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 sameto 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, whos 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 facilitys 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.
Appleby says an office overhaul can be something small, such as paint and new ceiling tiles, or a $15,000 to $20,000 renovation. To find the starting point, operators should incorporate conveniences for themselves and their customers. This might include adjusting the counter height or improving seating.
While renovating the office may be an uncomfortable process, tenants will appreciate the initiative to maintain the property. "Usually, while the process of an office remodel may be uncomfortable for the manager, the inconvenience to tenants and customers can be minimalized," Appleby says. "As long as the operator has made reasonable arrangements to continue business as usual, tenants are usually happy to see improvements to the facility and understanding of long-term work."
Landscapes: Planting the Perfect Picture
When redesigning the façade, updating or adding the landscaping not only gives the facility a fresh look but can help cut costs and deter unwanted visitors. The price to maintain a landscape is an important consideration in the process, and can even be greatly reduced if the landscape is properly designed.
A facility with a lot of grass will require consistent watering and mowing, increasing the expenditure to maintain the look. Drought-tolerant plants, however, will reduce the amount of water needed. "A properly designed landscape can stop the need for watering after a couple of years once the plants get established," says Ken Carrell, principal of ARE associates, an architectural firm that specializes in self-storage landscapes. "And maintenance can be reduced with the use of the correct types of plants."
"Hostile" plants can be used in a landscape to deter people from climbing fences and entering other off-limits areas, Carrell advises. These plants typically have thorns or other dangerous parts. Some examples include bougainvillea, roses and crown of thorns.
There are various routes to achieve the desired landscape design, including hiring a landscape architect, working with a local nursery or the do-it-yourself route. If cost is a consideration, many nurseries will provide a landscape design for a small fee, as long as the plants are purchased from them.
The Essentials: Roofs and Doors Need Lovin' Too
Among other improvements, doors and roofs are particularly important because of the essential function they providekeeping tenants belongings secure and dry. While there are some simple fixes to repair roofs and doors, sometimes they just need to be replaced.
Dings and dents are acceptable signs of wear on a unit door. However, when a door is rusted beyond repair, no longer holds paint from excessive paint applications, or fails to open and close properly even after adjustments, it may be time to replace it. "From a visual perspective, doors that look to be in poor condition can often turn a potential renter off, so aesthetically its suggested your doors stay up-to-date," says Amy Fuhlman, director of marketing for Janus International, a manufacturer of steel roll-up doors and building components.
When purchasing new doors, operators should look for ones with tension adjusters and bearings as standard features, cylinder latches for additional security, stainless-steel latches and extruded aluminum-bottom bars to prevent corrosion and rust, suggests Terry Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for BETCO, a single-source self-storage manufacturer.
Campbell also suggests purchasing doors with a bulb-type astragal over a blade-type to provide a better seal, and to look for a good paint warranty and long-life spring. "If you have a problem in a building, it will most likely be in the door and its most likely to be with the spring," he says.
Safety and maintenance are also important factors to consider. "A tenant's claim due to a poorly-operating door could be financially disastrous for an operator as well as the tenant," Fuhlman notes. "The door should open an close with ease and have an easy tensioning device on the springs to adjust when necessary."
The cost to replace a facilitys doors varies depending on the size, the number of doors and any additional services. The approximate cost to remove an existing door, document the replacement process, replace the door and dispose of the old door is $350, Fuhlman says. Approximately 20 doors can be replaced in one day, she says.
Facility roofing is another common construction to-do. When a roof leaks in multiple areas, is weathered-looking, cracked, damaged or rusted, it may be time to repair or replace. But before making a decision, operators should have a reputable roofer evaluate the existing structure. If replacement is recommended, operators should solicit a quote from three quality companies, suggests Mick Handloser, national account manager for RoofConnect, a roofing trade organization comprised of more than 60 independent commercial roofing companies.
When comparing bids, Handloser suggests operators consider the manufacturer system, functionality, material warranty, workmanship warranty and cost. Once construction begins, the process can be as short as five days or last longer than two months, depending on the scope of work and size of the roof.
Costs vary depending on the type of roofing system, although operators should consider other factors than just the price tag. "There could be local, state or federal energy savings incentives for installing reflective roofs and/or additional roofing insulation," Handloser says.
Safety: Protect The Tenant and the Facility
Due to the delicate nature of self-storage, certain precautions are required when a unit will be exposed or entered, which is likely to happen during the construction process. Williams recommends constant communication with the facility manager about restrictions on the property. Its especially important to notify tenants when the construction team will have access to a unit, such as when a door or the roof is being replaced. "The more informed [tenants] are about what's going on, usually the less problems you have," he says.
Often, the construction team will invite tenants to supervise the unit if anyone from the construction team needs to enter. "They have certain rights as a tenant, and it's a courtesy to them," William says. "You give them as much opportunity to be there and watch as possible."
William also makes sure to have a member of the team video record the unit when its entered or exposed during construction.
Sometimes construction can be isolated within a facility to avoid safety and privacy issues. Apple Self Storage in Ontario, Canada, was able to do this when renovating its downtown Toronto facility. In this five-story self-storage facility, tenants had access to the upper floors via an elevator while the lower level was under construction. "We were able to segregate all the construction on the main floor so it didn't impact our tenants whatsoever," says Phil Allan, president of ASL Properties and the owner of Apple Self Storage.
Whether big or small, a renovation can be the stimulus a facility needs to get back in the game. Fresh landscaping, a new roof or an updated office can keep a facility looking fresh, attract more customers and ensure operators enjoy improved functionality and profit. "A renovation can turn a property around in ways that nothing else can, Williams says.