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Three Is a Magic Number

Terry Campbell Comments
Posted in Articles, Development

Building a self-storage facility can be vexing at times, particularly if it’s an owner’s first project. New entrepreneurs are often surprised by the number of steps and people involved. For the best outcome, it’s best to view the whole project—from development to manufacturing to construction—as a symbiotic effort.

Developers already owning land who are determined to build storage frequently make a big mistake. Too often, a site isn’t right for self-storage, but the landowner pushes ahead anyway, with unfortunate results.

Conventional wisdom would encourage a feasibility study to assess a site’s location, accessibility, traffic counts, visibility and population density. All these elements determine the potential success of self-storage.

That is just the tip of the iceberg in the development process. A potential owner must contact government agencies and private organizations to win approval before the business gets off the ground. He must also interact with real estate brokers, attorneys, engineers, architects, manufacturers, banks, city and county officials, and a long line of contractors.

Steering Clear of Chaos

Taking a symbiotic approach to developing, manufacturing and construction is a walk in the park compared to the chaos that may easily envelop a project. Though each portion of the job is overseen by different contractors, the key is to gain cooperation among independent suppliers for the common good of the owner.

A smart owner chooses a manufacturer before the development process has gone too far. An experienced sales consultant can save an owner time and money—long before a professional engineer or architect has been consulted. Sales consultants advise owners about initial site design, explaining how a well-planned layout translates to more square footage available for leasing, thus increasing profits.

While manufacturing sales consultants aren’t civil engineers or architects, they can provide a general layout of self-storage buildings on a proposed site and offer advice on important issues such as building-to-land ratios. Keep in mind, only 35 percent to 40 percent of the land typically can be used for buildings with the remainder of the property devoted to other purposes. This helps determine the number of structures needed, particularly if plans are to phase in other buildings over time. In the event a chosen site has uneven or sloping topography, manufacturers offer bi-level and multistory buildings.

Single-Source Manufacturing

Owners should shop competitively and narrow down the final choices of building manufacturers. A single-source manufacturer is preferable for two reasons. First, the more products and services the owner can get from one source, the simpler the process and least chance for mistakes. We all know that the more people involved in a project, the more likely something will go wrong.

Second, the more capabilities manufacturers have, the better they understand the business and the more they can be trusted to provide everything needed. Think about it: If you get building designs from supplier A., components from supplier B, and construction from supplier C, what are the chances that everything will work together smoothly?

Conversely, if you get everything from a single supplier, you’re more likely to meet schedules, reduce delays and open your facility on schedule. Moreover, if anything goes wrong, you have only one responsible source to contact.

Quality Components

Building a self-storage facility is expensive. The single-largest expense, aside from the cost of land, is the building package. Owners often look for ways to cut back; poor judgment can come back to haunt them later. If building materials and workmanship aren’t of the highest quality, maintenance problems will become torturous.

If there is going to be a problem with units leaking, 90 percent of the time the roof is to blame. Make sure your manufacturer offers standing-seam roof panels, including concealed clips and fasteners to ensure your tenants’ valuables are always dry. Using red-iron components saves money up front, but problems with rusting will cost more down the road. The smart owner realizes self-storage is an investment in the future, so the condition of buildings in the next 10 to 20 years should be the primary concern.

Constructing the Crew

A developer will most likely need to work with a local contractor for site preparations such as grading, paving or graveling, storm sewers, fencing, landscaping and pouring concrete foundations. Again, a manufacturer should be consulted early in the process to ensure concrete slabs are poured to fit the building components during the erection process. If components and slabs don’t match, costly delays may occur.

Consider finding a manufacturing company with its own erection crew, but make sure the team is professional and certified. Crew members should be properly trained to understand how manufacturer components fit together and adhere properly to pre-poured foundations. Nothing delays the process more than building components arriving onsite when an erection crew isn’t available.

Using a manufacturer’s dedicated crew means component delivery can dovetail with the crew’s availability. Plus, a reliable manufacturer will provide an on-site supervisor and a back-office project manager to make sure the project stays on schedule.

A solid development and construction process should include the manufacturer. By working together, everybody saves time and money—especially the owner. 

Terry Campbell is the national director of marketing for BETCO, a single-source manufacturer of metal self-storage buildings that has been in business since 1984. For more information, call 800.654.7813; visit

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