By Rachel Adams
Three quarters of the tenants at U-Securit Self Storage in Conyers, Ga., were in delinquent status before the facility underwent a renovation in 2007. At that time, the office only had standing room for two people. Additional customers had to wait outside, and often left the facility in lieu of waiting in the elements to sign a lease.
The owner invested in a remodel, converting three existing units into a 400-square-foot office and adding a new facility façade. Afterward, delinquency dropped to 8 percent. The approximate $35,000 invested was recouped in only 24 months. Business went from dismal to booming.
While changes in management and marketing can help a struggling facility, sometimes the only way to attract customers and stay competitive is through a proper re-design. Depending on the needs and goals of a facility, a renovation can range drastically in cost and duration. Regardless, the end goal is the same—to stay competitive and increase performance.
Some common refurbishments include adding air-conditioned units, revamping a façade, repairing or replacing doors or roofing systems, adding or improving landscaping, and office TLC. Depending on the amount of work required, the process can be a large and extensive undertaking or simple minor updates and repairs.
To determine whether a facility is renovation-ready, operators should consider their business from their customers’ viewpoint, says Sharon Pallas, who was the area manager of U-Securit during its renovation. “If you have a small area and you want to sell boxes for the extra income or you need to up your services, then renovation is the answer. Sometimes it's just a coat of paint, new flower beds or a little curb service,” says Pallas, who’s currently the training and special events coordinator for Universal Storage Group, a provider of third-party management services.
Starting with a design and ending with a finished product, a renovation is a multi-layer process. In between, operators will face the city approval process or zoning requirements as well as the back-and-forth design adjustments that often arise during construction.
Depending on the scope, a small project can take a month to design and as little as two months for city approval, according to Tarik Williams, vice president of TLW Construction, a Mesa, Ariz.-based company specializing in light-commercial and self-storage construction. A larger project that involves tear-down, new-build or both might require as little as six months but often at least a year to meet zoning requirements. Costs for minimal projects, like adding or improving an automated gate system, can start around $15,000. A larger project can reach $2 million and beyond.
The Welcome: Facing the Façade
Revamping a facility’s façade has become important in today's competitive market. The entrance to the management office not only provides the customer's first impression but is an important differentiating factor between one facility and another. "When you get back into the property, unless it's an air-conditioned unit, a storage unit is a storage unit," Williams says. "Customers' whole impression of how the whole property is run, how secure it is and how nice it is will be based on where they pull in, where they park, and what it's like when they walk through the manager's door."
Updating the façade can be as simple as new signage and office paint, or as complex as building a new office, repaving the parking lot, adding or moving an automated gate, or installing all-new landscaping. Larger offices have been a trend in self-storage re-design, as many operators now sell retail product that needs display area, Williams points out.
Whether big or small, the office is a key component to the overall look and feel of a facility. "The office lets people know who you are and how you do business," says Linnea Appleby, owner of Lime Tree Management, a Sarasota, Fla.-based third-party management company. "It's the first impression of your business your customers get."
Before renovating (left), Hypoluxo Self Storage in Hypoluxo, Fla., had a small office that was cluttered and had no room for retail product displays. See the refurbished office on the right.