StorageBlue is heading to Ironbound in Newark, settling on Ferry Street at the more than 1 million square foot former site of the Ballantine Beer Brewery. Scheduled to open in five to six months, the 90,000-square-foot location will be the brand’s second in the city — it has 15 in total, so far — but it’s the one CEO Alan Mruvka has in view for some time.
“One of our first buildings was in Newark, and it’s always been one of the best buildings in the portfolio,” he told NJBIZ. “So I had been looking for years for a second building in Newark and this building came up, it was off the market and I grabbed it.”
The P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Co. site closed in 1972 – Marty Crane’s favorite drink is now owned by Pabst Brewing Co. – but it got its start in the brick town long before that, in 1840. I am very excited about it,” Mruvka said. “I like history.” In fact, after finishing architecture school, Mruvka specialized in renovating historic buildings. “It’s my passion, historical structures. So when I find a building like this, it’s amazing to me.
Following his passions has paid off for Mruvka in the past. You probably know some of his other adventures, E! Entertainment Television and FX Television, for example, both founded by Mruvka. At 26, he was the youngest CEO of a major television network – at the helm for 14 years – and led it to the fastest growing cable channel start-up in television history. . But he didn’t really go from TV to self-storage, it was kind of the other way around.
“By default, I’m a self-storage pioneer because that was 32 years ago in 1990,” Mruvka said.
“That” was a 50,000 square foot building – American Self Storage’s first location, which he started with his father and two other partners and eventually expanded to encompass 17 buildings in New York and New Jersey, totaling nearly 3 million squares. self-storage feet, according to Mrvuka. Architects weren’t being hired when he left school, so Mruvka turned to development. He started small, renovating two- and four-unit brownstones in Jersey City and Hoboken, eventually working until he acquired this 50,000-square-foot building, which was abandoned when he got the inspiration for E ! — “the network’s most basic idea was, ‘why wouldn’t I do an MTV for the movies?’” — and headed west to pursue the concept.
‘Fast forward to’
Although based in Los Angeles, Mruvka says he was an active partner with American Self Storage.
“Fast forward to eight years ago where my dad was 90 at the time – he’s since passed away – and the other guy was retiring,” said Mruvka, who was the youngest in the partnership. “And it was just time to do something.” So they ended up selling 10 of the 17 buildings and then splitting the other seven. Mruvka ended up with four – his father sold him his share – “so I had a choice”, he said, “and I think, you know what, I’m going to try.”
Trying it involved renovations for some of the buildings, which were a bit run down, and re-staffing the pitches.
“[T]The reality is I really, really got into it once,” Mruvka said of the New Jersey-based industry. StorageBlue operates indoors. “[E]Even when I was in entertainment, I was very interested in online programming and even e-commerce and self-storage. And that’s where Mruvka’s passions paid off, once again.
According to Marcus & Millichap’s National self-storage investment forecast 2022, the sector has achieved record performances over the past two years. As COVID restrictions shuttered offices and many employers — 74% of those based domestically, according to the report — indicating they were looking to adopt a hybrid return-to-work strategy, self-storage saw a surge. increased demand as people make room to create workstations in their homes. In addition to sustained interest, the decline in vacancy has helped to revive rental growth in the area. Another remnant of COVID impacting the industry is predicted to be the adoption of a “contactless” business model. Not only is the methodology expected post-pandemic, but younger tenants – millennials represent the largest and most active self-storage users – expect it.
Mruvka has been anticipating this angle for years. In fact, it is integrated into StorageBlue’s operations and predates the pandemic.
“Getting the self-storage unit is a low-tech result for a high-tech experience,” he said. And the high-tech aspect produces a better experience for the customer. In addition to being able to rent space on the StorageBlue website the same way you would book a hotel room, you can also schedule a pickup. M&M forecasts also pointed out that this type of e-commerce mindset allows for increased after-hours rental activity. Yes – StorageBlue will transport your stuff to the facility so you don’t have to.
“[Y]You never even have to see the storage building,” Mruvka said. “You know, we’re not movers, we’re just drivers. But we come up with ways to help pack it up and drop it on the curb and… we load it into the truck and we’re off, and you don’t have to worry about a thing.
Post-COVID, StorageBlue uses technology that allows customers to access the facility with their phone. “[I]t automatically opens the front door, you enter the elevator – your phone in your pocket would automatically press the elevator button. It takes you to the floor where you need to go, and you can even open your unit with your phone,” Mruvka said, adding that the company is also looking at other contactless options and facial recognition technology.
Oops I did it again
In addition to the buildings StorageBlue has opened and is currently operating, Mruvka says there are 10 more he is working on. For a project like the Ballantine site in Newark, he says converting “those old pre-war buildings” into self-storage sites is faster. But installations aren’t the only projects Mruvka has in the works. The Englewood Cliffs native is also expanding the StorageBlue brand in the New Jersey and New York metropolitan area. He says he enjoys the challenge of doing something local, compared to his past experience building and marketing brands nationally.
“[A]And the reason I’m doing this is because I want to own a market,” he said. “I’m not just talking about a building in Atlanta, a building in Nashville… For lack of a better example, I want to be the Manhattan Mini Storage in New Jersey.” He wants to be the essential operator in the region. And, as the brand prepares to announce its first location across the Hudson River in New York, StorageBlue and its leader are setting the stage to meet this challenge and continue to disrupt the self-storage industry.
The company has been recognized for its growth – on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list – and for its service, winning top awards from StorageUnits.com and Expertise, helping to raise its profile. Continuing its conquest of the region, StorageBlue is the official self-storage partner of the New York Yankees Radio Network, a partnership that has entered its second year. last April, and exclusive self-storage radio partner 1010 WINS, sponsoring the station’s traffic reports on driving times.
“When I came here from California, I wanted to, my plan was to disrupt the industry and I did that,” Mruvka says. On the one hand, this disturbance presents itself in the operation of StorageBlue and the options it offers, but it is not the only thing. The company has another feature that its competitors in the sector do not have: an entertainment division.
Part of Mruvka’s inspiration for E! was born out of a desire to understand how films could market themselves more effectively nationally – think back to when you used to check showtimes in the newspaper. “They would spend $50 million or $80 million on a movie and then depend on a black-and-white newspaper,” to sell it, Mruvka said. His efforts to create a more effective platform ended up being successful and transformed the television landscape in the process. So when you start to think that an entertainment division for a self-storage business might seem like overkill, think again.
If it’s all marketing, a music video and full song (“Too Much Junk in the Trunk” featuring artist Betty Idol) promoting the brand or a dedicated YouTube channel featuring original programming (“Storage Pirates of New Jersey “) are simply part of a bigger picture and larger effort to establish StorageBlue. “I do a lot of marketing,” Mruvka said. “I’m building this brand…but I always tell people I’m building it like Branson built Virgin.” Which means the sky is – quite literally – the limit, as he pointed out: “Virgin was a record store. Now they’re sending people into space.
For Mruvka, StorageBlue has the same potential.
“We will have a total entertainment division. We’re going to make movies. We’re going to make music. We will do everything,” he said. “So people will forget the name.”