JDA continues expansion into self-storage industry

November 18th 2016

On the ground floor of the four-story One Morgan Square building in downtown Spartanburg, behind an average-looking wooden door, a new venture is taking shape.

The space is home to Johnson Development Associates’ self-storage division launched in January 2015 as the latest addition to the company founded in the early 1980s by Spartanburg entrepreneur George Dean Johnson Jr.

Fueled by the explosion of multifamily residential developments in large markets across the Eastern seaboard, the division’s portfolio has already grown to include 60 properties in various stages of development under the CubeSmart and Extra Space banners.

The properties are in South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Washington D.C., Tennessee, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the company plans to soon enter New York and California.

More than 30 employees have been hired for the new division, and the company plans to add more associates to support its growing business.

“We’re very excited about the new self-storage division,” said Geordy Johnson, CEO of Johnson Development. “During the coming year, we will be slowing down the pace of new development, but will continue to add new employees.”

Johnson said the job openings could include a mix of entry-level analyst positions, as well as managerial and regional executive roles.

He said the company has seen some of the “fundamentals” in the self-storage market deteriorate and a lot of new companies are entering the market. That’s the reason for the slowing of development.

“We’re going to be in this business for the long term,” Johnson said. “We do see a lot of new companies entering the market… Storage is not as sexy as office or retail, but we like it. There is a lot of potential.”

The company has four properties in the Upstate, including one CubeSmart off Highway 290 in Duncan and three locations under construction in Greenville County off Wade Hampton Boulevard, and Woodruff and Pelham roads.

He said the division’s properties vary depending on their location, but on average represent a $10 million investment, range from 75,000 to 100,000 square feet, include multiple stories and are climate-controlled.

The storage units within the centers include a variety of options for customers that range from lockers all the way up to 200-square-foot rooms.

“These aren’t those metal buildings surrounded by gravel,” Johnson said.

Self-storage has been a part of Johnson Development’s business since 1985, when it purchased properties to create American Storage.

The company sold its portfolio of 30 American Storage stores in March.

Behind the momentum of the self-storage division, the company is hoping to create more white-collar jobs in Spartanburg.

Johnson said the company has put a lot of thought into the division’s corporate office in hopes of attracting and retaining talented employees, particularly individuals from Spartanburg.

Unlike other offices in the One Morgan Square building and other office buildings in downtown, the self-storage division’s space has an open floor plan, cubicles with low partitions and a handful of private offices.

He said the space is meant to encourage collaboration and teamwork, but also to give employees some space for privacy if they need it.

Johnson said the company could expand the space depending on its needs.

“As we continue to grow, we may need to [expand],” he said.

Johnson said, as a whole, Johnson Development is stepping up its efforts to recruit a more culturally diverse workforce. It is primarily looking for talented employees with integrity, good values and a strong work ethic.

He said the company has begun reaching out to local colleges and universities in hopes of creating a good pipeline of talent.

“Diversity is important,” Johnson said. “We want to be able to recruit the best talent.”

On the entrepreneurial side, Johnson Development has a history of investing in burgeoning opportunities and developing them into thriving companies.

A few of those examples include Extended Stay America, Advance America, American Credit Acceptance (ACA), OTO Development, Pure Barre and WJB Video, a 209-store video chain that was at one point the largest franchise for Blockbuster.

Some of those ventures, including Advance America, ACA, OTO and Pure Barre, still employ hundreds of people in Spartanburg.

The company’s multifamily residential division, founded in 1996, has developed more than 6,500 luxury apartment homes across the country.

Its industrial division, founded in 1988, has become one of the top developers in the Southeast, managing or developing multiple standalone sites and 25 industrial parks consisting of 20 million square feet of commercial space. The division’s portfolio consists of 1,800 acres of industrial land with the capacity for about 15 million square feet of space for future development.

“They are a tremendous partner in our community,” said Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Economic Futures Group. “I’ve know them as a premier developer in our local market and in substantial markets around the country. If you look at how they’ve expanded their portfolio of speculative industrial product in this market and recognized growth opportunities in the community that have created corporate or regional offices, it’s just remarkable. Their attitude is they want to be a part of the community where they work. They are truly a champion for Spartanburg.”

Inside the Space

David Berry, president of Johnson Development’s self-storage division, explains the design philosophy behind their One Morgan Square HQ. J

DA designed an open floor plan consisting of low-height cubicles, no private offices, phone booths, ample conference room space, adjustable-height desks, white noise and LED lighting in order to provide:

  • A more collaborative environment – “Most of our work involves teams working together and we have found this office configuration to work well for our business,” Berry says.
  • A cross-pollination of ideas
  • Windows which bring in lots of natural light
  • Conference rooms, which are “consistently full with teams working together on projects,” Berry says.
  • Videoconferencing capability for meetings with satellite offices (in process)

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