ANDREW J. ABERNATHEY
Andrew appears in the Top 100
U.S. Business Leaders Magazine
Andrew J. Abernathey
In business, much as in history, there are leaders and there are ‘born leaders.’ Andrew Abernathey is the latter. From the realization of his calling when he was in 2nd grade, to his first foray into investing at the age of 14, Andrew has been on a steady incline and his journey is still underway.
Andrew has always been ambitious and that is evidenced by both his earliest and latest successes. As a teenager, he worked two part-time jobs with the sole intention of saving enough money to invest. Unlike his adolescent counterparts, who were working less and spending more, Andrew took his first four thousand dollars and invested it in a variety of public securities. Two years later, his profits amounted to eighty thousand dollars, and he had developed a great starting perspective of the business world.
Despite a stellar launch into investing, Andrew did not slow his progress. In 2010, from the basement of his parents’ North Dakota farmhouse, he and his brother started Abernathey Brothers Farm. Then, in 2012, he founded Abernathey Holdings, which raised investor funds to facilitate entry into the storage business. In just a few short years, the businesses had performed so well that Andrew had become a millionaire. Today, Abernathey Holdings has assets that include 800 units, totaling 100,000 square feet, as well as three other properties in the early stages of development. Now, at just 26 years old, Andrew is a board member with controlling interest of the company, and has accumulated a litany of accolades, including features in AllBusiness, MarketWatch, BusinessCollective, and Fargo, Inc.
The Top 100 Magazine recently spoke with Andrew to learn more about Abernathey Holding’s methods and mission.
What are your responsibilities as Abernathey Holding’s founder and CEO?
I oversee the company’s $100 million in assets, which I mostly manage through our four main divisions, and they in turn, trickle responsibilities down to the employees. I also spend time planning 2, 5, 10, 20, and 60 years out, to make sure we’re on track for our vision.
Tell us a bit more about the Abernathey family legacy?
Our family has been in the land, real estate, and farm business since the mid-1900s. I’m very proud of our history, so I wanted to use the Abernathey name for the company. However, great responsibility comes along with that. We use focus as our main tool for growth, and we pride ourselves on turning down most opportunities and sticking to our main two focal points: developing self-storage facilities for Abernathey Holdings, and growing our farming operations for Abernathey Brothers. Although finding contrasts between holding companies is rare, differences do exist on a certain level—a level that can compound to a large competitive edge over time.
Was your family the inspiration behind starting your own company?
In a way, yes. All my siblings were amazing and found their individual talents at a young age, but I didn’t seem to have anything that I was particularly good at—like athletic ability. So, I remember thinking, “What’s talent?” Then, in second grade, the elementary school created a fake town, currency, jobs, businesses, etc., and whoever collected the most money at the end would receive an . Well, I ended up with the most money and businesses, and I loved it! I felt a spark, and I had natural ability, so I started investing shortly after that, and the rest is history.
You focus primarily on self-storage facilities. Tell us about this.
We not only build and develop our own facilities, but we also own the companies that build and develop them. We own a construction company, equipment dealership, a garage door dealership, and we share realtor fees on lots we buy to develop. That’s why we are able to build our own facilities for less than what our competitors pay. For example, while competitors build their facilities for $12 million, we build ours for $11 million. We also have complete control over quality, which is important.
Where did the idea come from to focus on the self-storage market?
The idea came Gary Tharaldson, a billionaire hotel developer from ND. He’s been a mentor of mine for quite some time. In the 1980s, when he started developing hotels, the industry was very fragmented. So, he embraced the brands early on: Super 8, Marriott, etc. Gary owned his own businesses—vertical integration, construction, electrical, developers—and because of this, he was able to develop hotels. A new one would open every nine days! Eventually, Goldman Sachs bought him out. Gary helped me to see that the self-storage industry today is fragmented (owned by mom and pop) just as hotels were in the 1980s. So, I decided to copy his model and apply it to self-storage. Gary once told me something I will never forget. He said, “Wealth is built on focus; wealth is preserved on diversification.”
Do you see ongoing growth in consumer demand for self-storage facilities?
Yes. I’m seeing an overwhelming demand. Our average units are 120 square feet and about 2.5 miles from where our consumers live. Statistics show that most of the population will live in large cities within the next couple of decades and that the average family is choosing to live in less square feet than in the past. So, need is steady and will increase. Also, we have Amazon online store owners as our clients, and they use our facilities to house and package their merchandise. We have Amazon lockers in all of our lobbies, and we continue to focus on catering to their wholesalers and others in the online marketplace.
What are the criteria for where you build storage facilities?
We have 5 strict criteria: 100,000 people within a three-mile radius, household incomes of $100,000+, an obtainable rental rate of $1.70 per foot or more, high visibility from a main thoroughfare, and sites that are not surrounded by undeveloped land. I don’t mind spending 10% to 20% premium for a lot because I would rather give up two years of profit to make sure we have the best locations for decades to come.
Lastly, Andrew, what drives you? What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
I love the challenge and I like being in control of my own destiny. I love being the boat that can create large waves for all the boats behind me—employees, partners, and team members. I get excited about building something that’s bigger than me. I’m also inspired by my family history. We’ve been farming since the mid-1900’s and my success is in part, an homage to their legacy.
Andrew J. Abernathey
CEO and Founder
Abernathey Holding Company
Great Falls, MT