By Doug Carner
Your storage facility has an established community presence and is nearly full. So why should you care about modernization? It makes financial sense. Upgrading is a capital investment that optimizes the value of a facility and reduces operating expenses while increasing income and improving your marketing advantage. If your facility is earning less than $200 per unit per year in bottom-line profit, it is time to renovate and raise your rents. Even if you already receive a healthy return on your investment, you can increase revenues by incorporating a few simple upgrades.
The most important upgrade is also the most frequently ignored: the enhancement of the customer-service experience. Improving tenant convenience is the ultimate facility upgrade. There are a few simple modernizations that can produce an amazing effect on your bottom line.
The most desirable customer-service upgrade is the addition of an automated attendant, or kiosk, which has become a welcome part of everyday life, from the bank ATM to the state-lottery terminal. Hundreds of kiosks are in active service at storage facilities nationwide. The newest models are designed for outdoor use and greet customers before they enter your facility.
A kiosk can handle the entire move-in process, including the rental contract, tenant insurance, payment collection, assigning a gate code and dispensing a door lock. Most models even accept cash. Small storage locations can install a kiosk in lieu of hiring a resident manager. Larger facilities can supplement their labor with these 24/7 sentinels of customer service. A good kiosk system should cost less than $7 a day.
Now let’s consider your facility’s curb appeal. Since you see your business every day, seek the opinion of fresh eyes. Ask a friend or a realtor what kind of first impression your business makes. If the facility looks outdated or dark, think about adding a fresh coat of paint and colorful trim. A simple rain awning above your frontage units can add color and impact.
Consider adding a nice facade to the exterior of your rental office. Although this will not increase your usable square footage, it will present visual pizzazz that entices drivers to notice you. Make this frontage part of your marketing efforts by adding a sign, but use a minimalist approach to avoid a cluttered appearance. If your sign cannot be seen from the main road, add a freestanding billboard instead.
Next, look at your landscaping. Are your trees and shrubs due for pruning? Have your plants become aged or oversized? Foliage should balance a facility’s stark walls and repetitive doors. Select plants and trees appropriate for your climate, produce color in the spring, and have minimal growth throughout the year. If you plan to add additional landscaping, it must enhance but never obscure your frontage, and should not provide a means for thieves to scale your perimeter.
Walk around your facility at night and look for places where a thief could hide. If you see a dark corner or driveway, consider an upgrade to your lighting. Use metal halide lights to shine on perimeter areas and driveways. Replace incandescent light fixtures with bright energy- efficient florescent units. Your business will look safer, and newer, energy-friendly fixtures can reduce your total electric bills.
You can enhance a tenant’s impression of personal security by adding intercom stations at elevator lobbies and near outdoor light fixtures. Music-paging speakers are also a plus. These are wired systems with wireless options for hard-to-reach zones.
This would also be a good time to review your video surveillance. Replace older black-and-white cameras with high-resolution, lowlight, color models. Wall-mounted dome housings, unlike box housings, will disguise the camera’s actual direction of view as well as discourage vandalism. Replace office and lobby cameras with specialty versions that will not be blinded by direct sunlight and can see in total darkness.
The newest cameras are “auto-trackers” that will automatically pan, tilt and zoom in on any motion. This means a pole-mounted camera will capture a clear, zoomed view of a license plate as a car enters your property. Then, this same camera will automatically swing around for a facial close-up as the person enters your lobby or office. Tenants and would-be thieves see this camera motion and know they are being monitored. You can even have any after-hours motion trigger a siren and summon for an armed response. These new cameras are like having a salary-free security guard on duty 24/7.
Most of your security upgrades will be transparent to tenants and may not translate into a marketing advantage or higher rentals. For example, switching from a time-lapse video recorder to a digital system improves playback clarity and off-site monitoring; but your tenants may never see this. However, if your video system supports individual camera passwords, you can promote this improvement. For example, it allows a tenant storing an RV on your premises to view his vehicle via the Internet at any time.
Modern drive-up access keypads become a marketing upgrade when a tenant can insert his driver’s license as a gate code or his credit card for a delinquent rent payment. Commercial-grade keypads have the familiar telephone-style metal keys, while older keypads have rubber or plastic keys that are vulnerable to abuse. Cheaper keypads use flat-panel keys vandals can render unreadable with a simple can of spray paint. If keypads look cheap or vulnerable to your eye, they will to your tenants’ as well.
Individual door alarms are a great upgrade and an income source. Hard-wired alarms are completely hidden from tenants, but wireless models serve as a visual crime deterrent. Some wireless systems allow you to purchase alarms as needed, renting them only to the tenants who want premium security. The newest solutions have moved away from the crowded 900 MHz band and can operate for almost 20 years between battery changes.
Unauthorized door openings, after-hours movement, or the interruption of perimeter beams can invoke a security system to respond. Sirens are standard but only effective if someone is close enough to hear them and attentive enough to care. Telephone dialers and remote monitoring are useful, but only when timely help can arrive. Your security system should have several levels of self-sufficiency to automatically disable exits, activate floodlights and capture a video record of the entire event. There are hundreds of potential response con- figurations, and a skilled security vendor should be able to propose upgrade options to match your specific needs.
Some facility upgrades are easily wrapped into a larger maintenance project. For example, if your driveways need resurfacing, consider adding bollards to protect the corners of your building. If your perimeter chain-link fence needs repairs, consider switching to a more attractive, wrought-iron fence.
Another upgrade is the addition of a profit center. Consider converting a portion of your rental office into additional retail space. Move your historical tenant records, maintenance supplies and other office nonessentials into a company unit. Now push the manager’s counter back a few feet, and use the newly open floor space to sell boxes, tapes, dollies, markers and moving organizers.
Even if your office space is limited, you can add wine-rack-style shelving behind the counter. Each shelf then becomes a rentable mailbox drop unit, producing hundreds of dollars in additional monthly revenue. As you expand your traffic flow and tracked units, confirm your management and access products are not limiting your capacity to grow.
Another upgrade opportunity involves the use of your undeveloped land. Consider incorporating another business, such as a drive-thru car wash or a convenience store, which can complement the self-storage business model. Or you can simply level the ground and offer RV parking. You gain yet another income source while offering more reasons for potential customers to visit your facility.
With each upgrade option you consider, ask yourself if the capital investment required will optimize the value of your facility, increase income, reduce operating expenses and improve your marketing advantage. Skilled vendors can guide you through your options and ease their implementation.
Doug Carner is a former member of Self Storage Association’s Western region board of directors. He is also the vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance, and kiosk and corporate products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.