Business View Magazine interviews Genevieve Elefante-Sigmund and Dane Elefante of Platinum Storage Group, for our focus on Best Practices in the Storage Industry.
Headquartered in Irvine, California, Platinum Storage Group is one of the nation’s leading commercial real estate investment groups, specializing in self-storage. Throughout this dynamic company, a corporate culture based on family values and diversity is propelling strategic growth in its three main divisions – Management, Acquisitions, and Development.
Leading the charge are Platinum Storage Group President, Genevieve Elefante-Sigmund, and VP of Operations, Dane Elefante – a powerhouse sister and brother team whose combined strengths and intuition are a force to be reckoned with in the highly competitive storage industry.
Business View Magazine recently spoke to the pair about the amazing growth and success of Platinum Storage Group and their insights into the future of the industry. The following is an edited version of that conversation:
BVM: How did Platinum Storage Group evolve to become a leader in self-storage?
Genevieve: “Our father, Skip Elefante, started the company in 1999. I joined in 2003, and Dane followed in 2007. Skip has been in the business more than 30 years, as a self-storage broker who also does self-storage property management. Back in the late ‘90s he thought, ‘Why aren’t we putting these deals together for ourselves in an investment kind of way?’ That’s when we started to syndicate; acquiring a dozen sites over the next couple years through friends and family capital.”
Dane: “We’ve all been involved in the business, even before we officially joined the company. When I was 15, I was shopping for storage facilities. My girlfriend was taking photos while I was inside, and afterwards we’d go through the details with Skip and the other team members and put together feasibility studies. Back then, Genevieve was supporting our father in his capacity as a broker and in day-to-day operations.
“In the early 2000s we had 90 properties; then we were up to 120 in the recession when we took on distressed properties that owners had bought at the height of property values and lost to the bank. We worked with the Special Receiver and began managing the properties for the banks.”
BVM: How does data management impact operations?
Genevieve: “Over the years, we’ve grown from a boutique self-storage investor/property manager/owner to a much more sophisticated self-storage owner/operator/developer. We’ve had to adapt to compete. It used to be anybody could build a self-storage facility and market it with a Yellow Pages ad and the tenants would come. The industry has come a long way.”
Dane: “Our current portfolio is about 32 properties with 10 to 12 in the pipeline. Internally, we’re very scalable and we’ve taken steps to centralize all our data with an accounting software database from Yardi. Self-storage was the forgotten real estate type until 2007, when REITs (publicly-owned Real Estate Investment Trusts) started to come into the market. Before that, the big software companies weren’t looking at us. We were having to build software ourselves or use small vendors that catered just to our industry.
“Self-storage is now one of the top performing real estate types. And Yardi enabled us to go from having a different database for each property, to a single database that can push and pull information and invoices to our financials, without having to independently log in to each one. The great thing about that software is having an open database, because big data, and making data-driven decisions, instead of gut decisions, is what’s important – being able to aggregate and analyze data that you’re collecting from multiple sources.”
Genevieve: “I’m in development and acquisitions, constantly looking for properties to add to our portfolio. Having access to all that data allows us to immediately assess occupancy levels, rental rates, etc., to see if it’s a market we’d feel comfortable moving into. Then we can tangibly go in to see, feel, and touch it.”
BVM: How are you diversifying to compete with the REITs?
Genevieve: “We are founding members of Storelocal – a co-op created and owned by independent storage operators to compete with REITs – they have all the band-width, power, and dollars, whereas some of us other operators don’t have as big a budget. The idea was to come together as a co-operative and pool the money, the power, the best minds, the best practices, and the technology in the self-storage industry to compete with the big guys in public storage.”
Dane: “Many small-to-mid-size businesses in America are being edged out because they couldn’t develop the technology or marketing platform on their own. We don’t want to be renting technology, losing 30 percent off the top. Being part of the co-op and more vertically integrated into the tech and owning it is very compelling. For example: we just launched a website that was completely developed by the co-op, by us pooling money with about 1000 other companies. Now, we offer a seamless rental experience online, with dynamic leases we can customize on a per property basis. Very customer friendly, you can use it on your phone. As soon as you rent, you get an email or text message with all the info. We never could have afforded to do that on our own.”
Genevieve: “With private equity and capital and institutions entering the self-storage business, the competition is getting more intense, like in Oakland, California, where we’re about to push dirt on a property in a very in-filled, institutional market with lots of buildings and competition. You need to know what you’re doing. Having all the institutional and publicly-traded companies raises the bar and makes Platinum better at what we do. We look at the competition, make changes internally and externally, tweak things to make better acquisitions, operate the properties better, and really cater to tenants and customers, so the user experience, when renting a facility, is more comfortable and efficient.”
BVM: Who is your typical customer?
Dane: “The majority are residential, but we all want to bring in more commercial customers. Residential customers store for about 16 months; commercial is 24 to 30. They call it a need-based product, it’s a life-event product. You got married, or kids moved out, you bought or sold a home. When people have a need, we want to make sure the experience is as easy as possible, because moving and storing goods is not the most fun thing in your life.
“Women are making more of the choice on where to store, because they want to feel safe when they’re there. Having a secure, well-lit facility is a huge thing. We have cameras and switched to LED lighting to brighten it up. All the new facilities we’re building have intercoms and music playing throughout. All our doors have ‘Secure Guard’ on them. It’s a lock on the inside of the door. So, even if someone came in and cut your lock, if you haven’t entered your keycode or the GPS on your phone doesn’t say you’re on the property, your door remains locked and nobody can enter that unit. Millennials are starting to store now, and they don’t want to interface with a site manager. They want to rent their unit on the phone, show up, and say ‘Hi’ for a sec, that’s it. Whereas older customers want to come in and talk, and we become part of the community.”
BVM: What are your goals for Platinum Storage five years down the road?
Genevieve: “To keep investing in people, technology, and end user experience for our customers and investors. And build on our platform and portfolio of properties. We’ll continue to develop in core markets, to acquire existing facilities, and be best in class at what we do. In the next five years, we’ll probably add another 50 properties.”
Dane: We’re looking at how to accommodate changing consumer demand in the industry. Today, there are big-box logistics companies setting up outside cities. How can we serve them – maybe we could be last-mile logistics? How can we serve more commercial customers? We’ll continue anticipating changes to technology and building on that, adapting so we don’t get left behind; mitigating risk by developing or acquiring when the time is right. We’re even branching out into other real estate types with storage partners that also do multi-family or office, to see where we can develop with them on the self-storage front.”
Genevieve: “Dane and I were both raised in an Italian family, where culture and communication is very important. And we truly care about our employees and the people we do business with – it’s kind of an extended family. Working and creating as a team, as a family, as a community, and providing great service is at the core of what we do.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Platinum Storage Group
WHAT: Privately-held commercial real estate investment group, specializing in self-storage.
WHERE: Headquarters in Irvine, California
SpareFoot – SpareFoot is an Austin-based company that provides listings for self-storage units. Customers are able to view available units, real-time price quotes, view photos, and make reservations. The company currently works with more than 10,000 storage facilities across the nation, and has recently expanded its offerings by partnering with providers of other moving and storage services to include moving supplies, moving truck rental, and full-service storage with moving labor. www.sparefoot.com