By Andrea Hewitt
Reprinted with permission from the Storage Ahead blog.
Launching into any market can be hard, and becoming a first-time self-storage owner can be a scary venture. If you’re new to facility ownership and need some expert tips, you’re in the right place!
I recently spoke with Zac Zeune, owner of Kram It Self Storage in Grove City, Ohio, about what he’s learned since entering the business—and what he wishes he knew before jumping into the industry.
Looking back, what are three things you wish you knew before owning a self-storage facility?
One, I wish I had known how hard the cities would be to deal with. We spent about a year looking for the right piece of land to build, and once we found that land, it took us another 10 months to close the deal before we could start building. These days the cities say they want new businesses to come and want to make their city a more attractive place for businesses and families. The truth is, we had to bend over backward for the city and a small village next to it just to get them to let us build our facility. I personally feel that cities want new businesses to come to them, but then they make it as hard as possible on the business.
Two, I wish we had phased our facility. I'm a second-generation owner, and when my father and I built our current facility, we didn't look at phasing because, in the past, the banks didn't make it possible. If you wanted to build half the facility, they would only give you half the loan. The problem is the first half will always cost more than the second half due to the costs of startup, land and certain aspects of the construction. Now it seems that more and more facilities are phasing and banks are going along with it.
Lastly, I wish I had realized how much discounting goes on. Five or 10 years ago, the industry was not giving free months away at the drop of a hat like they are today. When we built our facility, we knew we would have to do some discounting to compete with the other facilities, but I didn’t realize how much discounting they were doing.
What's the most valuable thing you've learned as an owner, and how long did it take you to learn it?
The most valuable thing I've learned is how far customer service goes. When customers come in the door, we treat them exactly the way we would want to be treated. I thought this was a given, but from what I hear from our tenants that is not always the case. Some people are just amazed at how nice we are and, honestly, it surprises me because I did not think we were doing anything out of the ordinary.
What advice do you have for someone who just bought a facility?
For anyone who just bought or built a facility, you need to be in the loop on everything. If you're not going to actually be the manager, then you need to do whatever it takes to make sure you're around and can keep an eye on everything. One of the best things available today is Web-based management software. I can check in and see what has happened from anywhere in the world. Oh, and be prepared for some sleepless nights
Now that you have some tips from a real-life owner, you can feel more confident about your decision to enter the storage arena. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be successful. Learn from Zeune to create a quality, thriving facility.
Andrea Hewitt is a graduate of Truman State University’s journalism program and a content writer for StorageAhead , a provider of online-marketing services for the self-storage industry.