BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Ten years ago, Paul Johnstone moved to Brandon to set up and manage a branch office for Von Ast Construction, a family-owned business out of Niverville. That company is currently developing condominiums adjacent to the Northern Pines Golf Course, as well as other apartments and commercial properties. But four years ago, Johnstone expanded his interests and became one of group of owners who created Westside Storage. Located at 4000 Victoria Avenue next to Fowler Hyundai, Westside is staging its first-ever auction, along the lines of the A&E network’s “Storage Wars,” next Saturday.
How does one get involved in the storage business? It’s not like you grow up and say, ‘I want to be in the storage business someday!’
We are in the apartment rental business — we’ve got some other revenue properties that we own, we have built two self-storage facilities for clients elsewhere — one in Winnipeg and one in Alberta. And we’re always looking for the next thing, or another thing. And this made sense to us.
Are most of your lockers full?
Yes. We’ve got cold units, we’ve got climate controlled — they’re heated and air-conditioned — and we see people renting for a month, we see people renting multiple years, from residential use to commercial-space sales reps or local businesses that need more space than they have in their storefronts. The majority is probably residential but the commercial sector is bigger than one might think.
If they’re full, obviously business is going well, then, because that’s what you want, right?
Yes. We’ve got plans to build two more buildings on the property. We’ve got three now — we will add two more. I expect we’ll wind up at about 400 units by the time it’s all fully developed. But we sort of let the market tell us where and when to add more space. We’ve got a good occupancy level now, but I expect we’ll be another year or two before we add building number four.
Besides the commercial entities you mentioned, why do other folks rent lockers?
We see it all. People are moving, having new homes built, have more stuff than they have room for at home, have stuff that they don’t want to store at home, have seasonal things that they flip twice annually — spring and fall. We often think we’ve maybe heard it all, but wind up being surprised. Someone comes in with a new story.
If people want to store things, pretty much the sky’s the limit? I mean, you probably can’t do dangerous goods or anything ...
No — no food or dangerous goods. But there’s not a long list of can’ts or exclusions. We’ve got all kinds of different-sized units here and the outdoor ones as well, so there isn’t an awful lot we can’t handle.
I was really intrigued when I saw your sign outside that said "Auction — May 12th" because of that crazy "Storage Wars" show on TV. Is that sort of what this sale will be like?
In some regard, yes. We get so many questions here about whether we’ve ever done it that way (like the show), whether we’ve ever had an auction, when would the next auction be — there were just all kinds of questions. And so I watched part of one episode just to see what all the questions were about. And I think there will be some similarities.
We’ve notified probably half-a-dozen clients that we expect have just completely abandoned their lockers. One was formerly an electronics store in town, and because of bankruptcy, I think — well, we KNOW — they aren’t coming back for it. And so that unit will probably get broken into smaller lots and sold off in smaller quantities.
I realize populations are higher in the American cities where ‘Storage Wars’ takes place, so having as many sales as they do on that show doesn’t seem unreasonable. But are locker auctions a commonplace thing here?
We’ve been at this for four years, and this is our first sale. We don’t see a lot of this sort of thing occur. What I gather from the TV show is it either is — or it’s made to look — more regular or more common in Las Vegas or Texas or wherever else they do it. But here, it isn’t. And we’re happy about that. We don’t want to be disposing of abandoned items. We’re certainly prepared to give everybody every opportunity to make arrangements to get their stuff. But this stuff we’re left with now is really abandoned.
I’m sure there are all kinds of different circumstances that lead to abandonment happening. You mentioned something like a bankruptcy, and I’m presuming sometimes people pass on and folks don’t know they have stuff in storage ...
I think there are all sorts of conceivable explanations for why we’re left with these things. And it’s unfortunate, because we’d be quite happy to see people go through a move-out process and take all of their things with them. But after four years, we’re left with a number of lockers, and some of these items, we just need to dispose of.
Fraser Auction Services is coming to conduct the auction. There wasn’t anybody here, myself included, who wanted to play auctioneer. We weren’t sure how we would go about controlling a sale of that nature, and felt the need to have somebody experienced like Fraser’s come and look after it for us.
And it’s here on the premises?
Yes. The sale is set to start at noon. I believe they are going to offer a limited viewing in advance of 12 o’clock. But we’ll be meeting with them again prior to the 12th just to go through the details.
On the "Storage Wars" show, they let the potential buyers come up to the locker and have a peek around for five minutes. They can’t go in. Is your approach going to be along the same lines, or do you know?
I think there will be a couple of units sold that way. We’ve got the one for sure that will be broken down and sold in smaller lots, but I expect that we’ll have a couple of units that will get sold in a roll-up-the-door, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of way.
And you don’t get to look in the boxes.
How many lockers will you be dispersing?
We’ve probably got seven or eight notices — and there’s a formal notification process, an advertising process, that we have to go through. Hopefully, out of those notices, we’ve got most or all of those people coming back and offering payment and we can withdraw those units from the sale. I expect that there’ll be one or two of those who acknowledge the notice and we’re able to pull a couple of those out of the sale. But I think we’ve got seven or eight notices out and we’ll have that many up for sale if there’s no response to our notices and our advertising.
Any idea what might be in some of the lockers up for auction?
I think that there are probably a couple of televisions and there’s some talk of a snowmobile somewhere. I think some of the video games and contents of the electronics store will attract not just people who are interested in the auctions, but maybe a younger group that has some interest in gaming.
Are you kind of excited, or a little apprehensive about this, being the first sale and all?
A little bit of both. Disposing of abandoned contents isn’t something that we want to do ANY of. Having said that, it’s becoming apparent that there’s an awful lot of interest. I don’t know if we’ll get a good turnout or a great turnout. But it’ll be interesting to see what the interest level is, and how the whole event goes.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 5, 2012