September 23, 2022

JF2941: Pioneering the Exterior Storage Rental Industry ft. Chris Long

Chris Long is the CEO and founder of Longyards, a hybrid business model that takes old-world storage and combines it with secure contractor storage yards, as well as community support. Longyards is an exterior storage rental business that caters to small business owners, large-scale operations, and even individuals who simply need more room for their hobbies. 


In this episode, Chris shares how he came up with the idea for Longyards, how he used a 10-acre commercial property to launch an innovative new business, what his typical customers are like, and the unexpected barriers to entry that come with this unique asset class.


Chris Long | Real Estate Background

  • CEO and founder of Longyards, a hybrid business model that takes old-world storage and combines it with secure contractor storage yards, as well as community support.
  • Portfolio:
    • GP of three properties in Ottawa, CA; Florida; and North Carolina
  • Based in: Ottawa, CA
  • Say hi to him at:
  • Greatest Lesson: Communication is key.



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Ash Patel: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I'm Ash Patel, and I'm with today's guest, Chris Long. Chris is joining us from Ottawa, Canada. He's the CEO and founder of Long Yards, a hybrid business model that takes old world storage and combines it with secure contractor storage yards, as well as community support. Chris is a GP on three properties located in Ottawa, Florida and North Carolina. Chris, thank you so much for joining us, and how are you today?

Chris Long: I'm great. Thanks, Ash. I appreciate it. Looking forward to it.

Ash Patel: Yeah. Listen, I saw a YouTube video with your business model, and I reached out to the team with the Best Ever podcast, and I'm like, "You've got to get this guy on the podcast." So I think we all reached out to you. I'm excited you're here. And Chris, before we get started, can you give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and what you're focused on now?

Chris Long: Yeah, great. I love it. So basically, I started as an entrepreneur young. I was 12 years old, I was knocking on doors, selling chocolate bars...

Ash Patel: Selling what?

Chris Long: Selling chocolate bars at 12 years old.

Ash Patel: What is that?

Chris Long: Like a chocolate bar.

Ash Patel: Oh, chocolate bars. Okay. Awesome.

Chris Long: [laughs] Yeah. So it just started off young, but I'd take my hat off in the winter to get the red years, to get some more sales... But started off -- I was just always never afraid to knock on doors. So that was one part of me. The second part, I was just always a hard worker. I grew up on a farm with my grandfather at a young age, up on the Quebec side, and I was just working away. And my grandfather - he ran [unintelligible 00:02:51.07] and we used to do HVAC work. So at a young age, I remember I was working in basements, doing duct work, and HVAC, and it was no heat in the house, it was cold, it was freezing, and my hands were bloody... I was like, "Why would anyone in their right mind want to do construction? Why would anybody want to work?" At a young age, I hated it. But then you fire up the heat in the house, and it just feels great. So I've learned that rewarding hard work atmosphere at a young age.

So when I got into the workforce, right out of college -- I actually dropped out; I had a young daughter, so I went right into work. Lucky enough to get an apprenticeship. I'd gone to carpentry, and I became a licensed carpenter. I started [unintelligible 00:03:26.19] of my grandfather in 2013. And then I used that basically to build my small residential portfolio. So I was doing renovation jobs, I was getting into real estate, turning houses and duplexes... I only actually had two houses that I turned into duplexes... And that was kind of the little glimpse that said, "There's something bigger that I could do with, and there's a need in the marketplace", which I'm excited to talk about.

Ash Patel: Alright, so that sounds like a great story... You're on your way to building a residential portfolio, and you've got the skills needed to do the renovations. What came next?

Chris Long: Well, after that, tenants' toilets and headaches came next, and roof repairs... And quickly I was like, "You know what --" In Canada, when you have a tenant not paying, it's a little different. And by the way, I'm calling out of Florida right now, so I am in the States, and we are expanding... But from what I'm learning in Florida the law is a little different over here than Canada. If someone doesn't pay, it's a little bit different. So quickly, I realized this isn't working. I still loved real estate, but I wanted to do something different. And that's when I figured out there's different places in the marketplace that I can be capitalizing. So I looked into residential, I was thinking about multifamily, and then I was looking in the commercial sector... So at that point, I'm still kind of figuring it out... But luckily enough, I had a commercial property, ad then I stumbled upon a great opportunity, which I went all-in in.

Ash Patel: What was your commercial property?

Chris Long: It was 10 acres of heavy industrial land on a main road in Ottawa.

Ash Patel: You bought this?

Chris Long: Yeah. So my brother and I actually bought it.

Ash Patel: And what was your plan? Hold on... "We're gonna ride four wheelers on it..." What were you going to do with 10 acres?

Chris Long: Good question. So first, my brother and I, we wanted to do storage, traditional storage on the property. So that was the original vision. So we bought it, and we were just kind of bumping heads, figuring out what to do, a good old brother relationship, we're like, "Well, who's gonna pull the trigger first, and what's happening?" So that was the original vision - we bought it to build self-storage on it. And obviously, that changed...

Ash Patel: Okay, so traditional self-storage.

Chris Long: Right.

Ash Patel: Alright. Now, I know the answer to this, but tell the Best Ever listeners what this turned into.

Chris Long: Okay, great. So before I get into that a little bit, I just want to say how it's changed a little bit. Because when I first built my first location, it's been about two years now, we're expanding in the States... So as you know, interest rates have changed, a few things have gone up, and the world is changing around us with all that right now. But what's unique about [unintelligible 00:05:35.21] with our business model and the cash flow - we're not too concerned about that. So that's really great for the market. And it's just a massive shortage of contractor space available. And that's how I discovered the need myself, right? So I was like, "Hey, I need this. I'm a contractor myself; I go home, and there's a bunch of equipment on a driveway", my garage was full, my wife's like "Chris, my parents are coming; you've gotta clean this stuff up." So I knew there was a need in the marketplace, and I needed an affordable space that was in a long-term lease, and that was just adaptable for my business needs. So I just started building a great business from the inside out, for the needs of a small business like myself, as a contractor. That's pretty much where the idea and how the vision started, was from that need.

Ash Patel: So you took your 10 acres, and you divided it up using chainlink fences.

Chris Long: Right. So I had this property, and I was like, "What am I going to do with this?" I knew I had the need... So just to quickly cover it - it's changed a little bit in the last two years. So one of the things - we want to expand more in Ottawa, but there's just a lack of industrial space, and things are costing more than they used to with the cost of development. So people -- if you want to move on this now, it's better to move on it quickly, because the cost of development's going up higher... And it's just so many opportunities with the territory.

So what I did, and what I did with my first property, is exactly you said. So I started off, I had this commercial property, and it was really expensive. For me, it was hard to start myself. It was an old house on th property, you drive by and it looks condemned; it just looked really rough. There's trees everywhere... I was like, "I've gotta get this thing started." So basically, I put everything into it. I started out very simply; I cut down the trees... I was out there with a chainsaw myself. I was cutting down trees, doing everything I could, and I literally build this on a shoestring budget. I started it up myself.

So my brother helped me with the first row of fencing, I got the house [unintelligible 00:07:14.14] we just painted it... I couldn't afford to finish the inside, but I made it look good from the outside. And then I even had [unintelligible 00:07:19.07] gates for the front. So I drove to [unintelligible 00:07:22.19] got some used gates, put them on the back of my truck, put ribbons, had the four ways on... And basically, I put those gates up, spray painted them, made them look good, and had a key lock on the front. So that was basically how it started. I just had a few yards, it was a shoestring budget, and I was like "I'm going all-in", right? And sure enough, I cut the ribbon October 1st, 2019, the official launch [unintelligible 00:07:43.04] Within six weeks, we were fully leased up. And that's how it started.

Ash Patel: Six weeks you leased up 10 acres... How large is each spot? Each storage unit, I guess.

Chris Long: Yeah, at the beginning I could afford to do the whole 10 acres. It was a little bit too ambitious for me. So I started in three phases. The first third - that's when I cut the ribbon, and that's when we leased up. So then we started building up gradually. And it was tough, because at the beginning I could barely actually afford to put the gates in the front yard. So I leased up the yard, and then [unintelligible 00:08:12.01] in their deposit to put the gate on. So I leased up organically, and once I have the first third, then I got an investor behind me, and then I really started to put the machine down and started going... Because at the beginning, people were like, "What are you doing? You're crazy. You're building [unintelligible 00:08:26.05] No one's gonna back this." I had to get it going, get the momentum. Then the investor got behind me, and then we built out the rest.

Ash Patel: Chris, I've had the luxury of watching the video and seeing your website... But for our Best Ever listeners that maybe can't envision what we're talking about, can you paint a picture of what this facility looks like?

Chris Long: Yeah, so basically, it's 10 acres, and it is quite literally a long yard. It's 200 feet by 2,000 feet. So you've got a road in the middle and you have different yards on both sides. And you have your cameras, your power, and basically, we provide these affordable spaces for small businesses. That's basically what it looks like.

Ash Patel: And is it chainlink fence, or is there fabric covering each spot? How high are the fences? Is there barbed wire?

Chris Long: It's six feet high. In different areas you have different permit regulations about how high you can go with your fence. For our location in Canada it's six feet, and then we add the barbed wire on top of it. And then you have the fabric. So it's a completely enclosed space, which again, didn't exist in the marketplace. For small business it's either you have to have a small commercial lease, and you're not sure sometimes where you're going to be in two to five years. Or you need to go through an outside source, cram yourself in an awkward spot, and hope there's a camera there. For us it's like mini-storage. The only difference is you have gates that are enclosed in a fully fenced yard. You can put a camera there, you can put power there... And that's what it looks like.

Ash Patel: Yeah. I love that you filled that need in the business, because every one of my contractors friends, their spouse, they can't park in the garage, right? Their garage has just turned into their junkyard; but at least the garage is covered. So what do you do to keep the elements out of people's belongings?

Chris Long: Nothing. [laughs] The beauty of it is keep it simple. So if they want to add things to their yard, as long as they don't require permits, then that's fine. So you have so many different combinations of different clients using the space... Some of them are adding their own shelters. Again, as long as it doesn't require permits, it's fine. But when I needed it, you could bring in a pod, you could bring in your own container, you can bring in your own storage, you can bring in an office... That's the thing, these things are made to be adaptable to your business needs. So if you need that covered space, that's fine. But we're not having a problem filling up with just every single person who just needs that extra space. It's catered to them and it's affordable.

Ash Patel: Interesting. I love that. So you can throw a pod in there, or if the zoning allows it, a trailer, or a container.

Chris Long: Yeah. Exactly.

Ash Patel: Awesome. And I've got so many more questions... So power - every single person that rents from you has power available to them?

Chris Long: No, not everybody... Because it's 10 acres; it is a long yard for us to bring power all the way to the back. We can't do that. So we bring it out a little bit organically. We went to the locations we can, and that's it. To be honest, out of close to 100 yards, we only have two people that actually are using power. A lot of them, if they need to bring in a generator, they bring in a generator, and that's it.

Ash Patel: What's your typical customer? What do they do? Are they all tradespeople?

Chris Long: Different areas, we're discovering, have different types of clients. You're marketing to different strategies. So we have a hybrid and a combination of corporate clients, we have small businesses, we have homeowners who are just hobbyists and their wives want their junk off the lawn... So you've got all sorts of people, from all walks of life. It's really unique. At the end of the day, you're building a small business community.

Ash Patel: What do corporate clients store there?

Chris Long: We have Ultramar, they store propane; we have large corporate clients that are basically storing commercial goods for local distribution.

Break: [00:11:50.15] to [00:13:48.19]

Ash Patel: Zoning. Do you have to be way out in the boonies to put one of these facilities up?

Chris Long: No. In Canada, most heavy industrial will work. What I'm learning in the States is there's different terms, different codes for different areas. So basically outdoor storage or open air, as some counties would say; that's a very important part. And even then, with those zoning requirements, they have certain restrictions. They want a certain height, because it's a residential area; they don't wanna see cranes, and whatnot. So working with the zoning department is definitely really important. That's one big step that we've got to work through.

Ash Patel: And cameras - if you don't have power everywhere, how can the lots in the back - how do they get covered by cameras?

Chris Long: Oh no, we've got cameras. So we run power over internet cameras everywhere.

Ash Patel: Got it, okay.

Chris Long: Yeah. And our clients get cameras. So you've got to remember, I built it for myself as a small business. I'm like, "What do I need?" And then now, all my clients get camera access; so they can see everything going on. So I had a landscaper selling [unintelligible 00:14:39.22] He can sit at home, watch his client or customer come in, he could text the gate from his phone, watch the gate open, watch them drive to the yard, watch the camera in the yard... "That's not the right stone. Pick up that stone." Sends the money transfer, on his way. It's a beautiful thing.

Ash Patel: Who would have thought a landscaper could work remotely, from home? I love that.

Chris Long: That's the thing; with the way we're doing things - it's so unique to the marketplace, and we're just working on so many different strategies... We use technology, we automate it... And again, we're not worried about a few interest points with our cash flow. I've moved to the States, immigrating here, I'm working in the States, and I didn't visit my property for a year. So once you do the heavy lifting and it's up and running, then the system take over.

Ash Patel: Chris, in the US I think we've got a little bit more crime than you have in Canada. And even with the cameras, have you experienced theft?

Chris Long: No, we're still new to the marketplace. We're going through our site plan approvals on a lot of our locations, and due diligence. There was no one doing this in Canada. When I started, I looked around, I'm like -- I was the only crazy person brave enough to do this in Canada. But in the States, we have seen some unique business models, and they do a block wall around the perimeter... But it really depends on how the real estate is gridlocked in. If you have good landscape buffers, and everything... But yeah, you've got higher population, more opportunity, more crime, more everything. But I figured all the security elements that we placed in our first location, placed at the second, and it's so active traditionally that people - they feel it's a safe community. These people are looking over each other, in a helpful way; not looking over each other in like the "I want to take your stuff" kind of way.

Ash Patel: I love it. Competition. You're definitely a pioneer in this space... But I don't see a lot of barriers to entry for your competition. So have other people gotten on board with this idea, and tried to run with it?

Chris Long: That's the one thing that's the reality of the marketplace. So not that I'm aware of... Like I said, I saw it first in the States, to make sure I wasn't completely crazy in Canada... So I knew it was happening, but no one's doing it like we're doing it. So just like I mentioned [unintelligible 00:16:35.03] listeners and talking to you about it, you're like, "What are you doing?" We have to educate the marketplace, too. So it's really unique. The way we tell the story and the way we get clients in - we know people in Ottawa now because competition is coming.

We started it in October 2019, and people are starting it, but they're not leasing up. So it sounds easy, and it looks easy on the surface, but there's a lot of layers to it. We had to reinvent the wheel three to five times as we were building out to perfect the wheel. So now we have our marketing systems dialed in, we have our buildout dialed in, and we have everything we need dialed in. So yes, there's gonna be competition, but I think we're just ahead of the market on how we roll it out, how we market, how we get our clients, and how we're growing.

Ash Patel: Good. You have first-mover advantage. So speaking of marketing - you're selling to franchisees. What does a franchisee get if they buy into Longyards?

Chris Long: So basically, they get all of our systems to support them. If you don't have the land, let's say you want to buy land; because there's a lot of money to be made in real estate. You can also lease land and have a great cash-flowing business. So that's the first thing, you've gotta identify whether you love real estate - and with these listeners, most people do; we're gonna help you add tremendous value to the real estate. We're gonna find a parcel with you, protect your territory, provide you everything you need to get the lending, the highest and best use, we're gonna walk you through the lease-up, oversee the construction, and then we're going to help you scale up. We want ideally a franchisee to have three to four locations in one area, have one manager overseeing it, and a great business. So we're going to help you with everything we've learned, scaled out quickly.

Ash Patel: What is the ideal location? Is it in an industrial area, a residential area? Is it where a typical self-storage facility would be?

Chris Long: Well, actually, it's funny - self-storage is complimentary. People are going [unintelligible 00:18:09.21] they see us, and they're like "That's kind of neat." Self-storage is storage for the small stuff. We're storage for the big stuff. That's a great way to summarize it. So we kind of want to be around the action. Now, a lot of people are gonna see us and be like, "Oh, I've got this little personal I'm looking at. It's outside of North Carolina", but no - we want to be somewhere close to the core, we want to have good traffic, you want to be where something's happening, some growth... There's a very heavy data-driven process, because we have people coming to us and we're like, "No, that location is just not gonna work." You can try it, you can put a half million or milliona nd cross your fingers, but we're not confident, so we're saying no. So we work internally to make sure that the data supports the location, and there's a lot of factors for that.

Ash Patel: Chris, do you charge by the square foot? How does pricing work for tenants?

Chris Long: Yeah, we do charge by the square foot. So we have our most common-sized yards, and depending on the location. So it's hard to answer that, because obviously, the more you pay for the real estate, the closer you are to town, then the more we could charge.

Ash Patel: Yeah. So if you were to take a typical warehousing price - and I know it varies all over the country - are you half of the price for indoor warehouse storage? Unconditional, bottom of the barrel warehouse.

Chris Long: Yeah, so I haven't priced it in there. We kind of go against RV parking, because "What's the RV charging in the area?" and then we kind of use that as a formula to to reverse-engineer what we charge, what's in the marketplace. And that's kind of a determining factor, because we are different. We are a different marketplace. However, we're full-time, and our clients stay for a long time. So RVs - you've got people come and go, and you have tons of clients. We don't have that many clients. We have these industrial guys that stick around for a long time.

Ash Patel: What's the typical size of each yard? And what I mean each yard - each tenant space. And you can vary the sizes just by moving the chain link fence, right?

Chris Long: Well, that's the thing... So what else is a little bit unique about our business - we want to build things modular. So we build it in a way where it's fixed to the front, everything, you've got your gate, and your code... But if [unintelligible 00:20:04.11] we'll make a move around. So when you think about that, there's many layers to that; it's like quick [unintelligible 00:20:06.09] That's what's unique about Longyard. It's like, there's lots of projects that are taking months with underwriting and due diligence... We can hit the ground running and lease up quick, so we can provide cash flow quick, and our whole strategy, right from the fencing, right to how we run power, right to how we lease up, pre-lease up - it's quick. Everything about it is quick.

Ash Patel: What's the smallest space I can rent?

Chris Long: Our smallest yard - and actually, we stopped doing this, because again, our learning curve, reinventing the wheel - was 30 by 50. But we don't make that size anymore. They're a little larger than that, which is our common size... But we also have larger yards for corporate clients; our biggest yard rents for $2,200 a month, and our smallest yard rents for $275 a month. So it's really all over the map.

Ash Patel: So roughly 2000 or 3000 square feet is only a couple hundred dollars a month?

Chris Long: Yeah.

Ash Patel: Man, I'm going to start collecting old cars... [laughs] And I'm gonna throw them in your yard. Chris, you started this with a shoestring budget, and then I heard the word "investor". What happened? You took on an investor?

Chris Long: Basically, it was hard to get going, right? I got started, and I was talking to people, and like, "No, you're crazy. I've never heard of this. Good luck." That's when I had to sell both my houses and started up by myself. And even then, it was tight to make it work. But at that point, I had the investor behind me, and he just helped with the first property.

So to give you an idea of the numbers on the first property - bought it for $470,000, got it going myself with some lifting, the investor put in around $500,000 in total, so I was in around 1.1, 1.2. And it got appraised for 3.6 million. That was my very first location. And it's not even done being built out yet

Ash Patel: What's the revenue that comes in each year?

Chris Long: Right now around $360,000, and it's going up?

Ash Patel: Wow...

Chris Long: We haven't even reached phase four, or phase five.

Ash Patel: That's incredible.

Chris Long: And our maintenance is a fraction of the costs of most businesses, right? Think of self storage... So I kind of say Longyards is self storage on steroids, because we don't have the roofs, we don't have the doors, we have clients that stay for a long time... They need their stuff, it's not grandma's junk. This is their industrial livelihood. So yeah, it's great.

Ash Patel: And no HVAC systems...

Chris Long: [laughs] I've gotta fill pothholes, fix gates...

Ash Patel: There's no plumbing... Is it month-to-month tenants?

Chris Long: I built it for a business that -- [unintelligible 00:22:15.26] as a small business. I didn't want something that was long-term... I didn't want something that was complicated, or that restricted my business. I wanted something that was affordable, and that could be adaptable. So I built it for guys like me. And we offer month-to-month. Now, we do want a couple of months' notice when you're leaving, but that's fine. And you know what, we have a very low, low turnover. Our clients are happy, they're staying, they're referring their friends... So it's great. The strategy that we have implemented - it's great.

Ash Patel: Chris, that's an incredible story. What is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Chris Long: I sat on that property for two years, and I was thinking about it for a long time. I knew I wanted to do something bigger... And I waited, because I was a little scared. So my biggest advice is just don't let fear hold you back. Just go for it, man. That's it.

Ash Patel: Yeah, that is great advice. Chris, are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?

Chris Long: Let's do it.

Ash Patel: Alright, Chris, what's the Best Ever book you've recently read?

Chris Long: I'll hit you with the classic Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki.

Ash Patel: And Chris, what's the Best Ever way you like to give back?

Chris Long: Well, actually, what's great about Longyards is we've built a community. So we're taking a leadership role. We're helping these small businesses, we provide back to the neighborhood and the community... And I love giving back. I'm building a business, plus giving back to the community. It's great. I'm loving it.

Ash Patel: Chris, how can the Best Ever listeners reach out to you?

Chris Long: Beautiful. They can reach me at, [00:23:33.16] or you can just call me, 941.278.9095.

Ash Patel: Chris, I've got to thank you again. My team reached out to you, had no idea if you were going to be able to come on this podcast... Thank you for being gracious, sharing what you're doing, and truly being a pioneer in this industry, man. Amazing conversation. Thank you.

Chris Long: Appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

Ash Patel: Best Ever listeners, thank you so much for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a five star review. Share the podcast with somebody you think can benefit from it. Also, follow, subscribe and have a Best Ever day!

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