StorageBlue heads to Ironbound in Newark, settling on Ferry Street, a former Ballantine brewery of over 1 million square feet. The 90,000-square-foot facility, which opens in five to six months, will be the brand’s second in town (there are only 15 at the moment), but CEO Alan Mruvka has been targeting it for some time now.
“One of our first buildings was in Newark and it has always been one of the best buildings in our portfolio,” he told NJBIZ. “So I’ve been looking for a second building in Newark for years, and this building came up, it was off the market, and I grabbed it.”
P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Co. closed in 1972 – Marty Crane’s favorite drink is now owned by Pabst Brewing Co. — but it started in Brick City long before that, back in 1840. I am very excited about this,” Mruvka said. “I love history”. In fact, after graduating from the architectural school, Mróvka specialized in the reconstruction of historic buildings. “This is my passion, historical buildings. So when I find a building like this, it surprises me.”
Following your passions has paid off for Mruvka in the past. You are probably familiar with some of his other ventures, E! For example, Entertainment Television and FX Television, which Mruvka founded. At 26, he was the youngest CEO of a major television network—managed it for 14 years—and led it to the fastest growth of a fledgling cable channel in television history. But he didn’t actually go from television to self-storage, it was kind of the other way around.
“By default, I am a self-storage pioneer because that was 32 years ago, in 1990,” Mruvka said.
“It” was a 50,000-square-foot building—the first American Self Storage location—which he started with his father and two other partners and eventually expanded to include 17 buildings in New York and New Jersey, totaling almost 3 million square meters. feet of own storage, according to Mrvuki. When he finished school, architects weren’t being hired, so Mruvka went into engineering. He started small, renovating brownstone duplexes and quads in Jersey City and Hoboken, eventually going so far as to purchase this 50,000-square-foot building that was left behind when he was inspired to create E! “The core idea of the network was, ‘Why don’t I make MTV for movies?’ – and headed to the West to realize this concept.
Although he lived in Los Angeles, Mruvka says he was an active partner with American Self Storage.
“Fast forward eight years, when my father was 90 at the time—he had already died—and the other guy was retiring,” said Mruvka, the youngest member of the partnership. “And it’s just time to do something. So they sold 10 of the 17 buildings and then split the remaining seven. Mruvka had four left – his father sold him his share – “so I had a choice,” he said, “and I think, you know what, I’m going to try.”
To give it a try, it required refurbishing some of the buildings, which were a little run down, and restocking the locations.
“[T]“The reality is that I really got into it as soon as I got into it,” Mruvka said of the industry that New Jersey-based StorageBlue operates in. “[E]On Friday when I was doing entertainment, I was very into online programming and even e-commerce and self-storage.” And here Mruvka’s passion paid off again.
According to Marcus & Millichap’s National Self-Hosted Warehouse Investment Forecast 2022, the sector has posted record results over the past two years. With COVID restrictions shutting down offices and many employers (74% of them working domestically, according to the report) have indicated they are looking to adopt a hybrid return-to-work strategy, demand for do-it-yourself warehouses has increased as people make room for storage. create jobs in their homes. In addition to sustained interest, the reduction in vacant space has restored rental growth in this sector. Another holdover from COVID affecting the industry is the adoption of a “touchless” business model, according to the forecast. Not only is the methodology expected post-pandemic, young tenants—millennials represent the largest and most active users of self-storage—are expecting it.
Mruvka has been waiting for this angle for years. In fact, this has been built into the operation of StorageBlue since before the pandemic.
“Getting a self-storage device is a low-tech outcome of a high-tech experience,” he said. And the high-tech aspect provides the best experience for the customer. In addition to being able to rent a room through the StorageBlue website in much the same way you book a hotel room, you can also schedule delivery. M&M’s forecast also notes that this e-commerce mindset allows for more rental activity after business hours. Yes – StorageBlue will deliver your items to the site so you don’t have to.
“[Y]or even never have to see the storage building,” Mruvka said. “You know, we are not loaders, we are just drivers. But we offer ways to help pack it up and get it to the curb, and… we’ll load it into a truck and drive away, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.”
Post-COVID, StorageBlue is using technology that allows customers to access the facility from their phone. “[I]t automatically opens the front door, you enter the elevator – your phone in your pocket automatically presses the button in the elevator. It will take you to the right floor and you can even open your device with your phone,” Mruvka said, adding that the company is also exploring additional contactless options and facial recognition technology.
Sorry I did it again
Mruvka says that in addition to the StorageBlue buildings currently open and operational, there are 10 others he is working on. For a project like the one in Newark in Ballantyne, converting “these old pre-war buildings” into self-service warehouses is faster, he said. But objects aren’t the only projects Mruvka is working on. The Englewood Cliffs native also creates the StorageBlue brand in the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area. He says he enjoys the challenge of doing something locally, as opposed to his past experience building and marketing brands on a national scale.
“[A]And the reason I am doing this is because I want to own the market,” he said. “I’m not just one building in Atlanta, one building in Nashville… For lack of a better example, I want to be a Manhattan mini-warehouse in New Jersey.” He wants to be the region’s leading operator. And as the brand prepares to announce its first location on New York’s Hudson River, StorageBlue and its leader are setting the stage for the challenge and continuing to turn the self-storage industry on its head.
The company has been recognized for its growth – in the Inc. 5000 list. 2020 – and for its services, having received the best awards from StorageUnits.com and Expertise, which helped to increase its credibility. Taking further steps in its efforts to conquer the region, StorageBlue is the official self-storage partner of the New York Yankees Radio Network, which began its second year of operation in April, and the exclusive self-storage partner of 1010 WINS, a sponsored traffic reports while driving stations.
“When I first came here from California, I wanted to, my plan was to destroy the industry, and I did it,” Mruvka says. On the one hand, this breakthrough is manifested in the way StorageBlue works and in the possibilities offered, but this is not the only one. The company has another feature that its competitors in this sector do not have: an entertainment division.
Part of Mruvka’s inspiration for E! arose out of a desire to figure out how films could sell themselves more effectively nationwide—think back to when you used to check the newspaper screening schedule. “They would spend $50 million or $80 million on a film and then depend on a black and white newspaper,” Mruvka said. His efforts to build a more efficient platform proved successful and changed the television landscape in the process. So when you start to think that the entertainment division for a self-storage company might seem like an exaggeration, think again.
If it’s all marketing, a music video and a feature-length song (“Too Much Junk in the Trunk” featuring artist Betty Idol) promoting the brand, or a dedicated YouTube channel offering original programming (“Storage Pirates of New Jersey”) are it’s all just part of a bigger picture and a larger effort to build StorageBlue. “I do a lot of marketing,” Mruvka said. “I’m building this brand… but I’m always telling people that I’m building it the way Branson built Virgin.” This means that the sky is literally the limit, as he pointed out: “Virgin was a record store. Now they are sending people into space.”
According to Mruvka, StorageBlue has the same potential.
“We will have a full entertainment division. We will make films. We will make music. We will do everything,” he said. “So people will get used to that name.”