By Amy Campbell and David Koster
With the winter holidays approaching, many self-storage operators are wondering whether to decorate their facility. Adding colorful lights, fun inflatables and other holiday-inspired elements shows your business is more than just a place to store stuff; it demonstrates that you’re part of the community and looking forward to celebrating the season with your neighbors. Plus, a festive look is just plain enjoyable!
If you want to dress up your facility this winter, here’s some advice on benefits, how to do it, costs and storing your supplies.
Decorating your facility for the holidays can help you entice new customers and bring the community together. “People in general are drawn to structures with holiday decorations. It exudes a sense of warmth,” says Janine Wilshere, manager of AR&C Self Storage in Hamilton, N.J.
In addition, decorating helps to spread the joy and holiday spirit, according to Rachel Wilson, manager of Dover Mini Storage in Dover, Pa. “It reminds us that we as a community still follow traditions.”
Adorning your office and building exterior also creates public awareness of your business. “We’ve been decorating for many years now. I would say that 70 percent of our business is drive-by. When I give directions to prospective tenants during the holiday season, I tell them, ‘We are the storage facility that has the holiday decorations out on the front lawn.’ Then they immediately know who we are,” says Carol Parker, manager of Atkinson Self Storage in Dixon, Calif. The facility has even received recognition from the local newspaper for its holiday décor.
Finally, adding sparkle to a property provides a holiday-infused morale boost. “Holiday decorating is a way to quickly and easily change the mood in the office from the usual humdrum to fun, festive and friendly, and it re-energizes the staff,” says Linnea Appleby, owner of Lime Tree Management, a third-party management firm serving the self-storage industry.
While a few operators will hire someone to hang lights and add those inflatables, most will tackle the task themselves. “You and your team should decorate your facility. It puts you in the holiday spirit,” Wilshere says.
For those new to decorating, sometimes the best option is to just start small. Consider your resources before spending money on new supplies, Parker suggests. “Ask your tenants if they have any items from years past that they would like to donate. Ask your friends who may be wood-workers if they could make you some wood lawn art.”
An ideal time to begin decorating is four to six weeks before the holiday. The project could take from a few hours to a few days, depending on how elaborate your plans are as well as staff availability and weather conditions.
One dilemma that may pop up is how politically correct to be in your decorative choices. Are Santas and trees appropriate, or should you stick to multi-colored lights and other non-specific ornamentation? If you’re not sure, look to your supervisor for advice.
“I go with the facility owners’ wishes on being politically correct,” Wilshere says. “I am sure there are other facility managers who are in the same boat. My owners insist on us saying ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.’ After that, if we want, we can say ‘Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings.’ However, I do have several Jewish tenants, and I always extend to them the proper respect for their holidays.”
When decorating, you also need to keep safety in mind. “Use an extreme amount of caution,” Appleby says. “Holiday decorations can be a major source of fire. Be wary of or eliminate decorations that require electricity, produce heat or may otherwise be dangerous. Tree and plants dry out quickly and are very flammable.”
Like any business investment, holiday decorations can cripple your bank account if you let them. “Shopping at the dollar store can leverage your holiday budget,” Appleby says, adding that you should look around your facility for items you can repurpose, such as boxes. “Store bought is easy, but being creative is fun and gives staff a chance to express themselves a bit.”
If you plan to add a tree in your office, Wilshere suggests purchasing a quality artificial tree that will last several years. While the investment will be a bit more the first year, it will save the business money in the long run. Likewise, other decorations, such as lights, ornaments, wreaths and outdoor displays can be used year after year if well-preserved. Some operators spend as little as $25 annually for basic essentials and replacement decorations.
Another strategy is to purchase supplies at their cheapest point. “Black Friday sales help around Christmas time. I normally buy new items once they’ve gone on sale and use them the following year,” Wilson says. You’ll also find a multitude of holiday-themed items at thrift and party stores, garage sales and even on Craigslist. Taking advantage of major sales after the holidays can help you grow your inventory throughout the year without the added expense that comes with purchasing them at the last second.
After the Holidays
Once the holidays are over, it’s time to begin tear-down. Generally, decorations should be dissembled within a week to 10 days after the holiday has passed. By mid-January, there shouldn’t be a trace of tinsel to be seen.
Take care to properly store your decorations. Clean all of the items and use cardboard boxes or plastic tubs to keep them organized and safe. Label the containers so you can quickly identify what’s inside. Parker even uses color-coded tubs for each holiday—red and green in December, orange for Halloween, and white and blue for patriotic celebrations.
Whenever possible, store fragile items in their original containers. To keep ornaments from breaking, wrap them in tissue paper or use cardboard dividers. You can also find ornament-storage bins at a number of retail stores.
Lights deserve extra care. Replace any burned-out bulbs. Keep them tangle-free by using plastic reels or wrapping them around sections of cardboard. Tape the ends of the light strings to keep them secure.
Usually, your artificial tree can go back in its original box. However, if the box is damaged or too bulky, consider purchasing a storage bag, which can be easier to maneuver and store. Wreaths should go back in their original box, if possible. You can also purchase a corrugated box, which will hold up for several years. For extra safety, add a layer of bubble wrap or packing material.
There are many factors to consider when decorating your self-storage facility, but first, you have to take the initiative. “Like Nike says, ‘Just do it!’ It’s a great way to promote a positive and joyful environment,” Wilson says.
It can even drastically change the way your community views your storage business, making it more inviting, according to Wilshere. “While everyone is rushing to do everything quickly, they can stop for a few moments, buy packing supplies, rent a small unit to store gifts, have a hot beverage, and just basically catch their breath.”
David Koster is a senior English major at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. His emphasis is on fiction creative writing, pursuing a study of fiction publication and editing. After graduation, he hopes to build his way up to becoming an editor of a fiction-publishing company and publish his personal novel work on the side. To read more of his material, visit www.insideselfstorage.com.