Self-storage holds strong

Occupancies mostly remain high, though defaults are up
2011-03-12T11:00:00Z 2014-01-11T14:20:14Z Self-storage holds strongBy Nate Traylor, The World Coos Bay World
March 12, 2011 11:00 am  • 

Many storage unit owners say they have a pretty good lock on business during a recession that has many folks stranded between jobs and homes.

Locker lords say their renters aren't the same as they were three years ago.

Homeowners with too much stuff are so 2008.

"What I see more than people losing their jobs ... lately, it's been people losing their homes," said D. Johnson, manager of U-Lok Mini Storage in Bandon.

Don Saucier, owner of Monarch Mini Storage in Coos Bay, remembers when California transplants accounted for about 25 percent of his business.

"That seems to have slowed way down," he said.

Saucier also notes this observation:

Contractors needing to store equipment - a reliable market during the housing boom - have all but disappeared.

"We haven't had one of those in a year."

"Most of our customers now are people who are retired, or they live in a motor home and are coming and going during the year," Saucier said.

Defaults up

So, is all this change good for an industry that relies on change?

Yes and no.

"More people are moving out [of the area] than moving in, it seems like," Saucier said.

"And I have a little bit of a feel for that because of their forwarding addresses."

Folks in flux have kept occupancy rates steady over the years. Saucier says he'd even consider expanding his 150-unit facility, but banks still aren't lending.

And there's the matter of renters not paying.

Defaults are up "about three times as much," he said.

"We're having to work with renters more on our collections."

He estimates about 15 tenants are behind on rent.

Helpful schedule

Likewise, Johnson says there isn't a vacancy among her 72 units, but that's "not necessarily a good thing when people can't keep up on their payments."

Sheila Wight, owner of Coquille's Central Mini Storage, can't complain. Of her 141 lockers, only three or four are empty.

Viki Springfels of Coos Bay's Fortress Self Storage says her 400 units are about 80 percent occupied - consistent with previous years.

Folks "massively downsizing" are helping keep a lock on business.

"We're not any worse than we were two years ago," she said.

Most tenants, she says, are making rent. That's partly because Springfels adjusts their due dates to coincide with paydays.

That way, when they lose their jobs, they can make payments when the government issues benefits on the 20th of the month.

It's not a hotel

Not every storage pro is crowing about maintaining the status quo in this slump.

Those who declined to be identified in a news article offer a counter perspective:

"Slow," is all one Coquille store-n-lock owner would say.

A manager in Charleston said half of her units are vacant. Two years ago, "We were full, and people were paying."

A Coos Bay locker owner says this is the worst dip she's seen in decades.

A rash of abandonments was a complaint among some. And one man said he had to evict a tenant he caught living in a locker.

That jibes with Tiffany Perkes' experience.

The Coos Bay resident recently cleared out of her locker to save $50 a month, but not before she spotted sleeping bags, kids and a dog running in and out of a neighboring locker.

That raised her suspicions.

"It was pretty obvious to me," Perkes said.

To the highest bidder

Renters in arrears can find themselves at risk of losing their stuff to the highest bidder.

For buyers, it's a gamble. They could get skunked with a bunch of junk or score valuable goods.

For managers, it's a way to clear out space and - maybe - recoup money lost through defaults.

Oregon law allows them to put a locker's contents on the auction block after three missed payments.

"I think a lot of storages really do that," Wight said. "They don't mess around."

Wight says she's a little more forgiving, and its been months since she had an auction.

It's an industry practice that has gained national attention thanks to two reality shows, A&E's Storage Wars and Spike TV's Auction Hunting.

Unlike the stars of those shows who uncover hidden gems, the reality of local bidders is less glamorous.

"This is Coos Bay, not California," said Springfels, who held about half-a-dozen auctions in recent months.

"What they find in these units isn't what they see on TV."

Business Editor Nate Traylor can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236; or at


Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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