Building Your Service Stable: Finding and Hiring Contractors for Self-Storage Maintenance Problems

When something breaks at your self-storage facility, there’s no time to scramble for a service contractor. The author offers advice on how to build a stable of reliable companies so you’re prepared before a maintenance issue arises.

It’s 5:35 p.m. on a Friday before a three-day holiday weekend. It’s been a fairly normal week at your self-storage facility, and you’re getting ready to close the office when it happens: You notice the gate system isn’t responding. Customers can’t access your facility, the computer won’t update the gate controller, and a little tinge of worry sets in your psyche.

You sit at your computer, hoping beyond hope you can find the name of that gate company you hired last year. You sift through your e-mail, check your files, even open your accounting program to look for an old invoice. Guess what? You can’t find it! Now the real fun begins because you’ve gone from looking forward to a fun weekend to full-blown panic.

This type of situation happens more often than our industry would like to admit. It’s not just gate systems that fail, but air-conditioning units, cameras, doors and even printers. Preparation is the key to keeping your facility’s maintenance and service issues at bay. To accomplish this, we must have a solid stable of service professionals to help with the issues we confront on a day-to-day basis. What kinds of contractors will help you? How do we find them and how much should we really pay? Let’s explore how you can be prepared before something breaks.

Simply Irritating or a Big Deal?

All self-storage facilities have items that break down from time to time but don’t cause too much angst. Then there are some problems that, when they occur, they’re big. Typical daily issues might involve a facility’s:

  • Cameras, gate or other security components
  • Unit doors
  • Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) units
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Driveways, parking lot or landscaping

A majority of these issues are annoyances, but most won’t keep you from running the property. The bigger issues are typically related to capital-repair items or some type of situation that needs to be discussed with your insurance company. These might include:

  • Roof replacement
  • Lightning strikes
  • Utility damage or replacement
  • Extensive building damage
  • Blacktop and asphalt issues
  • Sink holes
  • HVAC replacements

These are the types of problems for which you need service contractors in your electronic Rolodex. How do you find them? Fifteen years ago, we would break open the Yellow Pages. Now we have the Internet. The fastest way to find any contractor is to visit Google or Bing and do a search. You’ll find a number of options in your area. Look at each one and read the customer reviews. If you’re social media inclined, try searching Facebook as well. The platform has grown massively over the last few years and has been aggressively adding business profiles to its service.

In addition, talk to friends and family. It will take about five minutes for one of them to say, “I know a guy.” Also consider your customers. You may have a contractor, electrician, plumber or roofer who rents at your facility.

Choosing a Contractor

Finally, we get to the hardest part: choosing a service contractor. This will be easier for services you can assess quickly. For example, anyone can walk outside to see if the facility landscaping looks good or if something was pressure-washed correctly. It gets trickier with services we don’t understand. Most of us aren’t roofers, HVAC or gate techs, so we’re mistrustful right off the bat because we don’t know how the technology works. You’ll have to ask yourself things like:

  • Is this company giving me the best deal?
  • Does this HVAC unit really need to be replaced?
  • Do I really need a new roof?

The way to combat your deficit of knowledge is to schedule appointments with a couple service contractors. Have them review your problem and give you a bid. After reviewing the bids, choose the one you feel will best address your issue. If you think the bid is high, try negotiating to get the best deal. Remember, the cheapest bid doesn’t always come with the best service, so take that into account. Make sure any contractor who conducts any type of work at your facility is licensed and insured, as well as willing to give you a copy of its certificate of insurance and a W-9 tax form, if necessary.

In addition, consider hiring a service contractor for regular maintenance. For example, have your facility’s HVAC units checked on a regular basis. The tech will review the machines, recharge the coolant, check the air handlers and replace the filters. This not only allows them to work at optimum level in terms of cooling and energy use, it allows a tech address problems before they become more expensive issues. Plus, when your facility is faced with a larger maintenance concern, you’ll already have a company you trust to diagnose your problem.

Initially, you’re rolling the dice whenever you hire a new service contractor. However, the longer you work with the company, the more your level of trust will increase. Speak with multiple candidates, ask questions, and diligently review their work to build a great stable of service professionals.

Matthew Van Horn is a member of the operations team at Reliant Real Estate Management LLC, a full-service self-storage management company specializing in acquisitions, feasibility studies, management and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. He’s also president of 3 Mile Domination, a full-service self-storage marketing and strategy company. For more information, visit www.storesmart.org and www.3miledomination.com.

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