In this post we introduce one of the pioneers of self storage, Foy Cooley. There will be more profiles in future posts.
Foy Cooley is the first lady of self storage. She and her husband, Ken, opened the first self storage center in the New York metropolitan area in 1976, in Eatontown. The company she heads, Access Self Storage Inc., based in Little Ferry, now owns and/or manages 19 self-storage facilities in New Jersey and New York, with revenue of $19 million. Access last month opened a center in Franklin Lakes.
Cooley, 65, has served as president of the National Self-Storage Association and on the board of the New Jersey Self Storage Association, and is one of the few female storage executives in a male-dominated field. She spoke with The Record at her new facility in Franklin Lakes about what people store, and why we’ll probably always need self-storage.
Q. How did you get into self-storage?
We saw a center in North Carolina. I was visiting my grandmother for her 80th birthday, and just happened to drive by one and said, “What the heck is that?” We saw what looked like all these garage doors. About a year later, my husband and I looked at each other — we both had backgrounds on Wall Street — and said, “Maybe we could do one of those up here. Because there aren’t any.
Q. In the 1970s, self-storage was a foreign concept. Were people skeptical?
The bankers had difficulty understanding it.
Their dominant question was, “Well, if it doesn’t work, what will you do with the building?” We said, “What do you do with a lot of buildings if they don’t work? If a motel doesn’t work, what do you do with it?” But we finally convinced the banks.
Q. When I heard about your facility in Franklin Lakes, my reaction was, “Who needs self-storage in Franklin Lakes?”
Because the houses are big? You’d be surprised. We have one in Bernardsville, and that’s an area that’s also got a lot of really large houses. They need them for times like when the children move back home for a while, after college, and Mom says, “Sure we’re glad to have you back, but not all the stuff you’ve accumulated.” So all that stuff goes into self storage. When they redecorate or renovate, they put all the fine furnishings into a self storage centre where they’re protected. We have people who store their pool furniture — it comes in the fall and goes back out in the spring. And there are more people working at home. If they have samples, or equipment, or inventory that they work with, they’ll put that in self-storage.
Q. What’s the most unusual thing that you’ve seen somebody store?
In the Eatontown facility, we had somebody who stored all the parts of a little tiny helicopter and he built a helicopter in his space. Mostly — 60 percent to 70 percent of it — is just household furnishings.
Q. How’s the current economy affecting self-storage?
Our occupancies are down a little bit, and the new centers are slower to rent up than they would have been two years ago. It’s not too bad, but it’s definitely affecting us.
Q. What are the long-term trends for self-storage? Are the associations worried about people simplifying, having less stuff?
Not so much simplifying. There’s some concern about overbuilding — that we’ll have more storage facilities than people who need them. However, people seem to increasingly find uses for them.
Q. Do you have a storage unit for yourself?
Oh yes. I have one son who’s just gotten back from Iraq. He’s going to be at our house for about six months. All of his stuff went into storage. And just recently I put some things in storage. I inherited a beautiful dining room set from my mother and so I put the one that she had given me when I turned 40 in self-storage, because one of my kids will get it, but they’re not ready for it yet.
Q. What’s your view on clutter in your own house?
I have too much of it. I do believe that with less clutter the mind functions much better. Less visual distraction. It’s much easier to think clearly.
Q. You must see some poignant stories in self-storage, such as kids moving their parents into nursing homes.
Sometimes when something happens in your life, whether it’s a death or a divorce or illness that causes you to move, you have an emotional attachment to your things and you’re not ready to give them up yet. It takes a little while, and then after they’ve been in storage a little while, and you’ve lived without them for a while, it’s easier to let them go.
Q. You climbed Mount Kilimanjaro four years ago. Why did you do that?
I’ve always liked to hike and somebody introduced me to a person who was leading a group to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and I knew in about 10 minutes that I was game for that. I had to train a lot. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Q. What did you do to train?
Lots of hours on the StairMaster. Lots of hiking. I put a standup desk in my office so I would stand all day — to get used to being on my feet all day. I went out to Colorado the week before and worked out of Leadville, which is at 10,000 feet, to help acclimatize. The actual hiking isn’t that hard, the whole difficulty is the altitude. But you have to be able to hike six, seven, eight hours a day.
Foy would surely be very impressed with Kangaroo Self Storage Glasgow. Taken from an article by Joan Verdon. The Record, NorthJersey.com