Meet Mark and Maddy DiRienzo
Self Storage and Commercial Real Estate Developers & Operators and Good People.
By Jim Teece
I have admired Mark and Maddy for years. They are good people that have developed commercial spaces for small business owners to thrive. They are also caring community leaders and a successful husband and wife team. I reached out to Mark with a few questions about his business for this issue and he did not disappoint.
Where did you come from and how did you end up in Ashland?
When we moved here in Summer 1998 from NYC, we never dreamed of being in the commercial real estate business.
We both came from corporate jobs, me as a VP at Marsh.com in the Aviation & Aerospace Insurance Dept. and Maddalena (Maddy) at www.christies.com in the Jewelry department. We quit our jobs and spent a year helping friends and traveling in search of a place to raise kids….
We found Ashland.
After spending a few years in the Ashland area small business community (as General Manager of Paschal Winery, helping build the Rogue Creamery wholesale business and expanding the retail shop space, teaching business courses at SOU, helping diversify the Academy Award-winning Sorensen Design film camera robot business into the Aviation industry), in 2002, I had a chance to invest in and manage a large real estate project in Pagosa Springs, CO. I did that work from Ashland and got hooked on Real Estate. It was an industry that combined my unique mix of skills, including marketing, finance, project management, contracts, and general business sense.
I have worked in real estate ever since in a wide range of activities including; developing, private lending, constructing, asset managing, property managing, and land-use planning in multiple western states. Maddy has always been at my side as a business partner and key component to everything we do.
It helped a lot to marry someone smarter than I am!
In 2009, I stepped in as the Executive Director of Scienceworks to bring it back from the brink of extinction, fortunately that was a slow time in real estate.
I stepped back into Real Estate full time again in 2011, a time when there were plenty of opportunities!
You built a world-class business park that is focused on small business. Tell me about that.
The Mistletoe Business Park, LLC project located in Ashland, OR, started in 2006. Our first office building (7,500 sf) and large self storage facility (70k sf/approx 300 units) was completed in 2007. I oversaw the whole project and Maddy focused on day-to-day operations of the storage business. Self Storage is considered a Real Estate investment but in fact it is really a business. We have employees, marketing, many many customers, and regular day-to-day retail office hours. So while it is a real estate investment, it takes a lot more time than a typical commercial investment.
We have had a total of 6 self storage facilities in Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Bend and Beaverton over the past 12 years. We have recently sold a few facilities and are currently holding 3 of our largest, Class A quality self storage facilities.
Working in storage never has a dull moment. Its like any business, issues arise daily with staff, operations, administration, technology, physical building issues, hundreds of customers, all with unique needs, etc… While most people think self storage is used by people who have too much stuff, that truly is not the case. The majority of our customers are people in transition – moving to a new city, selling their home, going through a divorce, dealing with a deceased relative’s things. Storage provides them a place to keep things safe while they sort out their next phase in life. We also have local businesses storing current or excess inventory, antique or specialty cars, etc. We spend a lot of time training for customer service, letting our staff know that with every interaction they may be dealing with very fragile people in a state of mind that isn’t their norm. The more we can listen and care for our customer the better their experience will be. We pride ourselves on customer service and the quality of our spaces in an effort to provide the best possible experience for our customers. Maddy is the key to our self storage success. She is our District Manager overseeing all facilities and does an amazing job with our staff and day-to-day operations. I couldn’t do it without her.
We do have or have had other commercial buildings in several states that include office, warehouse, and production related buildings. The most fun part of owning these spaces has been helping to incubate small business and facilitate their growth over time. Some of our tenants started out in small offices and now have their own buildings that we’ve purpose built for them, it so rewarding to participate in helping someone’s entrepreneurial dream come alive. I’d like to mention two local tenants in particular, Organic Alcohol organicalcohol.com and MaskIT maskit.us, both of whom have flourished in our spaces, and we’ve done all we can to facilitate their growth over time.
What’s next for you two?
At this stage in our lives, we have a choice to make: do we keep finding new projects, take more risks, make more long-term money and work 24/7? Or, do we manage what we have and spend our next decade or two living the life we’ve worked so hard to enjoy? It’s been a soul searching period for us thinking about this. I feel we are landing on choosing a slower pace in terms of number of projects and being very selective about what we want to work on. Having said that, Maddy and I make a great team, and we are constantly brainstorming about things we could be up to, some in real estate and some in other areas that we enjoy, like food, landscaping, and travel.
Working with our growing tenants and also being part of E2E has been rewarding and a good reminder of how much work goes into a start-up! That said, Maddy and I did the hard work early on, so I think our next phase will be focusing on being content with what we have and doing the best job with our current businesses, so that we can have a life outside of work!
Currently, I am Board Chair for The Hearth Storytelling project (thehearthcommunity.com) and this month I take over as Board Chair for Mercy Flights (air and ground emergency transportation in Jackson County for 70 years! mercyflights.com).