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Transforming an Older Self-Storage Property: Knowing When and How to Upgrade

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By Jared Farmer

The attraction of self-storage as a real estate investment is at an all-time high. With increased complexities and competition in the industry, it can be a challenge to know how to maneuver in your markets and make good business and financial decisions. It can even feel overwhelming at times.

I want to help you tune out the fear propaganda you hear from “experts” and marketers, and show you how to make smart decisions that will lead to a profitable future. Specifically, I’m going to discuss physical adjustments you can make to your property to compete as new product enters your market.

First Impressions

In my line of work, I get to see the future of self-storage—and it’s fantastic! I see impressive facilities with beautiful architecture and offices that rival any shopping-mall showroom. Walking into a storage business used to be the equivalent of going into an oil-change station. Now it’s like walking in to buy an Apple computer! Storage facilities are increasingly attractive and spacious.

The importance of presentation for your property can’t be overstated. Your website, curb appeal, front office and staff are the first impressions people have of you. As we know, these impressions are made quickly and stay ingrained for a long time.

Are your properties consistent in their look and feel? If you don’t have a standard image for your sites or, at minimum, your front offices, you need to start there. Your standards (or lack thereof) will come to establish your brand, so think about what you want it to be. The appearance of your facility is the introduction to the world of your business identity.

Know Your Market, Know Your Customer

Because each market is unique, I recommend arming yourself with the information you need to make smart decisions about how best to adapt. Mapping out the competitors within a 3-mile radius of your site and visiting each is a great way to learn what you’re up against. Be aware of new development as well.

Pay attention to the look, feel and function of competing facilities. Whatever your thoughts about your own property, this exercise will give you precious perspective on the realities of your local market. It’ll also help you determine what changes you may need to make to stay competitive, achieve higher occupancies and raise rates.

What are the key features of self-storage in your area? There’s no need to have every one under the sun, but there’s also a danger in being the last storage business in the region to make upgrades. You don’t want to watch your customers leave or have little new business walking through your door because your facility looks dated.

Knowing your customers will help you make the right decisions for updating an older property. We hear the following statistics over and over: Women represent 70 percent of decision-makers when it comes to choosing a storage facility, according to a video by Mark Helm, a self-storage consultant and author of “Creating Wealth Through Self-Storage.” In addition, 80 percent of potential renters do some form of online research before calling or visiting a facility. Janus International Group LLC, a manufacturer of self-storage roll-up doors and building components, stated in a recent advertisement that 75 percent of people who visit will decide to rent.

I’m not giving you new information here. It’s not a secret. What I’m saying is you need to execute on this information because your competitors are. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind. Now, let’s talk about how to devise a renovation plan within your given circumstances and budget.

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