Bantam Associates Inc. Year Founded:

1980

Core Business:

Document and general self-storage

Revenues in 1999:

$10.5 million

Revenues in 2000:

$12 million

Revenues in 2001:

$15 million (projected)

Employees in 1999:

58

Employees in 2001: Goal:

To increase revenues by 10 to 15 percent and expand the company's community-service efforts

Driving Force:

The desire to provide more customer service in the industry

Couple's real estate investment firm Carved A niche in the self-storage industry by offering additional services geared to small businesses

"Boxes," Irshad-Ul-Haque observed, "don't complain. Tenants always complain."

It is with that nugget of wisdom that Haque and his wife Linda have built a $12 million-a-year real estate business from a $28,000 investment in a Temple City duplex. Their self-storage property that makes up part of their holdings has thrived against much larger competitors.

The small purchase in the early 1970s with $500 down eventually led the Haques to start Bantam Associates Inc., a real-estate investment firm based in Pasadena.

Bantam has grown to include more than 20 commercial and residential properties, mainly within the San Gabriel Valley, and two subsidiary companies, Stor It All and Tri-City Archives Inc.

The three companies, which together employ nearly 60 people, generated revenues of $12 million in 2000, up from $10.5 million the prior year.

Haque, who was a manufacturing specialist at Xerox Corp., and Linda, then a social worker, knew little about real estate when they made the first investment. "We had no idea what we were getting into," Haque said. "It just happened."

By putting together limited partnerships with colleagues at Xerox, the Haques were able to amass a number of residential properties.

Avoiding the downturn

But as the real estate market began nose-diving in the early '90s, the Haques decided they needed to diversify. The couple bought a Los Feliz storage facility for $13 million at a bankruptcy auction in 1991. "That's one of the best businesses I ever got into," Haque said. "It's so easy to run."

The Los Feliz site, with 3,400 units on an 8.5-acre lot, is already one of the largest single self-storage locations in the United States. Bantam will soon add about 100 more units and expand its services into a neighboring building recently purchased for about $1 million.

Rentals range from $50 to $650 per month, depending on the size of the unit, and the business boasts an impressive 97 percent occupancy rate above the industry average of 90 to 92 percent. Haque attributes the high occupancy level to his company's ability to provide small businesses with more than storage.

Stor It All furnishes customers with Ryder truck rentals, shipping, free conference room space and e-mail service. It's a "one-stop shopping center," Haque said.

Such full-service facilities are rare, said Dean Keller, president of Bancap Self Storage Group, a brokerage that deals in only self-storage properties.

"(Haque) has such a huge facility that he has to be innovative in his ways of attracting additional business," Keller said. This approach "makes sense in an area where rents are so high," Keller said.

Analyst John Sheehan of A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. said it's difficult for independent storage facilities to compete with the likes of Public Storage and other large chains, but he pointed out that convenience often wins over more customers than brand-name recognition.

There is a big need for self-storage in Southern California because few facilities were built in the 1990s. "It's relatively hard to get the entitlement to build a storage location in a good location. Cities like things that generate sales tax revenue or employment and, unfortunately, self-storage facilities don't do much of either one of those," Keller said.

Spinning off

Tri-City Archives which stores, catalogs and delivers files to banks, hospitals, law firms and other businesses throughout Los Angeles County began as a side venture at z. It soon grew large enough for the Haques to move to a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Pico Rivera. Tri-City Archives bought two more warehouses, one in Pico Rivera and another in Santa Fe Springs.

"We are big enough to give (clients) all the services needed and small enough to give them very personalized service," said Haque's sister, Khalida Samad. "That's our niche."

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