By Kay Miller Temple
The self-storage industry is not just breaking design stereotypes, it's crushing them. From bigger, brighter offices to better parking lots, today’s facilities are mimicking retail stores and luring potential renters. The bonus? Superior design improves functionality for staff, increases customer satisfaction and can even make a facility more "green."
The Upscale Office
Today's office design targets customers, keeping in mind that 60 percent of self-storage rental agreements are signed by women, according to Bruce Jordan, president of San Clemente, Calif.-based Jordan Architects Inc. The customer-service counter should be the first element prospects and renters see when they walk through the door. “The office should say safety, organization and management control over the facility, and be presented in a bright, cheerful and friendly way,” Jordan says.
Self-storage offices, once reduced to small areas, are now bigger. Much bigger. In recent years, office-space requirements have increased nearly 150 percent, according to Ariel Valli, president and principal architect of Valli Architectural Group in Aliso Viejo, Calif. “We have completed offices in the 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot range, with customer seating, child-play areas, conference rooms, vending machines, mailing and shipping desks, and even computer work modules,” he says.
Within the office space, retail areas remain a prominent focus, says Kenneth Carrell, principal architect for ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif. “When I design the retail space, I try and do it like I would a regular retail store,” Carrell says. “I use shelves and end caps for display, and I keep units low so people can see over the top.”
Designs that include a sample storage unit can quickly engage a potential tenant. Terry Campbell, executive vice president of operations and vice president of sales and marketing for BETCO Inc., a manufacturer of self-storage buildings in Statesville, N.C., says one trend is to display a unit with a roll-up door and a latch-and-lock system so managers can demonstrate how it works. “There can also be sample unit sizes shown on the floor using colored tape or paint to give a potential tenant an idea of how big a unit size is,” Campbell says.
Some of today's office designs are so evolved that they look like hotel lobbies, says Steve Hajewski, marketing manager for Sun Prairie, Wis.-based Trachte Building Systems, a manufacturer and supplier of self-storage buildings. Items like flat-screen monitors remind customers the facility is equipped with security cameras. “And these amenities are becoming more common even in mid-market sites,” Hajewski says.
Today's office designs can be described as “a well-appointed environment,” says Ted Culbreth, vice president of sales and marketing for Select Building Systems Inc., a Boerne, Texas-based design-build general contractor that provides turnkey construction services to the self-storage industry. In addition to special finishes, cabinets and granite countertops, lighting and a big-space feeling are important. “It's the lighting that you would see in high-end retail,” he says. “Lots of glass, lots of openness so customers can see in and feel comfortable before they ever walk in.”
The self-storage look is definitely different from past years, says Charles Plunkett, CEO of Capco Steel Inc., a San Antonio-based steel supplier and erector of metal buildings and RV and boat storage. “Almost every office constructed in modern times is open, airy, and has a feel of a country-club reception area or a modern retail facility,” he says. “Customers like a lot of windows, natural light and an inviting atmosphere.”