Have you ever paid attention to the coaches on the sideline of a winning team? They often don’t look like they could step on the field and throw the winning pass or make the game-clinching shot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slighting the coach. Coaches know their job is forming the team and staff, installing the vision, and making sure the players perform and execute at a level that gives the team a chance to win.
If you’re building a new self-storage project, you don’t have to be an expert; but you do need to assemble a team of knowledgeable people. You need to be “the coach.”
A Tale of Two Business Owners
I know a business owner who’s a visionary at a high level. He took a small family business with a couple of employees and grew it into an entity with $100 million in assets and more than 1,000 staff members. This guy’s the type we all look up to in business. When he started looking at self-storage as a new venture, his first questions were all about the team: “Who do I need to plan? Who do I need to build? What are the steps to taking this idea from paper to project? Who are my key players?” He’ll be successful.
Another business owner, who is a friend, started a new business (not self-storage) and asked me what I thought it would take for him to be successful. Knowing he was a true expert in his industry, with blue-collar, hands-on experience, I told him he would have to stop working with his hands and start working with his brain. He decided he would do both. Every month, he laments at how hard it is to keep the business going and keep his customers happy. His hands-on, be-the-worker-bee approach has really limited his success.
In this article, I’m going to define the key-player needs for the new self-storage developer/owner and help you assemble your winning construction team. I want you to be successful in casting your vision, building your team, building your project and winning your market.
Cast the Vision
Your immediate job as “head coach” of your project is to install the vision. You may be naturally visionary, seeing the big picture, or you may be analytical and detail-oriented, or a combination. That’s OK. Use your strengths as an advantage, whatever they may be. Be aware of your own weaknesses. Where you are weak, you just need a mitigating strategy.
Understand who your competitors will be, how you’ll compete and how you’ll go from nothing to a market leader. You can hire a guy to dissect and analyze the market, but you’re the one to implement a plan of attack for winning—and it starts with your vision.
Knowing what is and isn’t working inside your small market can be a good place to start in setting guideposts for your new project. In almost every market, there’s an array of competitors. When developing a game plan, focus on market leaders. That’s who you want to compete with, not the guy with 50 units and a rickety fence who built 20 years ago.
As you develop your vision, run it by others you trust. If you’re considering a multi-million-dollar project, you have people in your own network who are savvy and successful. These advisors might be like your assistant coaches, making suggestions along the way for seeing the vision grow into an actual competitive project. Sharing your ideas in the concept stage and inviting input from others will strengthen your overall vision.
Your Key Players
For a new self-storage project, a few players are in clearly defined roles. As the coach defining the vision, you must facilitate the discussions, set the expectations and let these players perform, while ultimately holding them accountable for their respective roles. Here’s who you should include on your team.
Project manager. Sometimes, this is you. Someone has to coordinate the team in the same direction. Project managers are invaluable for keeping the inertia of the project moving, managing a timeline and overall budget, and transitioning the project from site selection to design to bidding to entitlements to construction to marketing to management of the new business.
Industry consultant. Your first step after identifying a site will be quantifying demand and what your market will bear in terms of new development. An industry expert with no bias will help you identify the good, bad and ugly of your idea, from concept to construction.
Site-planning engineer. This is a critical part of your team. Your engineer will survey and map your site concept, generate site-construction documents, answer questions from local planning authorities, develop stormwater and utilities plans, and get it all on paper for the rest of the team. He’ll also stake elevations and building corners, and answer your site contractor’s questions. He’ll attend meetings as necessary to gain approval, and work with the rest of your team to tie elements of the project together.
Your engineer can take a rough concept and tell you what you’re missing. He might not always be familiar with the intricacies of self-storage site design, but he should know and understand the local codes and ordinances to which your project must conform.
Architect. If you’re building self-storage today, curb appeal matters. Architects can do a little for your project or a lot, but their input is always important. Good architects have unique talents in design. Their input translates into a better end product for you, your managers and your tenants. Aside from dressing up industrial-looking steel buildings, an architect will design an office and retail area that flows, landscape that’s inviting, and systems and lighting that enhance appeal and function. Architects can lead the entire design process or provide input as needed, even on a consultative basis.
General contractor (GC). Not all GCs are created equal. Some specialize in self-storage, some handle only construction. Some assist in or even lead the design process. Input during pre-development from a contractor can streamline a new construction project from start to finish. Once the project moves into the construction phase, the GC should be responsible for all the details and coordination until your new business opens.
Keep the Goal in Mind
Don’t forget your main goal! You set out to build self-storage not because you want steel buildings or pretty landscaping. You want to rent units. You want to lead the market. You want to pass an asset onto the next generation. You chose self-storage because you can manage a lot of income with few employees. You want out of the rat race. Whatever your motivation, keep your overall operation strategy in mind from the beginning. Your vision should build the team, guide the plays, install the playbook and, ultimately, satisfy your original goals.
Cast the vision. Build the right team. Build the right project. Win your market.
Benjamin Burkhart owns StorageStudy.com and BKB Properties. As a self-storage owner and consultant, he works with other owners and developers to identify and qualify market opportunities. He specializes in feasibility studies, market analysis, investment modeling and design consulting. To reach him, call 804.598.8742; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.storagestudy.com.