U-Haul investing $7.4 million at Valley sites

HARLINGEN — U-Haul is on the move in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Phoenix-based moving and storage giant is investing some $7.4 million in company-owned storage and trailer rental facilities in Brownsville, Pharr and Harlingen.

Mark Reinitz, marketing company president for U-Haul in Corpus Christi, believes the Rio Grande Valley has been underserved by his company and U-Haul is moving aggressively to catch up.

“U-Haul back in the ‘70s was limited to San Benito and a place in San Juan, right next to the Mercedes dealership,” Reinitz said.

Reinitz grew up in McAllen, and after serving in the Air Force and working elsewhere, was hired by U-Haul in 2009.

“When I started with U-Haul, I was an area manager so I was working with independent dealer locations, because that’s all we had in the Valley,” he said.

“When I became marketing company president four or five years ago, my goal was to have U-Haul’s footprint in the Valley with company-owned stores,” he said. “Basically, it took somebody from the Valley to build the Valley.”

Reinitz said most people, when they think of U-Haul, it’s what they see out on the highways — the orange and white truck and trailer rental part of the business.

“U-Haul is known for its truck rental and trailer business, but we’re in the storage business and have been since the 1970s and that’s a big part of our focus,” he said. “If you think about it, truck rental and storage go hand-in-hand.”

The upgrades at the three facilities all involve storage, with many of the new units designed to be climate-controlled with 24-hour customer access.

In Brownsville, U-Haul purchased the old Burlington Coat Factory building at 2400 Boca Chica Blvd. Reinitz said part of the building has been leased out, but his company retains more than 100,000 square feet of space which is undergoing $4 million worth of upgrades.

“We built out a showroom, we built out a hitch bay, boat and RV parking and secured parking, and we’ve started construction where we’re building storage units, laying out a floor plan, pouring concrete and putting in a second floor,” Reinitz said.

The end result at the Brownsville facility will be about 1,300 storage units, some of which will be climate-controlled, he added.

“It’s going to be state-of-the-art,” he said, saying customers can drive into the facility and unload out of the weather with 24-hour access.

In Harlingen, Reinitz said, plans are for a $900,000 upgrade for the facility at 1218 N. Ed Carey Dr., site of the old ProBuild lumber yard.

This upgrade will add 372 units of self-storage with 224 of those being climate-controlled, Reinitz said.

In addition, the showroom will be expanded and upgraded, with more space for moving supplies, towing accessories and bike racks. A hitch bay to install hitches and wiring is part of the plan.

In Pharr, a $2.5 million upgrade is planned at the company facility at 4007 N. Cage Blvd.

“We’re building a showroom, a U-Box warehouse and another storage building that’s going to be a climate-controlled building with 200 and something units, and then we’re going to have boat and RV covered spaces,” he said, adding there will be a new hitch bay for installations as well.

The aggressive area expansion by U-Haul and it’s ubiquitous orange-and-white trucks is a long way from its founding in 1945 by Leonard Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty, in the town of Ridgefield, Washington.

With an investment of $5,000, the Shoens began building rental trailers and splitting the fees for their use with gas station owners who he franchised as agents.

The Shoen family still owns about 40 percent of the company called AMERCO, a holding company which also operates AMERCO Real Estate, Republic Western Insurance and Oxford Life Insurance.

“The Valley is growing and I want to grow with the Valley,” Reinitz said. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”