By Dan Curtis
For a self-storage owner, choosing the right door and getting the most value for the money is a decision that will be lived with as long as a facility is owned. Before making such an important decision, the buyer must take time to research the market, learning what makes one self-storage door more valuable than another. With increased competition, care is required in selecting doors, as well as choosing the right company to supply and install them.
Generally, there are five stages of self-storage ownership:
- Investigating whether to enter the business.
- Building or purchasing a facility.
- Making start-up and operational decisions.
- Ongoing operation and success.
- Preparing to sell.
Investigating the Market
In considering self-storage, don't be fooled into thinking of it as a passive investment. Owners must be familiar with the operation of their projects, and be able to share their knowledge with managers and others involved. Early on, owners need to be involved in the selection of all construction materials. There is no need to start from scratch, as all the necessary resources are available for the asking.
Potential buyers can see the products of the major manufacturers at industry tradeshows. Try the doors, investigating the benefits and features of each one. Be wary of manufacturers who have no product to show. Talk to present owners and ask what company they use or recommend. Ask if the manufacturer is able to supply and erect hallways and partitions for interiors. Visit competitive facilities and talk to owners and operators. Learn how they run their facilities and what construction products they use. This could save you considerable time and money down the line.
Buying or Building
In buying or building self-storage facilities, the difficult decisions are those regarding important construction features: maintenance, appearance, cost, service, life expectancy and options. These will strongly affect the fourth and fifth phases of ownership. Listen to contractors, but be careful about using information acquired at tradeshows or from personal discussion with door representatives. Contractors are most often concerned with price over long-term value.
During the '60s and '70s, many projects were built with sectional doors. These are upward-acting, sliding back into the building and taking up valuable storage space. They were chosen instead of roll-up doors because they were believed to be less expensive. Now, many owners would love to replace them, but continue to struggle with sectionals for fear of expensive replacement costs. But if they replaced the doors a few at a time, the change could be possible without a great deal of immediate expense. At some point, those doors should be replaced regardless. Sectional doors get old and their springs wear out. They are susceptible to breaking and slamming.
When buying or building self-storage, always keep value as a priority. Doors are now offered by most companies with a 20-year, no-fade warranty. Anyone with 12-year-old doors can report just how important this is to them. Repainting can cost from $25 to $35 for each door (which will likely require painting yet again in the not-too-distant future).
Many door manufacturers offer an easy tension-adjusting feature. One person can easily and safely adjust the spring tension on a door. This feature was first offered three years ago, and has been extremely well accepted by owners and customers. Doors that operate smoothly keep customers and encourage them to tell their friends about the facility. Doors that are difficult to operate discourage customers and, worse, may cause an injury to a tenant's or manager's back. Doors without enough tension can also fall unexpectedly, presenting another hazard.
New Operator Startup
All doors should be checked for proper adjustment. Each one should be pulled halfway up, then let go. If the door falls, it needs more tension. If it rises rapidly, it needs tension taken off the springs. Usually, most door problems will become evident within the first two months following installation, and most manufacturers are eager to take care of installation problems. The overwhelming majority of difficulties involve either spring adjustments or clearances in setting the width of the guides. All manufacturers give clearance requirements in their installation instructions. Because the door company supplies and installs the hallways for interior climate-controlled units, these need to be checked for stength and alignment before acceptance. All doors and partitions should be cleaned and free from defects upon completion.
Operating a Successful Facility
Normally, very little maintenance is required on doors, hallways and partitions. After the first year, it should be very easy to follow this simple procedure:
- Clean any dust or dirt out of the guides or side rails, then spray them with Armor All® as it does not attract dirt.
- With a 7/16 hand wrench, make certain all 1/4-inch nuts are tight on head stops, bottom bars and slide-bolt locks.
- From the inside and with the door closed to about 6 inches off the floor, spray the springs with white lithium grease. Some doors may have only one spring. A full covering of the spring is not necessary. Use white lithium because it does not evaporate and lasts a long time.
These three simple steps should be repeated every time the unit is re-rented. Improvement in the door's operation will be immediately evident. Newer doors with a tension-adjustment feature can be adjusted with a 3/8-inch rod. The only other maintenance job required is a yearly cleaning of all exterior doors with a steam cleaner (but be careful not to spray inside a unit). Also as part of a yearly spring cleaning, interior hallways should be dusted and the floor cleaned.
Always remember that once people decide to store with you, there are four needs they expect to have satisfied:
- Good security.
- No bugs or rodents in the unit.
- No water or moisture seeping into the unit.
- A clean and bright appearance.
These four issues may explain why some projects have high occupancy and rental rates while nearby competitors must offer lower rates.
Components Supplied by Door Companies
It is important to be knowledgeable about all of the items supplied by door manufacturers:
- Doors--Roll-up and interior swing doors. Swing doors are available flush or corrugated.
- Filler Panels--Exterior corrugated or flush.
- Header Panels-- Exterior corrugated or flush.
- Mullions--Exterior to match doors and divide large openings.
- Hallways--Flush columns with flush or corrugated header panels.
- Partitions--Galvalume-plus for a bright appearance.
- Light Soffet--To mount fluorescent lights for a bright appearance.
- Kick Plate--12 inches high at floor to keep carts from damaging hallways.
Most of the quality manufacturers use a siliconized polyester paint system. The metal-building industry has used this paint system for years, but it has only been available for doors over the past three years. It is the paint manufacturer who guarantees the paint, and the majority of the 20 or so colors offered are guaranteed against fading for 20 years. White and other lighter colors generally carry the 20-year guarantee. Darker colors have a shorter no-fade life. Door manufacturers should be happy to transfer this guarantee to their customers, as Kynar and Floropon paints are soft by composition and do not withstand the abrasion roll-up doors endure.
Most door suppliers offer installation and a complete line of products. Ten years ago, a magazine article was published concerning the bad experiences that can be involved in purchasing self-storage doors, but it was written about a manufacturer who is no longer in business. Today, manufacturers are senstive to customer needs and attitudes. As a group, they do their best to supply good products and service.
If you follow the suggestions provided in this article, your experience with purchasing and maintaining doors can be satisfying and your investment a sound one. When the time comes to operate or sell your facility, you can expect a very respectable profit.
Dan B. Curtis is the president of Altanta-based Storage Consulting & Marketing, which provides feasibility, unit-mix, layout and marketing ideas to professionals of the self-storage industry. For more information, call 77.432.2417; e-mail [email protected].