After 12 years of getting vehicles in Columbia soapy, wet and waxed, Snozzles carwash has closed its hoses, and its parent company is building a drier business.
Siena, the company that owns Snozzles and the 6-acre parcel off Snowden River Parkway where the carwash and a bevy of car-care shops are located, is replacing Snozzles with an ezStorage self-storage facility.
The move is part of a broader shift in the Annapolis Junction company to divest of carwashes and focus on self-storage in the Baltimore-Washington area. EzStorage has been growing at a rate of about 40 percent a year, adding four to five buildings each year, a company executive said, but the company is looking for more locations that are profitable.
Before the carwash closed, the company offered free washes to customers, acknowledging that the facility has been part of the community a long time.
"It was the first Snozzles, there was some nostalgia," said Todd Manganaro, vice president of ezStorage. "And we're very close to the Columbia community."
The company soon will be even closer -- Manganaro said ezStorage and Siena will be relocating their 50 employees to a new headquarters on Route 108 on the edge of Long Reach. Construction is to begin at the end of this year.
EzStorage is the largest storage company in Maryland, with 26 units throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Its Snozzles ezCarwash facilities, which have dotted the landscape in Jessup, Bel Air, Dundalk and Laurel, were developed to provide immediate income on their properties while the storage facilities reached profitability.
Now that the company has grown, the executives have refined their focus in self-storage, building on smaller parcels in more highly visible areas with multistory buildings. The land costs more, but according to one self-storage market analyst, those tactics might help the company prosper.
"This is a business that has a retail attribute, in that you're selling more of a service than real estate," said Jim Kammert, an analyst with Goldman Sachs covering the two largest publicly traded self-storage companies, Public Storage and Storage USA.
"They're trying to come closer and closer to the consumers, realizing a lot of urban users probably have smaller apartments and could use storage," he said. The higher cost of real estate is driving a higher rental cost, but the public companies would rather develop on more costly land.
"The units are justifying that [cost] to the consumer," he said. "It's really a service, so if [someone] is going to the grocery store, they can go down the street and drop off their winter clothes and pick up their spring clothes."
The facility to be built at the Snozzles location will be similar to the others -- a multilevel, 100,000- square-foot building with about 1,000 storage units. Construction, which is to begin June 1, should be completed by spring, Manganaro said. The portion of the property on which the car-service businesses are located will remain untouched.
Other carwashes the company has owned have been dismantled and replaced with smaller storage facilities.
"We're just trying to build the same building over and over," Manganaro said. "We've proven that facilities with high visibility, in what people consider a retail location, do better."