A boost for self-storage on the Coast

After Mitre 10 Whangaparāoa moved to the Wade River Road site formerly occupied by The Warehouse, its old site at Karepiro Drive stood silent – until last spring, when internal demolition work began.

Fast forward a year, and its transformation into a gleaming, modern two-level self-storage facility is nearing completion, with November 1 eyed as the prospective opening date.

The last vestiges of the ubiquitous Mitre 10 bright orange have given way to a dark façade, broken only by a large sign declaring Self Storage World – the same name as that of two nearby storage businesses. The branding of all three will soon change again, to Storage 4 You, offering a total of more than 800 units between them.

The renovation of the 3800 square metre building is the realisation of a dream by a couple with self-storage in their blood and a key shareholder and director who have been operating successfully in the industry for more than two decades. All three have family roots in Ōrewa.

For ten years from the mid-1980s, Larry and Mary Mingins lived in the United States, where Larry worked on self-storage facilities in dozens of states.

Mary and Larry Mingins on the site of their new project.

Mary picks up the story.

“Larry specialised in roofing storage facilities as well as sheet metal siding, building some from the ground up and in other cases refitting existing buildings,” she says. “We had the dream of coming home and doing this here, so we got some friends together and went in together as partners.”

In 1997, the couple opened Storage 4 You in Wairau Valley, with Larry and Mary running the operation and Grant Brady, a friend and successful businessman, acting as director and visionary.

After subsequent expansion that included the building of a third floor, the Wairau Valley business, with 1100 units, was one of the six biggest of its kind in the country, says Mary.

The team meanwhile had become involved in two operations closer to their Coast roots – two near-adjoining facilities in Whangaparāoa under the Self Storage World brand.

When the old Mitre 10 building came onto the market, they seized the opportunity.

“The building came up for sale and we heard that one of our competitors was looking at it, and we thought, well that’s not good if a competitor came and opened up there,” says Grant.

After the other company dropped out following due diligence, “we engaged with the owners and bought it”, says Grant, who was one of the founding members of KEA Campers and today is still a Director of Action Manufacturing, the country’s biggest motorhome and speciality vehicle maker.

The thinking was, “let’s invest in the old Mitre 10 building and scale up what we have there, based on the concept that once Penlink opens, the area will open up and people will be inclined to want more storage in the area.”

It was a challenging undertaking, including getting a second level approved and then built.

Since operators don’t know what type of goods will ultimately be stored in self-storage units, significant weight loadings have to be taken into account – requiring more robust construction, for example, than a car parking facility.

“We had to cut 280 holes through the existing slab, and put quite big foundations down below the slab to take the loading of the second level.”

“This all happened – planning, consenting and construction – through that post-Covid, high inflation, escalating building cost period,” Grant says. “So that’s been challenging.”

Keeping it in the family, Larry and Mary’s two sons are also involved in the work, Kyle as project manager and Brad as project electrician. Kyle is a director at DCF Management, an Auckland-based project management company, specialising in project, design and construction management. Brad is director at Elextech Ltd.  Auckland-based Eagle & Franich Construction is doing the fitout.

Mary says the old Mitre 10 building had “great bones”, but a lot of internal rooms had to be demolished.

“We needed to take it right back to empty, and start again.”

Construction work began in March although for the first three or four months there wasn’t much to see, while the foundational strengthening work was being done.

Now, however, every time she enters the building, considerable progress has been made. Most of the storage units are complete, as is the new heavy duty lift, trolley bays and protective metal sheeting along walls and corners. Offices are being completed. Good lighting and air vents give the vast space an airy, well-ventilated feel, in contrast to many self-storage facilities that can be quite dark.

“We want to keep offering the storage that the community knows [at the nearby Self Storage World facilities], but also give it that new look that it needs – a building that’s up to par with the latest trends.”

Self-storage is a growing industry in New Zealand, as it is elsewhere.

Grant says that when Larry and Mary first returned from the US, “we didn’t think there’d be huge demand here, where many people have quarter-acre sections”, a situation quite different to America.

But over the decades since, infill housing and smaller properties have made self-storage much more popular.

“People use storage for small businesses, for sports equipment, kids going to uni – it’s just become a really big industry, far bigger than I thought it would.”

“Storage has changed,” agrees Mary, who has been involved with the Self-Storage Association of Australasia since 2000 and attends conferences where legal issues, security, health and safety, building costs, features, software and other issues are the discussed.

“The number of facilities going up in the last eight years has been quite substantial. We’ve seen the growth happening especially in areas where smaller housing units are being built.”

Unlike many of the large Australian-owned companies, Storage 4 You is family-run, with Larry the “maintenance man” and Mary the “facility and operations manager”, she says.

“My husband has been amazing – he knows what storage needs. He can repair a roof , fix a leak if one appears, basically everything. He’s magic, he’s got that inside edge. We’re not just owners of the facility, we’re operators too.”

Although approaching what some may consider retirement age, Mary says they don’t have any succession plans in place.

“It’s really lovely having a facility near where we live. I don’t think we’ll ever step away from it. Once you get into this industry you can’t imagine doing anything else.” she smiles. “There’s no hurry. Not yet.”