Pay Now or Later

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Kliebensteins new book, How to Make Money in Self-Storage, set for 2007 publication.

Reducing maintenance costs begins while the project is still on paper, in conceptual drawings. Important decisions about materials, from exterior metal vs. block to durable floor treatments must be mad.

Weather conditions will dictate many conditions. For example, in areas with higher regular snowfall, areas need to be allocated between buildings to push and store snow for melting. This should be done in areas where the melted snow will not run back into the drive, potentially freezing and causing icy spots.

Planning for where water will go from gutter downspouts is also important. If melted snow from the roof is caught by gutters, and then the downspouts route the water across one-half the driveway to a center-line catch basin, downspouts at minimum should be as close to the catch basin drain as possible.

In the planning stages, the architect should also specify the types of light fixtures to be used, particularly important in fluorescent tubes. Whenever possible, the same fixtures with like bulbs should be used throughout the store. At times, outdoor fixtures may require different bulbs than interior fixtures, resulting in higher inventory costs of stocking multiple bulb types.

Whenever possible, the length of the tubes should also be uniform. What is often practical in construction may cause issues later on. For example, there are less ballasts and fixtures required with 8-foot fixtures, thus reducing initial costs. But 8-foot tubes are more expensive to replace and can be more difficult to store than 4-foot tubes. In some extremely cold areas of the country, the 8-foot ballast may be required to be more powerful, or gas in the bulbs may not fully charge.

At a recent visit to a store in Michigan, the owner had cut corners by replacing expensive specialty ballasts with the cheapest he could find. When Old Man Winter brought sub-zero temperatures, the ballasts would not power the bulbs to more than a dull haze, leaving dark hallways among smaller units in a non-climate-controlled building.

Contractors most often leave behind detailed manuals and warranty booklets. These are important not only when items require repair under warranty, but to specify items such as exact color codes for paint, and use of common brands of paint that can be purchased locally. Contractors should leave small quantities of touch-up paint after the job is done.

Often, there is a big design debate between metal buildings and block or tilt-up concrete. In cases where fire prevention doesnt dictate the outcome, metal is typically less expensive. However, dented metal is hard to patch or repair in many applications, whereas painted block can be touched up less expensively with better results.

Appealing Looks

When touring a property with a prospective renter, a well-displayed pride of ownership can be used as an effective sales tool.

Sales staff should be quick to point out in an older, well-maintained property recent capital improvements and regular maintenance. This can send a clear message to the prospect that, while your store may not be the newest, it may be the best cared for. If the grounds and buildings are well maintained, its logical for the prospect to believe that security, access control and hallways are as well cared for as the entrance to the office and the restroom.

Three Key Elements

The lessons learned are 1) design well, 2) maintain regularly and 3) replace as needed. These are the keys to controlling costs and avoiding expensive surprises at a capital event, such as a refinance or sale. Buyers will recognize that if properties show signs of missed maintenance, bigger issues have likely have been left unattended. Maintenance checklists meticulously completed, with notes of repairs and replacements, are a good indication of solid management practices.

Sometimes investing in current technology will go a long way toward make an older property seem state-of-the-art. As an example, replace CRT monitors with LCD panels. In this case, size does matter. For relatively few dollars, you can upgrade from a 17-inch CRT monitor to a 19-inch or even 21-inch LCD, and take up less space. Upgrading analog, tape-driven recording devices to digital recorders with proper back-ups not only reduces operating costs, but is of higher quality imaging with less chance for failure.

Old properties dont have to be tired. Even though you may not have the newest product, you can have the best. A little paint and a lot of elbow grease in a super-clean environment can speak volumes. New properties can deteriorate quite quickly if they arent cared for; some building materials of yesterday can be more solid, such as real woods instead of laminates.

Clean Up Your Act

There is no excuse for filth. Even the oldest, low-cost properties can be clean and make a great impression. All areas visible to the public should be clean and professional.

Handwritten signs are unacceptable. Fifth-generation photocopies indicate laziness. Old chairs with worn cushions are a sign that first impressions are unimportant to the store. Worn carpets and yellowed or dull paint create a sense of carelessness. Lack of pride of ownership is evident when old and worn greeting areas are commonplace.


Make regular maintenance items a part of a checklistsome daily, some weekly, and monthly, quarterly and annually. Just because its on a staff members daily task list doesnt mean supervisors dont need to be involved. The checklist should be revealing expected as well as extraordinary repairs. You might consider three categories for the checklist with such headings as shown in the Starter Checklist. This will allow staff and supervisors to work together to prevent expensive repairs down the road.

Regular maintenance needs to be funded with supplies and, in some cases, spare parts. For example, if your store is located in an area prone to lightning strikes, and you havent invested in sophisticated lightning protection system, you may want to keep a spare keypad-printed circuit board in stock.

At minimum, your supply inventory should include light bulbs types used onsite. Dont assume all bulbs are alike! There are several types of fluorescent tubes, and not all bulbs are compatible with every fixture.

You should have a maintenance list created by someone who doesnt visit the property regularly, then further developed by supervisors and staff. Studies show that after 90 days we become so accustomed to things, we ignore or dont notice them. For ideas, examine the Starter Checklist. This is just a start. As you inspect your site, youll probably come up with a number of others.


Water is one of the most needed, beautiful, and desired of all elements on earth. It is also one of the most destructive if it finds areas meant to be dry. This is why its important to check thresholds for water. A worn door seal can unnecessarily increase energy costs, and allow water to become trapped in the carpet pad. Traveling water can also encourage wood-destroying organisms. Nobody invites termites to the party!

Water will also cause paint to blister. Blistering is often the symptom of a more serious issue. Blisters should be dealt with beyond treatment of the superficial damage. Water is also a known cause of staining, and it can be difficult to locate the source of a water leak. In a recent instance, a growing stain in an office ceiling turned out to be coming from an A/C unit on a pad outside of the apposing wall, some 15 feet away.

The problem was not an easy fix. During original construction, a condensate line was run through the ceiling joists. The small inverted apex of a dip in the condensate line caused water to drip at that location. A large section of the ceiling had to be removed to find the cause of the problem. Because it was discovered early, the line could be replaced, and ceiling joists werent damaged. The story could have ended with a much more complicated solution. 

RK Kliebenstein is president of Coast-To-Coast Storage, a self-storage consultancy firm, and co-author of How to Invest in Self-Storage. A new edition with the same title will be published next year. For more information, call 877-622-5508; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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