There’s an old adage about tackling daunting chores: “If you have to swallow a frog, don’t stare at it too long. If you have to swallow two frogs, swallow the biggest one first.” When it comes to maintaining an attractive office and facility interior, the preferred plan is to swallow a bunch of tadpoles every day, thereby never having to choke down a bulky adult amphibian at all.
Sticking to a list of regularly performed duties is the best way to keep the job manageable, advises Thomas Berlin, vice president of operations for Pogoda Management Co. in Farmington Hills, Mich. “Maintenance is a daily task, from picking up trash in the store to cleaning fingerprints off the front window. The only way to stay on top of it is to do it every single day. If it gets away from you, it can really become overwhelming.”
In today’s highly competitive self-storage marketplace, first impressions have never been more important. A temptation to procrastinate with the mop and broom could lead to lost leases. A prospective customer may walk into the office and not even consciously think, “This place is dirty.” But he may get a feeling of unease because the retail area is disorganized, a light is burnt out, or a Big Gulp cup is abandoned on a dusty display.
“I think customers notice everything, even things managers don’t, because the managers are looking at them every single day,” Berlin says. “The trick is to look at things with a fresh eye, the way customers do.”
Building a List
Maintenance checklists are a frog-hating employee’s best friend. Every management company uses them, structuring them in various ways. Susan Head of North Carolina-based S&W Property Management uses daily, weekly, monthly, annual and preventive lists. She suggests a checklist arrangement that includes tasks to complete, the date they are completed, whether the tasks are D, W, Q or S (daily, weekly, quarterly or seasonal), and managers’ comments.
Ray McRae of Arizona Mini Storage Management Co. also uses seasonal checklists to cover air-conditioning and evaporative cooling in the springtime, and weed abatement after the rainy season. McRae says the important thing about developing an effective list is to incorporate what you learn during the inspection process, adding and subtracting tasks as necessary. (Please see the accompanying sample checklist compiled from several management companies, which may offer new ideas for your own maintenance roster.)
The front office should project a warm, welcoming and orderly image. Donna May of Texas-based Joshua Management Corp. likes to use air-fresheners in the office and entryways to appeal to a tenant’s senses. Berlin has discovered that carpeting enhances a customer’s experience while facilitating maintenance. “We found hard surfaces far more difficult to take care of because they get wet and dirty, and you have to use a cleaning agent and water on them. With carpeting, all you have to do is run a vacuum once a day, plus it looks better.”
Dusting and stocking retail areas, displays and office equipment are routine parts of the job. One thing that sometimes gets overlooked is signage. Don’t forget to periodically inspect office, corridor and unit signs for wear, stains or outdated information, and replace them when necessary, Berlin advises. Aside from watching for burnt-out bulbs in the office, check lighting at night to ensure signs and the entrance are casting the right impression.
Computer maintenance has become a required task as well. Many facilities produce a separate checklist for computers, which includes backing up data and regularly updating virus software. Piped-in music, used to dispel eeriness in often empty buildings, is emerging as a customerpleasing amenity—and represents more equipment for managers to monitor. Include the PA system on your list of office equipment.
To prevent dust buildup, periodically wipe down hallways and doors, at least every quarter but preferably monthly. “White walls reflect more light and brighten interior hallways,” says May. “But if there is exposed Galvalume, hallways can be damaged by oils from people’s hands. This is called ‘white rust.’ Regular cleaning is a great preventive measure.”
Mel Holsinger, president of Arizona-based Professional Self Storage Management, recommends using music and air-fresheners in hallways, and having trashcans available for customers’ smaller refuse.
Corridor and unit floors in climate-controlled buildings should be sealed, using a product that is 22 percent solids, says May. The solids fill the pores in the concrete so the sealant stays on top. Concrete should be resealed about every five years.
While May recommends mopping floors at least monthly, Berlin suggests minimizing the use of water near units to reduce the risk of it seeping under doors. Employees at Pogoda properties use a floor polisher for hallways and simply sweep and spot-clean unit interiors, whereas staff at McRae’s facilities actually wax concrete hallways. “It adds a nice, impressive and clean feel to any project,” he says.
When a tenant vacates a unit, managers should spring into action, inspecting and readying it for quick re-rental. “If possible, the manager should go over the unit with the vacating customer to get his feedback on its condition and spot any problems,” Holsinger says.
Naturally, basic cleaning is required, as well as ensuring doors and latches operate smoothly. When sweeping units, Head says managers should take a broom to the walls, ceiling and doors. “A task managers sometimes overlook is checking the ceilings for damage, leaks and cobwebs,” she says. McRae agrees, noting the vacate inspection should include a search for torn insulation or any light shining through the ceiling, which could indicate a leak. “Also keep a close eye on areas that may need paint touchup,” Head says. “Customers notice these things, but may not say anything.”
Pests should also be addressed at vacate time. While pest control should always be in effect, a good maintenance plan includes spraying units each time they are emptied. A professional company is the best option, Berlin says. “Managers’ responsibility is to do as much as they can to educate tenants about not keeping or throwing away food items in the facility, and to keep an eye on what tenants move into their units,” he says.
Head’s company thoroughly reviews guidelines for apartment maintenance with its managers from the get-go. “We do surprise walk-throughs during our monthly audits,” she says. Commonly, maintenance expectations are written into the manager’s lease.
Pogoda’s agreement calls for no unusual wear and tear and insists the apartment be well-maintained. Residences are inspected periodically, but Berlin acknowledges the issue of privacy. “It’s a fine line you walk,” he says.
Holsinger believes management should have the right to inspect and direct the maintenance needs of apartments regularly. “I recommend this be done monthly with a supervisor,” he says.
Few (if any) facility employees would cite bathroom cleaning as the favorite part of their day, but there are ways to make the job easier and more effective. McRae suggests keeping a maintenance log on the bathroom door, along with a sign that reads, “If this restroom is not up to standards, please report it to the manager.” “It’s a good way to keep messes in check,” he says.
Since most of Pogoda’s facilities allow restroom use after office hours, switching to electronic equipment proved helpful. “We put in electric hand-dryers instead of paper towels, which cut down on problems of people trying to flush towels,” Berlin says. Toilets that flush automatically and timed faucets also help. “The main thing is to stay on top of maintenance so it’s not a big deal at any point.”
The restroom’s level of sanitation is a reflection of a facility’s overall cleanliness, Head points out. “Anytime an employee of a facility goes in the restroom, there’s always something he can do to help keep things under control.”