Important Do's and Dont's of Self-Storage Site Design and Unit Mix

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Learn From Others

There’s no substitute for experience, whether your own or that of a hired gun. If you don’t have time to flatten the learning curve, get help from professionals who already have. Don't waste your time on civil engineers or architects for whom this is the first (or third) rodeo. If you don't have the experience and expertise, avoid the novice and hire someone with a proven track record.

Learn from those who have paid tuition at Life University. Don’t think for a moment that the top operators haven’t made a few mistakes and a lot more good decisions than bad to get them where they are today. If this is your first project, you can copy the guy with one project under his belt, who probably made a few mistakes all on his own, or follow the path more traveled and learn from the pros.

Look at their projects and use the same professionals they use, and you’ll benefit from their experience. Let’s use the manager apartment as an example. What are the big guys doing today? Many of them no longer spec apartments. It’s like putting the office behind the gate. This is pretty simple stuff, and you can benefit from these design standards.

The Sinatra Syndrome

The only thing more astounding than the developer who goes it on his own is the one who pays professionals for advice and then goes against their recommendations. It’s interesting how much more a project can cost when you have to make field corrections or you miss opportunities.

Design the project for operational efficiency. Keep in mind you only build it once, but you have to operate it every day. Look at design standards, all the way through the process, from design specs through the first 20 years and beyond.

You may think you can't afford to hire the same architect as a top operator, but the lessons you will learn are extremely valuable. How can you afford not to visit a large operator's last few projects to learn from its experience? The real estate investment trusts and major operators have a pretty good track record. Look at every aspect, from placement of the guest-services area to the location of motion-sensor lights in the hallways. How do they seal the floors? What size are the elevators? How are the buildings organized?

You Get What You Pay For

When considering development advice, realize you get what you pay for. It costs more to fly First Class, but the journey may well be worth the expense. A third-party management company that has developed a few hundred sites may offer design and construction-management services to help you right from the beginning. It may be appropriate to bring the company into the process during the design stage so it can help you choose seasoned professionals and avoid costly mistakes.

Be cautious about taking advice from those who have a vested interest in your project. A metal-building manufacturer may encourage you to build because it can sell you steel, not because the site is right or the project feasible. Once built, the vendor gets paid, and on to the next owner and project. Its success is not dependent on yours. It doesn't have to operate the project or see you to profitability. Keep in mind a vendor could be supplying materials to your job and one across the street.

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