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Steve Wilson: Three Decades of SSA Participation

September, 2010 SSA Globe

Steve Wilson, Managing Partner of Hide-Away Storage, Inducted Into the Self Storage Hall of Fame

Steve Wilson, Managing Partner of Hide-Away Storage Driving to his in-laws’ home upon returning from Japan in the mid-1970s, Steve Wilson noticed rows of nondescript buildings near an Indiana highway. As a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press who had relocated 15 times in 15 years, Wilson had come to know the moving industry very well. He had also become aware of the need for storage during those transitory years.

“We understood the dynamics of moving, storage, and the needs associated with that kind of household turmoil,” said Wilson. “So when we first saw a self storage facility, we immediately understood its importance to so many Americans, and it seemed like something we could do.”

He did indeed do it, opening the first of eleven Hide- Away Storage and Xpress Storage properties in 1977 in Bradenton, Florida. At this month’s SSA Fall Conference & Trade Show, Wilson will be honored with a place in the Self Storage Hall of Fame, chosen by the SSA Foundation board of governors and the SSA board of directors not only for his successful business, but for his significant contributions to the SSA and industry as a whole over 33 years.

A graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis and having earned and an M.A. from Indiana University as well, Wilson had set off on a career that followed his college studies, namely economics. But the opportunity he found in self storage sent him in an entirely new direction.

Wilson’s self storage story is not unique to the still young, but growing lore of self storage. In fact, it fits nicely in what is largely considered to be the industry’s historic migration. Many of the Self Storage Hall of Fame inductees from the past five years began where the industry started: in the Southwest and Midwest areas of the United States. Entrepreneurs such as Steve, who were familiar with those regions, took note and introduced the concept elsewhere.

“I knew absolutely nothing about self storage when we first got into the business, so I immediately sought all the help I could get. And that meant being part of the storage trade association,” said Wilson. “I found out about the SSA and attended my first conference in 1978 in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Growth Through Involvement

Hide Away StorageOnly six years later, Wilson took the reins as the Association president (now chairman). He says his early commitment to the organization was a critical component to his evolution as a self storage operator. “The Association was a wonderful place to learn how to run my business better, not to mention the contacts I’ve made, which were also invaluable to our continued growth and success.”

After leading the organization through part of its adolescence, Wilson spent three decades participating at events, filling committee positions and consistently supporting the organization as it matured. “The Association has developed a degree of professionalism which was less apparent in the first decade or two. And the benefits of the Association to its members also have greatly expanded,” he said.

Certainly his business has benefitted greatly but, more importantly, by working together the industry has positively influenced the laws that regulate it. “The legal assistance and sponsorship of legislation to enable the self storage industry to function as it does today is largely a product of the Self Storage Association, and it has been a benefit of incalculable value to every owner,” said Wilson.

Steve Wilson with SSA President & CEO Mike Scanlon.
Steve Wilson with SSA President & CEO
Mike Scanlon.

Not many current participants in the SSA have the perspective of someone who became involved when Jimmy Carter was still in office. Much has changed, but much remains the same, according to the latest Hall of Famer.

“At a fundamental level, not a whole lot has changed,” says Wilson. “There were a lot of very professional persons in the business early on and subsequently a lot of smart, sophisticated individuals have also entered the industry,” said Wilson. “But you still see people who sort of blunder into [self storage] thinking that no matter what, ‘if I build it, they will come’—not so. In the first decade or two, a lot of these people got hurt and I’m afraid during this recession, we’re seeing the same trend.” The lesson according to Wilson, “is to participate in your Association and do your homework.”

Not surprisingly, Steve Wilson’s generosity has extended beyond the world of self storage. In addition to serving as an elder and leader of his church, he has led efforts to protect the homeless in his Southwestern Florida community. Recently he served as president of the Manatee Homeless Coalition, a community organization dedicated to helping the homeless and vulnerable to becoming homeless. He and his wife Maureen have been married for 47 years. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.

You can read the .pdf version of this press release here.