By Matt Morgan
Since 1985, self-storage owners Joe and Lolita Bader have been specializing in self-storage unit-door numbering through their Corpus Christi, Texas-based business, Quik# - Door Numbers. The Baders, whose business manufactures computer-generated, pre-spaced, vinyl, adhesive numbers, recently spoke with ISS about door numbers and unit sequencing.
ISS: Why would the numbering of units be something an owner should consider seriously?
Joe: You certainly want to consider this, and it certainly makes your facility look more professional. When I first started in the business, I numbered around the building, 1 through 88. The next phase of my operation extended that building, and I had to renumber because I then had 88 consecutive units and an extension. Starting at number 89 in the middle of a building made no sense at all.
Lolita: Every unit has to have a number so your customer knows where to find his unit. That's one of those things you want to do right the first time and never think about again. You want it to look good and you want it to do the job.
ISS: What are the various types of door numbers available?
Joe: First, there are painted numbers, which is the old way of doing things. A lot of facility owners still have their numbers painted on, or they go out with a stencil and paint the numbers on themselves. Then there's an engraved plastic type of number, and that's been around a long time. It's a small piece of plastic that's engraved by a machine. Finally, there's vinyl, which is probably the most popular way of putting on the numbers. That's using a very thin--paper-thin, almost--grade of vinyl that has an adhesive back and is pre-spaced by a computer; or you can go to vinyl numbers available at a lumber yard or home-improvement center. They won't be pre-spaced, but you can stick them on the building. For rougher surfaces where you want to use vinyl, an aluminum plate comes with the number already on it.
ISS: What are the advantages or disadvantages of each number type?
Joe: The first thing I would recommend is to talk to other facility owners about how they numbered their units. The advantages of having the numbers painted on--especially if you hire a sign painter--is that it takes one call. If you call a good sign shop, they can come out and do it very simply for you. Quality really depends on the material they are using--which may be good or bad paint that lasts a long time or does not--and the artistic talent of the sign painter.
The advantage to engraved plastic is the engraving is going to last pretty much forever, as long as the plastic lasts. Like paint or vinyl, quality means almost everything. Most of the engraved plastics I have seen have been riveted onto the door. It takes a little bit more time--you've got to drill the rivet holes into the door and then rivet the plastic. One of the problems I've seen there is--especially when it's placed at shoulder height--often, with rivets, there is a small piece of sharp metal that comes out and can catch on people's clothing.
Size equals cost here. With a small number, it is very price-competitive. But with a larger number engraved in plastic, there is more engraving, and more plastic, so that increases the price.
On metal buildings, vinyl numbering is probably one of the best options. It's pre-spaced by a computer. 3M says it has a life of seven years. It's a long-lasting product. Because it's computer generated, it's always going to look professional. It's hard to apply these numbers wrong.
It just doesn't make any sense for a facility owner who's going to be in the business for more than five years to use anything but the very top-of-the-line product. If you put on an inexpensive grade of vinyl, you'll have to peel it off more often, and that's a lot of trouble and expense.
ISS: What are the costs of the various number types?
Joe: As long as we're talking about relatively small sizes--up to maybe 4 inches--the three options are going to be real comparable. There's not going to be a whole lot of difference in cost one way or the other. When you're talking about putting a vinyl number on concrete or wood where the surface might be porous, the aluminum plate is going to add a little bit more expense. But it also adds a nice finished look to the numbers.
ISS: What sizes and colors are available?
Joe: Today, there are almost 100 colors available--a number of different shades of any color. With all the computer fonts out there, we recommend you use a bold, block typestyle, because you want your numbers to be easily read and understood by your tenants. But there are thousands of type styles.
At least 80 percent of our business has requested a 2-inch bold number. On a 25-foot driveway, a 2-inch number is easily read. If you've got a 60-foot driveway for RV or boat storage, you may need a larger number.
Lolita: When it comes to colors, what we suggest business owners think about is this: If they know the name of the company they ordered their doors from, we've got several of the door companies' color charts and we can match our vinyl to their door color--or come very close. That way, they can put them above their doors and it really looks good.
ISS: Do you have any tips for buying numbers?
Joe: In terms of quantity, the building owner is just going to buy what he needs. The problem with buying numbers at an office-supply or home-supply store, in terms of quantity, is they look great when you are numbering the first 99 units. But there are only a certain number of 1s on each sheet. After you reach 100, every unit includes a number 1, so that becomes a problem. Then you have to buy a lot of sheets to get all the 1s you need.
Lolita: One of the biggest tips we have suggested to people in regard to their numbering is, if they're beginning with a first phase and will continue adding phases later, they really need to look at what their overall end result is going to be. In other words, decide on your entire numbering system in advance. The second tip we suggest is to know if you're going to have a gate-system entry, or code number or computer system that's going to be able to manage your tenant location.
Joe: For instance, if your software will only work with the numeric system, instead of lettering a building A101, you might think of numbering it 1001, so that you've got a numeric system throughout.
Lolita: Making it easy on the customer and manager, and keeping the system compatible with software so they can work in sync, are things an owner should keep in mind when he starts his numbering system.
ISS: How long do vinyl numbers last?
Joe: At our facility in south Texas, which gets probably as much heat and humidity as anywhere in the country, our numbers have been up for 14 years, and they still look good. You get what you pay for in vinyl because the quality of the manufacturing is really what's important in terms of the adhesive and the vinyl itself. One of the problems with this is not the price of purchasing the new numbers. The problem is removing the old numbers and getting the adhesive off, which is time-consuming.
Lolita: When you talk about the lower-quality vinyl--and probably also stenciling--you might not have to pay in the beginning, but you're going to pay in the end. If you use a low-quality vinyl, your adhesive won't stick as long, and the colors will fade. You want something that's going to look good and last for a long time--for years and years.
ISS: Do numbers fade? How often do they need to be replaced?
Joe: Ideally, you would not have to replace numbers but every 15 years. For any of these, there is no maintenance. You just put them up and leave them.
Anywhere in the country, if you use a dark number, like a dark blue or black, you're pretty safe. Red and maybe the light blues will fade. Certainly, you want a good, strong contrast between the background and the number. The more sun you have, the more fading you're going to have. The color on a black or a dark blue number will last longer than 15 years.
ISS: What's the procedure for replacing and applying numbers?
Joe: We've struggled with this for a long time ourselves. It's a very time-consuming and difficult process to peel numbers off. We had a hot-water pressure-washer company come out, and found that with 210-degree water and about 3,500 pounds for pressure, you can knock the numbers off with a sprayer. That is so much faster than peeling them off.
After you get the numbers off, you need to use an adhesive remover. Use a piece of plastic, like a credit card, put the adhesive remover on there, scrape it and then wipe it off with a paper towel.
Lolita: When you're putting vinyl onto metal, simply take water and alcohol in a bottle and spray the surface you're about to apply the number to so it's clean, and wipe that off with a dust cloth. The number itself will come with a paper backing and a taped front. You'll peel off the backing, place the number directly onto the metal building, take a credit card or squeegee, wipe over the number and pull the tape off. It's a very simple method.
When you're putting vinyl numbers onto a metal building, Scotch suggests that the surface be at 45 degrees or warmer, so if you're putting this on in the middle of winter when it's 32 degrees, you can still put the numbers on.
Just take a hair dryer or heat gun and heat the metal for about a minute and put the number on.
If you've got a concrete building, stucco, brick or unpainted wood, the vinyl number is not going to stick. What we do is put those numbers onto an aluminum plate, which comes in various shades and colors. The way to adhere the aluminum to the building is to punch holes and screw it on; or the simplest, most economical way is to place two beads of construction adhesive (from a caulking gun) to the back and simply press it on.