John and Betty needed storage for a year while they were in South America. With their list of prospective facilities in hand, they went storage hunting. They drove by the first site—and kept on going. Its brown landscaping, peeling paint and perimeter fence that looked as if it might not stop a cat much less a cat burglar screamed neglect. The second site, on the other hand, almost sparkled. The couple made the decision to store there even before hearing about rates, security systems or online payment options.
Regular maintenance could have prevented the first site from losing a prospective long-term customer. Developing and implementing a maintenance schedule is a simple task if broken into small steps. Presented this way, your staff will easily accept it and make it part of their routine.
No business can afford to neglect its exterior signage. “A dilapidated sign tells the public you are not concerned with your business image or their visual environment,” says Michael Waich, account executive for St. Paul, Minn.-based Lawrence Sign. Some types of signs are virtually maintenance-free, while others require more attention. For starters, facility operators need to know how to replace burnt-out bulbs or fluorescent tubes in their signs. “If you can’t, then find a dependable, reputable sign company that will serve your needs,” Waich advises.
The sign crew should include engineers trained in all aspects of maintenance, from replacement of lamps and servicing electrical components, to preserving the overall appearance with regular cleaning. Habitual inspections will detect any defects before they become hazardous or lead to further damage. A poorly made sign can even be a liability, cautions Waich.
Some facilities opt for electronic message centers (EMC). “The beauty of EMC is they don’t require any regular maintenance,” says Andy Cowen, president of Numeritex Displays Inc. in Murray, Ky. New LED (light emitting diode) versions use very little power and last 10 years or longer. “After installation, most customers need never to worry about them,” Cowen says. He suggests a periodic check to make sure no LEDs are out, and an occasionally wiping of dust from the EMC’s Lexan face.
If a facility’s sign uses incandescent bulbs, a more rigorous maintenance program is necessary, Cowen says. The bulbs, which have more opportunity for premature failure, need to be replaced about every six to eight months or the display may be unreadable. Sockets must be checked for corrosion. Also, since the bulbs are left open to the elements to dissipate heat, foreign material can make its way into the sign face and must be removed.
Part of a customer’s first impression of your site is your landscaping. Is it green and fresh? Does it show signs of decay or dehydration? There is no curb appeal in brown grass and wilted plants. Landscaping must be as much as part of facility maintenance as roof repair and other important building-related items.
“On established facilities, a problem can occur when landscaping mulch builds up higher than the finished floor elevation of a building,” says Donna May, president of Bulverde, Texas-based Joshua Management Inc. This buildup causes water to drain into block walls or the area where the finished floor is joined to the wall. Always keep drainage away from the building to prevent leaks.
Use landscaping materials that are appropriate for the climate and are of appropriate height and density for the look you desire, May advises. Choose the most colorful plants available to increase curb appeal and always keep them in good order, replacing them when necessary. Keep fence lines free of grass and weeds by routinely spraying with weed killer. “Once vines, weeds, etc., get into chain-link fencing, they are a bear to remove, so don’t let it happen,” warns May.
Driveways, Parking Lots and General Paving
Look down! That simple reminder to staff as they walk around the facility will help them be aware of pavement problems. “Pavement failures such as pot holes and alligator cracking can be avoided by proper care of the asphalt area,” says Nancy Schafer, manager of marketing and business development for Silicon Valley Paving Inc. in San Jose, Calif. Unprotected driveways become porous, dry out, become rough and lose their life rapidly. Prevention of oxidation is the best method for increasing the longevity of your parking lots and roadways, but properties are often acquired in less than optimum condition. Seal-coating can often be used to improve pavement’s condition and appearance at an older site.
When asphalt repairs are necessary, they should be handled immediately, Schafer says. Once fixed, problem areas should be seal-coated, to provide a sharp, black base coat, then re-striped and stenciled to create a fresh surface that looks like new.
“Concrete always cracks,” says May, so build in expansion joints that cause it to crack only along predetermined lines. Maintain seals between concrete and buildings to encapsulate moisture. Because of the difference in weight between concrete drives and buildings soils heave at different rates when they become moist. It’s important to prevent moisture from getting into expansive soils, especially in colder climates. Stops are not expensive, but keep them in good repair. Broken stops will make your parking area look shabby.
The dumpster is a necessary evil at every facility, but if allowed to overflow with trash, it quickly becomes an eyesore. “Dumpsters should be conveniently placed near a property access so heavy dump trucks aren’t continually using your drives,” advises May.
Concrete dumpster pads should be 7 inches thick to support the extra weight. They should also extend far enough so that when the dump truck turns around, its wheels are still on the concrete; otherwise, the truck’s wheels can tear up the asphalt. If possible, put the dumpster where it can be seen from the office or keep it under camera surveillance. In addition, May suggests posting a notice to let tenants know they will be fined for items left outside the dumpster.
Regular lighting upkeep saves money and time. “When lighting systems operate as they are designed, they provide safety and security, and value to a facility’s owner,” says Larry Leetzow, president for Sarasota, Fla.-based Magnaray International. Fluorescent outdoor systems can maintain more light for longer periods than high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. New fluorescent ballasts have end-of-life circuitry so if a lamp fails but is not immediately replaced, it won’t burn out the ballast.
“There isn’t much difference in the maintenance of indoor and outdoor lighting because systems are designed for each application,” Leetzow says. If interior lighting is cycled more often than outdoor lighting, more upkeep may be necessary.
Walls and Cladding
Water can seep through block walls if they haven’t been properly sealed, says May. If walls need repainting, use only elastomeric paint, which is simply a rubberized coating with color added. It costs 35 to 40 cents more per square foot, May says, but it lasts up to 15 years and prevents water damage.
Cladding in the form of natural aggregate composite panels is almost maintenance-free. “Wall panels composed of natural pebble or crushed aggregate only require an occasional power-washing to remove surface dirt, which can accumulate over time,” says Lee Ann Slattery, Northeast regional sales manager for Mt. Bethel, Pa.-based United Panel Inc.
The Golf Cart
The golf cart, frequently used to give facility tours and make regular checks of a storage property, is another reflection of the facility. “A clean and well-maintained cart adds to the professional image of your property,” says May. “Golf carts can become dumping bins for anything and everything if you’re not careful.”
Some operators stock their carts with cleaning and maintenance supplies to simplify their rounds. While this makes sense, it can also turn carts into a hazard if chemical products and heavy equipment are not properly secured and stored on the vehicle. Keep carts orderly, installing special holders or shelving if necessary. To maximize cart life, perform regular maintenance, monitoring the steering, brakes, tire pressure and batteries.
The Maintenance Unit
Every facility should dedicate space, usually a unit, for the storage of maintenance supplies, lawn equipment, tools and the golf cart. Time and energy will be saved if the unit is safe and well-organized. Install a workbench shelving to arrange all tools and replacement parts. Peg boards on walls provide an inexpensive method for organizing hand tools such as hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers and bolt-cutters. Plastic bins can store small items including nails, screws, a ratchet and socket set, spackle, vise clamps, tie-down straps, oils and lubricants. Ladders should be safely stacked. Brooms, dustpans, mops, rags, etc., should be kept well-stocked and replaced frequently.
Gutters and Downspouts
Clogged gutters can cause rainwater to pool and flow back in to buildings, says May. If the roof ridge slope is 1/4-inch, water is more likely to build up in the event of a problem. Install sufficient downspouts to accommodate water flow and keep them free of debris. Check gutters and downspouts at least twice a year, and always watch for proper drainage, especially after heavy rain or storms.
Ridge closures occasionally come loose. You can make minor repairs by replacing screws and caulking. More intense damage will require professional attention.
The happy sound of birdsong at your facility may be pleasant, but it can also be a sign of trouble. Pigeons, starlings, sparrows and seagulls frequent building rooftops and storage areas. “Pigeons cause the most damage,” says Bruce Donoho, owner and president of Bird-B-Gone Inc. of Mission Viejo, Calif. Birds deface buildings, structures and rooftops, clog drains with feces and nesting materials, and contaminate air systems.
Pigeons are also a hazard to human health, as they transmit more than 40 infectious diseases, including salmonellosis, encephalitis and tuberculosis. Pigeons build nests from their fecal matter, so nesting areas are especially hazardous. When their droppings dry, they become fecal dust that can be inhaled. If the birds nest in and around air systems, their contaminants can enter a building’s “breathing system” and spread airborne diseases. Maintenance workers can track bird droppings into a facility and create another avenue for the spread of disease, Donoho warns.
The Best Light
A regular maintenance routine will help you prevent costly repairs, guard the safety of employees and customers, and put your facility in its best light. A rigorous regimen will preserve your facility’s value and security, and even help enhance its future worth. When customers see you care about your site, they know you care about their property, too.
Rental-Truck Care and Maintenance
By Kirk Nash, President and CEO On The Move Inc.
The maintenance of your facility should extend to your rental trucks, whether they belong to your facility or an outside company. After all, these vehicles are a reflection of your business. Clean, safe, well-maintained trucks portray the image you want for your facility.
Keep maintenance logs for each vehicle in a file in the office as well as each truck. A customer should be able to see when the oil was last changed, tires replaced, preventive maintenance performed, or engine light fixed.
Vehicle cleanliness is also important. Dirty trucks send the wrong message, and it’s easy enough to keep them clean—inside and out. Especially if you have your facility graphics on the outside of your trucks, you want them to sparkle and shine.
Finally, make sure each truck is equipped with a roadside-safety kit, fire extinguisher and first-aid kit. By spending a few dollars to provide these items, you let customers know their safety is important to you.
If all this sounds basic, it is! All you need is a little common sense and courtesy to offer a safe, pleasurable, comfortable, truck-rental experience.