Tasks such as changing light bulbs, trimming bushes, oiling gate chains and painting small projects can cut costs while boosting curb appeal, but even these duties are best handled when someone is available to cover the office. “The primary responsibility of your facility manager is to answer that $1,000 phone call. In most cases, he only gets one opportunity to close the deal with the prospective tenant. Planning by the manager with scheduling is essential in getting these smaller tasks complete,” George notes. “That being said, if there are larger maintenance issues to work on that are more costly and dangerous, we always go with an outside company. This significantly reduces the risk involved, workers’ comp claims, and lets the manager focus on more important tasks.”
The distinction of task priority is an important point that can sometimes get lost when scrutinizing every dollar spent. James Fawcett, president of Accent Building Restoration Inc. (ABR), a company that specializes in self-storage services including cosmetic construction, painting, maintenance and other repairs, says hiring professionals for maintenance and repair jobs generally saves operators money in the long run. “Even when a manager or owner is able to do it himself, there is an opportunity cost involved,” he explains. “What might he be doing instead that will generate revenue for his business? Fixing a hasp on a roll door certainly doesn’t generate revenue, but selling a lock or being available to rent a unit will.”
Fawcett also believes storage operators shouldn’t underestimate the value of trained expertise, particularly as technology plays an increasingly integrated role with facility operation. “Today you have security systems, automated gate systems, elevators, cameras, climate-controlled buildings, magnetic locks on swing doors, controlled-entry times depending on the type of tenant, etc. Self-storage has evolved over time, and the need for a more highly skilled maintenance technician is more important than ever,” he says. “If you hire a professional, he can fix your problem quickly and right the first time, allowing the facility to run at maximum efficiency and keep those unrentable units online.”
Myth 2: You’ll Be Overcharged
Maintenance companies will find problems to fix (and charge for) that aren’t really there.
“If you are hiring a true professional maintenance company, this shouldn’t be an issue,” Fawcett notes. “Sometimes this comes down to perception. Our maintenance technicians are trained to look for additional problems when they work at a site. This is not to increase business but to take care of problems in one visit rather than numerous trips. Most maintenance companies charge some sort of trip charge, so the more you can have one company do in one trip, the less costly all of the repairs end up being.”
While knowing the versatile skill sets of hired maintenance personnel can help operators make discerning judgments about the validity of recommended repairs, it’s also important for them to be knowledgeable and forthright about work that has already occurred at the site. “A good and reliable maintenance company will only fix what needs to be fixed and nothing more,” George says. “Proper direction from the manager or regional manager regarding the exact problem will keep the focus on just that issue. Letting the maintenance company know what you have done in the past or what you are trying to fix will help it focus its efforts.”
For projects that will require more than $500 to complete, George recommends getting at least three bids to verify they’re reasonable and help ensure companies are reputable. “In a lot of cases, the lowest bid is not always the best bid because the work tends to be of a lower quality,” he says. “This method also allows you to negotiate with your primary maintenance company to get a better price.”