By Melanie Dow
QuikStor Security & Software has served the self-storage industry since 1987, providing management software and security products and, more recently, online marketing services. Our management team has also built, owned, operated and partnered on several dozen California self-storage facilities. As such, owning and managing a self-storage operation from our headquarters has always been a company goal.
In 2004, we purchased and relocated our offices to a 20,000-square-foot building in Van Nuys, Calif., that included 9,000 square feet of warehouse space. Last year, we proceeded to convert the warehouse into 121 interior storage units that would be managed by our own staff.
Opened in July 2016, QuikStor Self Storage not only provides traditional storage services, it showcases our products and serves as an employee training ground. Here’s an overview of our development and construction process, through to opening day, as well as some insight and advice for new builders.
The Development Team
One of our first tasks was to assemble the development team that would make it all possible. We brought on James Goodman of James Goodman Architecture, and an engineering team to create the building plans and design the unit mix. We’d worked with Goodman on previous projects, including dozens of sites for Public Storage Inc.
Our executives decided early on we would act as our own general contractor and hire the demo crew, electricians, flooring specialists and plumbers. We would also design, supply and install all the security. Many of our chosen contractors were ones we’d worked with before. Our vice president, Tony Gardner, oversaw the hiring of the team and the construction process.
Construction began in April 2016. Coordinating all the trades was critical to the project’s success. Moving everyone along and getting things done in a proper order helped dramatically reduce the development timeframe. We created a successful construction environment via constant phone, text and e-mail communication, which ensured efficient coordination of the project as it progressed.
Our primary agenda—to construct the facility as quickly and efficiently as possible—was shared by everyone involved. The key was identifying potential bottlenecks and taking steps to avoid them. Expert guidance also allowed the process to go as smoothly as possible.
One of the first hurdles in the development process was to determine the ideal unit mix, which is a balance of art and science. Though every storage owner would love to create the perfect “banker’s mix,” with nothing but smaller units that yield the highest per-square-foot rent, it isn’t realistic. Diversity is key to being successful and reaching full occupancy.
It was in our best interest to examine the demographics around Van Nuys and Northern Los Angeles. Our staff performed research at local storage facilities to see which unit sizes were the most popular. With three community colleges and six universities nearby, catering to students seemed essential. Our research also revealed it would be wise to accommodate commercial businesses. Companies in our area often need to store large equipment.
After studying the market, it was decided we would offer a unit mix including 5-by-5 to 10-by-15 units as well as some smaller lockers. The largest units target businesses, while the smaller ones are ideal for students. The lockers target all niches of the marketplace, from companies that need to store files to students who only need to store a few items.
Unit Mapping and Numbering
Properly mapping the units was a matter of geometry and understanding the space in which we had to work. First, we drafted a to-scale map. We realized the corners were better for accommodating larger units because of hallway access, so many of the 10-by-15s were put there. The middle region was designated for 5-by-5s and lockers to maximize the coverage. Many of the lockers are closer to the front of the building to provide a perk to customers who need quick and frequent access.
Unit numbering began with the first unit on the left, closest to the entrance, and followed along the walls in ascending order, spiraling before making its way to the facility center. We used small placard-style numbers attached to the framing above the unit doors, which are large enough to see down the hall. In addition, there’s a large facility map posted in the lobby to simplify navigation.
Security and Amenities
At every self-storage facility, security is a big consideration. The measures used at our property include wireless door alarms, high-definition video cameras and cylinder locks. Our plan was drawn from a combination of advice from our security engineers, firsthand experience at other facilities owned and managed by our staff, and other properties for which we’ve designed security systems.
Tenant amenities include an intercom system that provides two-way communication with the facility manager from key points around the site as well as a paging and music system. It’s important for customers to enjoy ambient music as they load and unload belongings. We want to make their stop as enjoyable as possible.
To further assist tenants with their move, we provide two moving carts for their use. Our facility also includes a retail office that sells moving and packing supplies such as boxes, locks and bubble wrap.
Because the facility takes advantage of our company’s new online marketing platform and e-commerce capabilities, tenants can reserve and pay for their units online. They can also follow us on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and read our blog for specials, important updates and other informative tidbits.
Documentation and Marketing
We took photos and video of the project every day to track our development progress. When construction ended, the footage was wrapped into a time-lapse video for online marketing and documentation. The material was posted to our social media platforms and website so customers could follow our growth.
We marketed the facility through advertising and social media long before we opened the doors. Website development and search engine optimization (SEO) were critical components for name recognition. SEO specialists made the facility’s presence known early. As a result, we had reservations before we even opened, from individuals as well as businesses. Having such receptive response showed our techniques were effective.
Going forward, we’re relying on our graphic design and social media departments to work on advertising strategies that will maximize occupancy. This includes customer interaction through social media to learn which marketing methods will best procure new business.
Constructing our facility has been a great hands-on experience for everyone at the company. Through this process, our staff has gained valuable insight to building and operating self-storage, gaining real-life knowledge on the trials and tribulations facility owners face during the building phase. They were excited to see the fruits of their labor, and there’s been a rejuvenation throughout the company as we’ve established and promoted the property and witnessed the physical embodiment of this dream.
Our facility is now used as the core training ground for all new employees, providing them with an understanding of the industry and how the company’s products are used in daily application. They’re learning how to show units, make rentals, etc. This gives everyone, from the receptionist to the programmers, the ability to play manager for a day.
This firsthand information has already proven to foster new ideas for improvements and features in our security products. Employees have submitted more than 25 new software and hardware requests to our programming and product-development departments. They’ve also made recommendations for our upcoming series of keypads and gate software.
Advice for New Builders
We’ve all learned so much through this project. With this valuable understanding, we’re in a great position to relay our experiences and results to other operators. The only regret we have is not starting the project sooner!
Some of the best advice we can offer anyone building a new facility is to use a good architect. Hire someone with storage experience who can be a strong quarterback for the project.
Also, try and relax. It’s a process, but it will all come together. At the end of each day, remember your goal. Delays will happen, so just do what you can to move forward. Realize that even with the best planning and follow-up, things can veer off the intended course. Just focus on steering it back and deal with obstacles with positivity and determination.
Melanie Dow is a search engine optimization specialist at QuikStor Security & Software, a one-stop-shop for security and software products in the self-storage industry since 1987. For more information, call 800.321.1987, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.quikstor.com.