Weyen Burnam knows bigger isn’t always better. Since joining StorageMart, his family’s business, in 2000, the company has achieved tremendous growth at the hands of a very small, very hardworking team. Through a strategic combination of construction and acquisition, over the past two decades StorageMart grew from 14 facilities to 215, covering more than 12 million rentable square feet throughout the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
StorageMart’s small size often means employees are thrust into leadership positions before they feel ready. Burnam experienced this firsthand, joining as a project manager after working in the tech and insurance industries. “I was cutting my teeth at that time but was given opportunities to manage multimillion-dollar construction properties. It challenged me to be better and learn quickly on the job,” he says. Today, he’s director of construction and development.
This model challenges employees but also helps them to grow. As a necessity, failure is treated as a learning opportunity. “We believe failure helps us improve as a company, and we just ask that you learn from it and create a process, so it doesn’t reoccur,” Burnam says, mentioning that an embrace of failure is a pervasive family trait. His uncle, for instance, often says he loves to break things “just for the sole purpose of seeing if the way we built it the first time was the right way,” Burnam says. “That willingness to challenge things has put us on the cutting edge.”
As an industry outsider, Burnam brought a much needed fresh perspective. Seeing an opportunity in bringing the acquisition side of the business in-house, he earned his real estate license and bought a brokerage firm. He also helped shift the company’s focus away from cheap garage-like storage units to state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to customer service. These new-age facilities are often multistory (due to the realities of building in a big city) with interior pull-in and attractive features such as living landscape walls more common to retail developments. For the first time, StorageMart began budgeting for large-scale annual improvements.
“We want the customer experience to be positive from beginning to end,” Burnam says. Convenience is a huge part of meeting that goal, and so StorageMart includes full pull-in and loading bays, large elevators, and wide hallways to make moving furniture in and out a breeze. “These extra conveniences are intangible selling features and keep people coming back,” Burnam says.
Another goal is to blend in with the neighborhood. One of the best examples, he says, is in Overland Park, Kansas, where StorageMart purchased an old Hyvee grocery store and redeveloped it into a storage facility in 2016. “It’s nice to see that we’re no longer building ugly block buildings,” he says. “It used to be about how cheaply you can get property and now we’re building facilities that fit in with the neighborhood and people don’t mind visiting.”
Although the specifications for what makes an acceptable storage facility have changed, what hasn’t is the small size of StorageMart’s team. Burnam, for instance, works with just one other individual on construction and development. “The benefit is both of us know exactly what’s going on and can be flexible and make decisions easily,” he says. “The downside is we regularly have multiple major development sites going on and there are a lot of moving pieces with each one, in addition to the $15 million in capital improvements we oversee.”
Its small size means StorageMart’s relationships with vendors and contractors are essential to its success. One such partner is Janus International Europe. Since 2015, StorageMart has relied on the company to provide full general contractor conversion and expansion options in the UK. “With challenges culturally, in time zones and construction specifications, having a local solution for many of our needs in the UK has been extremely valuable,” Burnam says.
Another important partner is Crocket Engineering, which StorageMart has worked with for two decades. “They are our first line of contact when we’ve identified a possible new location or opportunity to expand a location,” Burnam notes. Crocket’s services include zoning review, initial site layouts, full civil and structural engineering, and site surveying. “They also are licensed in many states we develop in, so they can transition from concept to CD in short order,” he says.
Burnam’s time at StorageMart is proof that small teams can accomplish great things and that customer service is imperative, even in industries that have historically operated otherwise. But perhaps it’s the company’s openness to new ideas and failures that are most responsible for its growth. “The company was founded on the shoulders of my grandparents who always let you know where you stand—for better or worse,” Burnam says. “That openness still pervades the rank and file, which means all doors are open during business hours.”