Childish Gambino. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. Adele. Foo Fighters. What do all of these artists have in common? Why, they’re all talented musicians who’ve been nominated for Grammy awards multiple times, of course! Recently, the music world and the self storage world collided for me when I got the lucky chance to speak with Grammy-nominated artist and self storage investor, Rusty Varenkamp.
Based just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, Varenkamp has been in the music business for 20 years as a successful songwriter and producer. He’s been nominated for six Grammys, collaborated on over 100 albums, has written and produced several Billboard #1 radio singles, and oh, yeah….he also owns two high-tech, unmanned self storage facilities that aren’t too shabby either.
So what lured him to take a step out of Nashville’s creative music scene and invest in the self storage industry?
“Music is so creative and subjective. When is a song done? When should a lyric be changed? When should a melody be changed? There are so many options and there is really no right or wrong with the creativity of music. When I started looking to invest in real estate, I wanted something stable and consistent to counteract the music industry. You know, the running joke is everybody loves self storage because it’s concrete and metal and it’s easy to maintain, and I just kind of fell in love with the storage model when I saw how completely opposite it was from the music industry. Your monthly income as a musician fluctuates, but a 10x10 storage unit is a 10x10 across the board - it costs what it costs, and you either rent it or you don’t.”
“You know, the running joke is everybody loves self storage because it’s concrete and metal and it’s easy to maintain, and I just kind of fell in love with the storage model when I saw how completely opposite it was from the music industry. Your monthly income as a musician fluctuates, but a 10x10 storage unit is a 10x10 across the board - it costs what it costs, and you either rent it or you don’t.” Owner of A1 Storage Complex and Big Bargain Storage
Varenkamp has already earned his chops in real estate with residential properties around Nashville, and now he’s expanding his range into self storage with the help of the latest industry tools.
“I can still do the music thing and invest in self storage because of technology like storEDGE. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to own and manage these properties remotely with just the support of a small admin team and a few part time people who go on site to do lock checks and sweep out units. The facilities run smoothly and function well, and I can view and manage them from hours away.”
Varenkamp’s first storage investment, A1 Storage Complex in Lewisburg, Tennessee, started with a few drive-up units and a conversion of a roller skating rink to climate controlled storage space. A1 Storage Complex now spans close to 4 acres and offers over 20,000 sq ft of rentable space with 250 units and 10 large parking spaces perfect for RVs and boats. The former roller skating rink now houses 95 climate controlled units and still features the 80s skate rink artwork on the walls and the hardwood skate floor under the units.
“My kids were not happy,” said Varenkamp about the building conversion. “While we were getting permits and planning the conversion, my kids would sometimes come down to the property with me and grab some roller skates and just skate around. They would ask me, ‘dad, are you sure you don’t want to keep this a roller skating rink?’
Now that it’s converted to self storage, it’s a really impressive update. When people come in to rent a unit, they’re very nostalgic and they love that we’ve preserved some aspects of the original rink. We always hear, ‘man, I skated here 25 years ago when I was five years old.’”
Varenkamp’s latest undertaking is Big Bargain Storage in Southaven, Mississippi on the outskirts of Memphis. The 3 acre facility offers close to 20,000 sq ft of rentable space with 150 units and 45 large outdoor parking spaces ideal for parking RVs and boats, as well as class-A amenities like 24/7 access hours, an on-site self service kiosk from Advanced Kiosks, call center staff to answer questions and help new renters, and high-tech security cameras at the fenced and gated facility. The pistachio-green colored buildings may give off a retro feel to storage renters, but Big Bargain’s streamlined self-serve rental process is anything but old-fashioned.
“I look for three or four specific things in my properties to ensure I can add value, and being able to run off a kiosk and utilize all that storEDGE has to offer is crucial to my business model. At my existing facilities, I’d say about 30% of our rentals are at the kiosk, another 30% are people just moving themselves in online, and a little over 30% are call-ins. What was incredibly beautiful to me was the fact that storEDGE could handle the software, website, and the rentals, and all I had to do was get a kiosk.”
Both Big Bargain Storage and A1 Storage Complex utilize on-site kiosks with storEDGE Rental Center™ tools to facilitate easy move-ins and move-outs, take payments, and view tenant account information. Tenants can also rent a unit online and pay rent or set up autopay via the facility’s storEDGE marketing website.
So what’s next for Varenkamp? More self storage acquisitions are certainly in his future, with hopes to continue to expand in secondary and tertiary markets across Tennessee.
“I think it’s true that the first one is always the hardest to get,” said Varenkamp of getting into self storage. “‘As a new investor, you don’t really have a track record. Whether you’re working with sellers or banks or however you structure your deals, once you get the first one under your belt, the opportunities then seem to line up. My plan is to continue to expand and grow the portfolio and we’re looking to acquire 8 properties over the next 4 or 5 years.”
With all this talk about self storage in the studios of Nashville, who knows - maybe we’ll see more producers, songwriters and artists getting involved in the industry in the future!
Thank you A1 Storage Complex & Big Bargain Storage! At storEDGE, we are proud to work with clients who excel at what they do, care about their customers, and lead the industry in technology. If you liked this article, you may also like: Client Spotlight: EZ Mini Storage, Client Spotlight: Secure Pack Storage, and Client Spotlight: Interstate Self Storage + Innovation Self Storage.