By Louis Gilmore
For decades, the basic formula for successful self-storage development was, “If you build it, they will come.” Facilities built in the '70s and '80s lacked architectural flavor and used cookie-cutter-style buildings. They remained rented without challenge or objection. Today, however, we operate in markets with an average of seven competitors in a 5-mile radius. There is almost always a new face on the block, and you better bet the new face looks better than the old ones. As competition heats up, facility aesthetics become a greater factor in renters’ decision-making process. Modern facility designs include materials like brick, stucco and glass. Structures are accented with dormers and mansards, giving the renter a sense of class.
They Made Me Do It!
With a little help from your friends, i.e., the elected officials in your town, you may find your office looking more like the Louvre, your landscaping like Augusta National, and your signage like a mile marker. Gone are the days when you could just throw up a building you won at a tradeshow. Today’s planners require submittal packages that include material samples, color selections and architectural elevations.
It is not uncommon to face written restrictions such as, “No doors shall be visible” or “Buildings shall not have a flat roof.” Often, you will see a contradicting requirement, like a full landscape buffer in front of buildings accented with split-faced block piers. You’ll spend money to make the buildings look great, then you’ll have to hide them with shrubs and berms. The beautiful storage facility across town may not have been funded by the shade-tree committee, but the owners sure feel the costly effects of the board’s ideas.
I Did It Myself
It is refreshing to see the new generation of self-storage developers working to smash the boring box concept. Owner/developers are voluntarily creating a brand image by putting money and effort into the curb appeal of their stores. Major operators or franchises in our industry, such as Storage USA, Shurgard and Uncle Bob’s, have created an image for themselves with icons such as lighthouses or unique color schemes. Single-store developers have copied these concepts, creating attractive appearances that give a franchise feel without the fees. While many will argue there is no brand loyalty in the storage business, the investment in image is, without question, consumer-oriented.
The Office Is the Showcase
A storage prospect’s decision to rent a unit is ultimately made in the office. This is where he formulates his perception of your business and decides whether to trust you with his valuables. It is where he may abandon you, if his expectations—based on information in your Yellow Pages ad or website—are not met. Prospects will be frightened away by a lack of security, old technology, neglected maintenance, foul odors, even poor lighting. At the same time, his perception of your facility can easily be improved right from the start.
Modifications and upgrades to the office can include replacing the shag rug with tile flooring, clearing out the clutter, adding windows, replace ceiling tiles, switching to a flat-screen monitor, or incorporating some plants. The office environment should assist the manager in overcoming any objections renters have without involving explanations or comparisons to other facilities. At all times during the design and decoration of your office, consider whether you, as a tenant, would be comfortable.
What Can I Do About It?
Antiquated facilities are not easily revitalized or reshaped. Often, a comprehensive refurbishment of the entire property is required. A facility that has been around for 20 years is a prime candidate for repaving, office renovation, repainting, new doors, landscaping, modernized signage, and upgrades to gates, keypads, cameras and monitors. The hottest trend in renovations is adding climate-controlled units to the mix. Reconfiguration of existing buildings with the addition hallway systems, insulation and HVAC equipment can recharge old bins into first-class storage.
Whether you are planning a new project or budgeting money to restore an existing one, there is always a way to improve your facility’s image. Take a good look at what tenants see when they approach your business. Is it a face anyone could love?
Louis Gilmore is sales manager for Pennsylvania- based Miller Building Systems Inc., which has designed, supplied and installed selfstorage buildings since 1976. The company specializes in climate-controlled and multistory buildings. It recently introduced a division that renovates existing buildings and provides solutions to aging structures. Services include re-roofing, door repairs, climate-control conversions, and roof and wall coatings. For more information, call 800.323.6464, ext. 104; visit www.millerbldgs.com.