades like George Gray of Self Storage Contracting and Mike Gabor of Gabor General Contracting, amongst many others. Collectively, the Canam team handles site sourcing, demographics, permitting, design, general contracting, and operations; plus, they know how to prepare a property for market. Jobb and Mallah have worked with the Cleveland-based Colliers team of Tom Gustafson, Matt Davis, and Andrew Kinney to take all of their assets to market.
“It’s a lot more work than some people think,” says Jobb. “It takes a lot of planning and capital to develop a self-storage facility.” While it may not be an easy business, it’s surely a worthwhile one if you have a good team and have done your due diligence!
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Self-Storage Canada, Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and MiniCo Publishing’s annual Self-Storage Almanac.