By Mike Gillikin
When the recession reared its ugly head in 2008, self-storage, like many other businesses, had to adjust. Tighter lending policies from banks and a general malaise and reluctance on the part of facility owners to invest caused a slowdown, particularly in new construction. Operators needed new ways to remain competitive. One obvious strategy was to use the time to examine the condition of existing buildings and grounds.
After two decades of satisfactory service to his customers, Carl Sutton, owner of Space Place Self-Storage in Midway, N.C., made a couple of important decisions. First, he decided the time was right to upgrade his buildings. Like most self-storage owners, he understands that curb appeal, along with location, pricing and unit mix, is paramount in attracting new customers and retaining existing ones. It’s a way of leveling the playing field in a business that gets more competitive every day.
He also considered that women are most often the ones to make the decision of where to store. This makes it even more important that a facility is attractive and remains so. No one should underestimate a woman’s influence when it comes to determining where her family’s valuables are stored.
The second important decision Sutton made was to contact the builder that provided his initial buildings in 1989. It made sense to work with a company that was familiar with the history of his facility, plus there was the issue of trust and compatibility between the two businesses.
An Evolving Business
Since Space Place was established, self-storage development and materials have drastically changed. Back then, manufacturing was less sophisticated, and buildings were field-painted, which means they were painted onsite after the buildings had been erected.
Today a customer can expect pre-painted, baked-on, coated components prepared at the factory. Not only is it a much more durable and efficient process, it cuts the building erection time because the painting is already complete. In addition, other manufacturing processes have improved to make self-storage more attractive to potential owners.
Sutton worked with his developer to determine what needed to be replaced, how to do it and what it would cost. Once the developer’s recommendations were approved, Sutton brought in George Sellers of C&G Construction to help with the project.
Determining Facility Needs
After a facility evaluation, it was evident the concrete slabs had caused some of the structures to be out of square or crooked. The pouring of concrete slabs is a separate process not handled by component manufacturers. In spite of the slab problems, no structural changes to the buildings were necessary. This meant permitting and a general contractor were not needed, which saved time and money.
It was decided metal wraps would be used to cover existing door jambs and headers. Since steel is rigid, this process can sometimes be more of a challenge than covering with a material such as wood, for example; so some gaps did occur, but they were easily caulked.