In the retail market, it is not uncommon for a store owner to remodel every season. This is done with merchandise displays, marketing materials and new inventory. We all know the end caps in retail outlets (displays of merchandise at the end of sales aisles) are filled with the highest-margin products. You can bet this is no coincidence. Retailers claim nearly 80 percent of all impulse buying comes from these end caps. Lighting, ease of pathway to the cash register and line of sight to sales personnel all help to achieve greater sales in these high mark-up or "teaser" items. A good retail store seems to always have a different look each time the shopper visits.
In self-storage, we do not have the luxury of making huge improvements by just changing displays, and the cost of a major renovation is likely to be very significant. So, let's consider the essentials for keeping your facility up-to-date.
How many times have you heard the saying "You only get one chance to make a first impression"? If you are a self-storage owner or supervisor, you have probably used this adage when training employees who answer your phone. When it comes to the appearance of your facility, make certain your customer's first impression is your "Sunday best."
Signage should be clean (yes, signs need to be cleaned), the lighting optimal (all bulbs burning brightly at night) and graphics and logos up-to-date. Make certain your building/street number is clearly visible and parking and pathways to the office are easy to find. Landscaping should be clean and manicured; there should be no bare spots, debris or overgrowth. Make certain the driveway and sidewalk to the office are clean, level and free of debris. Clean the cracks in the sidewalk. Make sure welcome mats are clean and the door is clean and freshly painted.
Once the door opens, the prospective tenant should find all widow coverings open, allowing in as much natural light as possible. In addition, every light in your office should be turned on. Your customers should not be walking into a self-storage "cave." Have you ever been to Wal-Mart and seen the lights turned out? One of the biggest sins you can commit is maintaining inadequate lighting--it is unprofessional and unnecessary. If your overhead lighting is insufficient, add track or halogen lights.
Make certain the paint in your office is fresh and the furniture is clean and in repair. If chairs are broken or damaged, replace them. If the desks are old and tired, get rid of them. The counter should be clean and free of debris. There should be only business cards, collateral material and perhaps a lock display on the counter. When the prospect looks toward the salesperson, there should be no personal effects visible.
Allowing employees or customers to bring their pets into the office is simply inappropriate. If you have ever gone into a local fast-food restaurant, heard heavy-metal music playing and were waited on by a teenager with green hair and a pierced eyebrow, you probably had a negative impression of that business. Similarly, to a great number of prospects, pets in the office send an equally unprofessional message.
Make certain there are no handwritten signs in your office. First, signs should be kept to a minimum. But if a message is important enough to be in writing, make certain the signs are professionally done. Use card stock, and use a type style that is easy to read. (You've probably noticed that signs at popular department stores are easy to read and the backgrounds clearly emphasize the message.) Finally, have signs laminated. This is very inexpensive and well worth the effort. Frame the signs if possible.
Perhaps the office really does need a facelift and you want to consider a remodel. One of the first things to consider is the way professional office or retail spaces use a lot of glass. Look at designs that will allow you to remove walls and replace them with glass partitions or windows. Your layout should include a large retail area for displaying boxes and moving supplies. There should also be a lobby area for guests to wait if other customers are being served. The total square footage of the office should not be less than 300 square feet.
The front door should look directly at the salesperson or manager, and video monitors should be enclosed in displays that emphasize and create a sense of security. Never should the monitors be set on desks or tables with wires visible. The recorder should be in a secure place. If a smart burglar breaks into the office, the first thing he will want to steal is the recording device that catches him on tape.
There should be a combination of incandescent and fluorescent lighting in the office, with fluorescent in areas where contracts are signed. (I recommend a kiosk for signing the contract, which compels the manager to come out from behind the counter to meet the customer and "sign the deal.") Spotlights should shine on the slat boards or display racks containing merchandise.
The floor covering should be nonslip tile with a complementing dark grout so it always looks clean and is easy to maintain. Carpet inserts can be used to soften the look and feel.
The office should never be located behind a gate. Why would you want to create a barrier of that magnitude between you and prospective tenants? If this mistake was made during original construction, it may be the most costly to fix. In many cases, it may be best to relocate the entire office.
If you feel it is incorrect to draw connections between self-storage and retail environments, perhaps you have not noticed the direction of the industry. These days, only misconceived projects or those precluded by zoning are off the beaten path or in an industrial park. The traffic counts and demographics for self-storage site selection are directly competing with retailers. While many storage operations cannot afford the same advantageous positioning, you should notice we are getting very close to big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. Construction standards for the large storage operators are similar to those of sales offices and retail stores, and this is no mistake.
RK Kliebenstein is president of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Coast-To-Coast Storage. A frequent writer and speaker for the self-storage industry, he consults with owners and operators on store operations, site selection and feasibility. He can be reached at 561.367.9241; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.askrk.com.