By Bruce Jordan
Building luxury storage is all about being responsive to a certain set of market conditions, designing for customers’ needs, and eliminating barriers to new business. It is not about white-gloved attendants catering the storage experience, but making customers feel welcome, secure and positive.
Since the darker ages—a time when dark, confined, cluttered and poorly apportioned offices were the self-storage norm—we have developed a much clearer understanding of the average customer. Here is what we know:
- The majority of self-storage customers are female.
- An aesthetic architectural design will be looked on more favorably by the local community.
- Self-storage is more a retail than an industrial use.
- A sense of order contributes to a person’s perception of security.
- Colors also influence people’s perception, and bright, cheerful spaces are preferred over dark, dingy ones.
The “best of the best” facilities will consider all these factors in their design. The goal is to maximize the positive attributes and minimize the negative ones. Well-designed facility will have higher absorption rates and potentially higher rental rates, retain more customers, and wear better over their lifetimes.
As self-storage projects have found their way out of industrial zones and into commercial centers, aesthetics and design have played an increasingly key role. Since the majority of new projects undergo scrutiny by a planning commission or design-review board, it becomes important to have an architecturally responsive design to obtain approvals.
Luxury self-storage starts with the street facade, office and entryway. These areas are most obvious to the public and will set a facility apart from competition. A facility with curb appeal and attractive architecture is more likely to be remembered by prospective tenants and accepted by the community. Attention to detail will result in a more pleasant and functional space that provides managers a better work environment.
The entry sequence should be obvious and straightforward. The office should occupy the most prominent position so customers know exactly where to go. A colorful, well-landscaped entry and walkway will make a good first impression.
When customers arrive, they should be able to see into the office through large windows. High ceilings and taller windows all contribute to a more luxurious office without a significant increase in cost. They also introduce more natural light into the office while giving managers more outward visibility. An open office is more inviting, user-friendly and allows for better display of the retail area, interior signage and logos.
When a customer enters the office, he should be facing the service counter and manager. An attractive backdrop to the counter provides an opportunity to showcase the security system, facility logos, an American flag or even some fresh-cut flowers. Ample counter space and storage allows for an uncluttered, organized appearance. The retail areas should make use of color and lighting and accentuate displays.
A small seating area will allow patrons to be comfortable and review rental agreements at a leisurely pace. Some facilities have even had success with work stations, where customers can make calls or plug in a laptop computer. Consider adding a small play area for children, which is a great way to showcase that 5-by-5 show unit. A conference room is another possible addition, particularly in urban markets and those with a higher percentage of businesses. It can be used by customers accessing business or personal documents, and can include a refreshment area with coffee, bottled water and maybe a few items from the local bakery.
If the facility has a wine-storage area, it should be visible from the service counter to effectively market the space. Wine storage is increasing in popularity in luxury facilities. While it isn’t suitable for every market, and can certainly add to a facility’s ambiance.
Finally, office size is an important consideration and should be related to the size of the facility. A large office would be 2,000 to 2,500 square feet; a medium-size office would be 1,200 to 2,000 square feet; and a small office will be approximately 600 to 1,200 square feet. It stands to reason a facility of 130,000 square feet will have more traffic than a facility of half that size and require a larger office.
Contextual or thematic architecture becomes more important as more cities strive to preserve the historical basis of their communities. Furthermore, horizontal and vertical offsets, towers, cupolas, eye-catching materials and colorful landscaping are far more interesting than flat facades and bland color schemes.
Facility access points should be architecturally accentuated so customers know exactly where to park and enter the facility. A colorful canopy or a change in color or materials will make the entry more prominent. Entry gates are a key aspect of a facility’s curb appeal and can also be functional. For example, double entry gates separated by pilasters can work as kiosks. Not only do they separate entering and exiting vehicles, they can contain keypads, video screens, intercoms and seasonal signage. Landscaping can be added to the kiosk area for a colorful touch.
While a spacious office and great curb appeal contribute to the luxury feel of a facility, less obvious areas are equally important. For example, access and loading areas can be critical to a facility’s success, particularly in the case of urban multistory sites. These spots should be well-lit, secure and colorful. A canopy-covered loading area is a great place to secure lighting, security cameras, and speakers for intercoms and piped music. It should also include lots of room for maneuvering, convenient cart storage and direct access to elevators for customer convenience.
Consider using a suspended ceiling system with integral lighting in elevator lobbies to make these areas more user-friendly. An exterior window will introduce natural light and give customers better orientation. Also consider adding intercoms to these locations and at prominent hallway intersections to give patrons a greater sense of safety.
Luxury self-storage is not about designing the Ritz; it’s about carefully considering the customer and making the experience as satisfying as possible. Some will say luxury storage is too expensive as well as unnecessary. In certain markets, that will be the case. In a majority of markets, however, luxury storage can be achieved by careful planning, attention to detail and only a relatively small increase in cost.
The economics of a shorter absorption period, higher rental rates and more stable overall facility will usually balance the increase in construction costs. In markets dense with storage sites, luxury storage can be the best way the beat the competition.
Bruce Jordan is president of San Clemente, Calif.-based Jordan Architects Inc., a full-service architectural firm specializing in the design and entitlement of self-storage projects. For more information, call 949.388.8090; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.jordanarchitects.com.