Keep Your Site Looking Bright

Just as people will avoid shopping at a store where clerks are constantly rude, tenants will go to another facility if a self-storage business doesnt meet their expectations. A facility that is secure, well-lit, clean and well-maintained is the retail-store equivalent of a helpful and knowledgeable clerk.

Whether you are developing a new site or have been in existing buildings for a decade, you must maintain and periodically upgrade to attract and retain tenants. Nicer buildings bring higher rents. Your buildings are not an expense; they are your revenue source. Protecting and improving them is vital to your success.

Assuring your site is up to snuff is a four-step process:

1. Evaluate your property: What are its weak points? Make sure to utilize its strengths.
2. Prioritize what needs to be done: Develop a short- and long-term plan to complete this list.
3. Maintain the property: Establish the best ways to keep it up and avoid unexpected costs.
4. Determine who will do the work: Will you do the work yourself or hire a contractor?

Evaluate Your Facility

Its possible to dramatically change the look of an older facility inexpensively, but your first step is to critically inspect a property and its condition, determining where money will be best spent.

Break the property down into parts:

  • Parking area 
  • Office exterior and interior 
  • Building interiors 
  • Hallways 
  • Building exterior 
  • Restrooms 
  • Street frontage 
  • Landscaping 

From there, separate each component into individual line items:

  • Cleanliness 
  • Paint color and condition 
  • Lighting condition and adequacy 
  • Floor condition 
  • Wall condition 
  • Signage condition and visibility 

Your list will likely grow during the inspection. Create a form that lets you review your list quickly then grade each item accordingly:

A. Like new 
B. Modern and in good condition 
C. Average condition, comparable to your competition 
D. Below grade 
F. Unacceptable, requires immediate attention 

If you are on site most of the time, you may need a second pair of eyes to do a proper inspection. Owners overly familiar with a property can rarely view it from a new tenants perspective.

Prioritize

Use the above information to devise a plan of action. Obviously, youll want to take care of the Fs first and work your way up the list. If most things are in similar condition, prioritize projects in order of magnitude of impact per dollar spent:

1. Cleaning. Everything at your site needs to earn at least a B+ or better for cleanliness. Even the oldest, most outdated facility earns respect if its clean and organized. Parallel to cleaning is making sure everything is in operating order: no burnt-out lights, dripping toilets, leaking roofs, doors that dont open or close properly, broken signage, etc.

2. Painting. Nothing brightens a building better than a fresh coat of paint. Choose colors wisely; avoid dingy colors and stay with light, bright tints. Use graphics and architectural detail to give character. Consider refinishing floors. Finally, if youre not comfortable with your decorating skills, employ a professional. Its worth it to get it right.

3. Lighting. Tenants avoid dark and gloomy sites, preferring bright and roomy. Better lighting gives the impression of more space, not to mention security. Upgrading lights can be pricey, but efficient systems reduce electrical consumption, provide better illumination and eventually yield a return on investment. If you do upgrade, go with T-8 florescent for less hassles matching the correct bulb with the right ballast to the appropriate climate. For outside lighting, choose metal halide over traditional light bulbs that give off a yellow cast.

4. Landscaping and parking areas. Try to size up your storefront through the eyes of an arriving customer. Landscaping should be on par or better than nearby businesses. If not, plan to upgrade. Use slow-growing native shrubs and small trees that require minimal maintenance. Instead of grass, which requires weekly care, consider soil toppers such as bark covering or indigenous rocks. If in doubt, work with a landscaper to get a professional look from the start. Plan to keep all landscaping tidy and kempt. You never want to be the shabby house on the block. Also, a freshly stenciled parking area always dresses things up.

5. Office and restrooms. Hire a professional when designing or reconfiguring your office. All offices benefit from a fresh paint job. For existing offices, consider increasing the lighting, refacing the counter and cabinets, upgrading the floor covering, and purchasing new desks and file cabinets. Although expensive, enlarging a small office into a modern and well-merchandised space improves the image and increases retail potential. Just as important, make sure the restroom is clean and in good working order.

6. Other. Once everything earns at least a B, you can consider the bells and whistles of the modern storage facility such as new security systems, fancier door locks, pay-at-the-gate kiosk, etc.

Looking Good

Many times Ive heard someone say, I let things go because I planned on doing a major overhaul later. The longer you wait, the more expensive maintenance becomes. Damage to buildings through neglect happens exponentially. Pay a little now or a lot more later. Major upgrades are kept to minor tune-ups through three steps:

1. Identify items requiring routine maintenance. Most mechanical items require regular attention: air conditioners, automatic gates, golf carts, swamp coolers, etc. Follow local and national ordinances for safety features. For example, fire extinguishers need charging, fire sprinklers require back flow tests and elevators need testing verified by a yearly visit from your local fire marshal. If tests are not documented, fines could be imposed. Fire officials will also inspect emergency-lights, check battery backups, assure fire doors close properly, and make sure exit routes are properly identified.

Conduct roof inspections yearly; clean gutters twice a year. Scheduling a painter for a property touch-up every six months can double the time between paintings by addressing peeling or failing paint before it becomes widespread. Finally, check light fixtures regularly and replace bulbs as necessary.

2. Create and post a maintenance schedule in a prominent place, checking off items as completed. Divide it into monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual inspections.

3. If it gets dirty, clean it. When something breaks or is damaged, fix it. Avoid taking shortcuts in repairs. Dont let a little problem grow into a monster. Remember the longer you wait, the more peripheral damage will occur and the more expensive it ultimately becomes. 

Andrew Fawcett is president of Accent Building Restoration Inc. With locations in 15 states, the company offers complete property services including all phases of cosmetic remodeling, construction services, interior and exterior painting, wall covering, drywall repair and texturing, floor covering, stucco and siding repair, elastomeric waterproofing, as well as a completely customized building and property maintenance program. For more information, call 888.705.2321; visit www.abrpaint.com

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