How Two Brothers are Benefitting From the Demise of Big Box Stores

As they fill empty big-box properties with secure, climate-controlled self-storage units, Trent and Travis Overhue have found a strong market for stowing others’ stuff.

By Susan Atteberry Smith

Jan 2020

Affordable Family Storage facility
Photo courtesy NSI IndustriesTrent and Travis Overhue launched Affordable Family Storage and now turn empty big box stores into self-storage units.

The Problem

By his senior year at Missouri State University, Trent Overhue had flipped more than 30 houses, all while studying for his construction science degree. By his mid-20s, he was ready to hammer out a new plan. “I just got tired of a whole lot of single-family rentals,” says the 34-year-old Springfieldian. That’s when he and Travis Overhue, his brother and business partner, started attending storage industry conventions. Seeing a market for more storage in southwest Missouri, they turned many of their rentals into self-storage facilities.

The Big Idea

Expanding their business as Affordable Family Storage more than five years ago, the Iowa natives first invested in an existing 80,000-square-foot self-storage facility in Republic. “That was a mismanaged storage property sitting 50% occupied that we were able to put in new management and fill it,” Trent says. “We were able to fill the vacancy within four or five months just by utilizing proper management and technology.” Then, they converted an Ozark warehouse into the company’s first climate-controlled facility. After renting all the storage units there, Trent says they “kept the ball rolling” by seeking other vacant properties. “Along the way we’ve kind of evolved to where we buy a lot of the big boxes such as Kmarts, vacant grocery stores, shopping centers and well-located warehouses.”

Trent and Travis’s father, Frank Overhue, flipped houses in Iowa, and the brothers’ construction upbringing came in handy as they turned empty spaces into secure, climate-controlled storage units. “All the storage properties we do, we remodel with our own crews,” Trent says. “It’s kind of like an extremely large house remodel except with a 100,000-square-foot Kmart. Most of them look nicer when we get done than most construction projects.” Today, Affordable Family Storage owns more than 1.5 million square feet of storage space in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Wisconsin as well as Missouri, with 500 to 1,000 units at most facilities.

The Learning Curve

As the business grew, so did the challenge of recruiting specialized office staff. “Being able to do a good job on your management and your marketing and running a business properly is extremely important in self-storage,” Trent says. “If you run a poorly managed store, you’re just not going to be successful.” Starting with one property manager, the company now employs more than 50, including facility managers as well as accountants, auditors, maintenance managers and marketing experts—“a full team,” Trent says. And thanks to an economic downturn for big-box retailers, finding bargain properties is much easier for the Overhues.

The Takeaway

What Trent hopes will remain the same is the industry’s “recession-resistant” nature, “because in good times people are building and moving and have a need for storage,” he says. “And in bad times, people are downsizing and moving and also have a need for storage.” As the company grows at more than half a million square feet a year, he credits his Springfield residential construction experience with opening doors to commercial endeavors. He advises others to look for ways to specialize, too. “I pose that there are a lot of different ways to make money in real estate,” Trent says. “You need to just focus on a few areas and do a really good job at those and kind of carve out your own niche.”