Once you’ve found the ideal piece of land on which to build a new self-storage facility, choosing a building supplier, a builder and individual components can be daunting. In this article, we’ll look at factors to consider when choosing your partners and product, as well as strategies for creating a smooth relationship.
Answer These Questions First
Before you can decide which vendors are the best fit for your project, you should have a rough idea of the kind of storage facility you expect to build and how you wish to go about construction management. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Should I hire a general contractor? Before you can determine what you need in a building supplier, make an honest assessment of your own abilities and time. Do you have construction experience? How much time do you have to manage the planning and construction of your facility?
On a basic project, it’s common for a developer to serve as his own general contractor (GC). He can purchase the building materials directly from the supplier, and then hire the erection crew and other local contractors directly. More complicated projects, such as those with large, multi-story buildings, extensive site work or elaborate architectural finishes, may require a GC.
GCs may quote a project as a “lump sum” or offer their services on a “cost-plus” basis. The advantage of the former is it shouldn’t be changed unless you specifically alter the project specifications; however, you’ll need to clearly identify the quality of building you’ll receive. The cost-plus arrangement generally gives you better detail on what you’re getting and eliminates the incentive for a GC to cut corners on materials.
What will be my primary structure type? Your plan might be to build a large, urban, multi-story facility. Or perhaps you dream of offering traditional drive-up units. Or maybe you’ve identified your location as having high demand for open-canopy RV storage. Each vendor may excel at various types of buildings. Understand which type of storage is most important to you—and primary to your site—when looking at a candidate’s previously completed projects.
What level of quality does my market demand, and am I willing to pay for longer-lasting materials? Every building supplier will generally provide a structure built to withstand the snow and wind loads in your area. Quality in a self-storage building can also be observed in other ways. For example, are the exterior roof fasteners exposed or not, and do the interior partitions go all the way to the ceiling? Manufacturers can generally include or exclude a variety of details to meet your needs.
Choosing a Supplier
Once you know your project scope and needs, you’re ready to start zeroing in on your building supplier. Self-storage tradeshows are an excellent place to meet with multiple vendors at one time. If you can’t make it to an industry event, there are plenty of other ways to vet candidates. With today’s technology, it’s easy to communicate with suppliers from anywhere.
If you’re using a GC, it’s more likely you’re going to deal with a local company. In most cases, your materials will still come from out of state. A builder can handle planning from many states away when teamed with your civil engineer, so don’t let distance be a prohibiting factor in your choice.
An excellent predictor of success is the supplier’s past performance. Ask for the locations of completed projects you can visit and talk to the facility owner. Were construction issues resolved to his satisfaction? Is he pleased with the final product? Seeing these sites will also help you decide which options and details you want to include in your own facility.
Your main point of contact with a supplier will be a salesperson or regional manager. Ask about this person’s experience. How long has he been in the self-storage industry? Does he or anyone on his management team own a facility of his own? While a storage structure may appear to be simple, an experienced contact can guide you through the overall process and help you to identify fine details that will increase your return on investment and decrease management headaches.
Ask where the supplier’s components originate. Does it manufacture its own buildings? How long has the company been in business? If it goes out of business, replacing a damaged building or component will be difficult. Also ask about the process for purchasing repair parts.
Hiring an Erector
In addition to choosing the right supplier, if you’re serving as your own GC, you’ll need to find an erector to assemble the building. Your manufacturer may be able to provide labor along with materials, or it might offer you a list of experienced erector crews.
A third option is for you to hire a local steel-erecting firm. However, this typically isn’t a great idea. While in theory any qualified crew should be able to read the prints to assemble the structure, you’ll most likely get the best results by using a team experienced in assembling a particular building type.
Doors. Unit doors are a critical component of a self-storage building. While most look the same, you’ll want to make sure your doors have a wind rating that meets or exceeds your local building code. Visit the manufacturer’s website to find out if its door is wind-rated. Some models aren’t, and should be used only for interior corridors. If you have drive-up units, you’ll want a model that’s appropriate for exterior applications.
Doors without a correct wind rating will be a weak point. In the event of severe wind or tornado, door failure can contribute to or trigger the overall loss of a building.
Roof. Self-storage facilities are generally built with steel roofs. Within this category, you’ll be looking at either screw-down (cheaper) or a standing-seam (longer lasting). On a building with a low roof pitch, standing-seam is a better choice and may be the only option. On rooftops with a greater slope, either may be possible.
You’ll also have a choice of galvanized or painted steel. Painted rooftops are specified entirely for appearance. Generally, they’re used only on steeply pitched roofs where they’re more visible. They won’t last any longer than a less costly galvanized-only finish.
Read carefully when comparing quotes from multiple suppliers. In most cases, you’ll find prices on similar buildings to be close. If two quotes are significantly different, ask questions. If they’re off by more than a small percentage, it’s likely the comparisons aren’t direct. Major items to look for are:
- Roof type
- Compliance with the International Energy Conservation Code for roof and wall insulation
- Corridor options, including flush vs. ribbed headers and walls
- Hallway ceilings and lights
- Exterior steel gauge
Once you’ve made the decision to build, you’d probably like to see the project completed as soon as possible. The reality is your timeline is going to be impacted by many variables that are outside your control and that of your building supplier.
Before your building can be erected, you’ll need loans in place as well as permits (probably from multiple agencies). You’ll also need to complete your storm-water handling and grading, install gravel or paved drives, and pour the concrete foundations. As your permit and site-work timelines come into focus, your project will be slotted into the manufacturer’s and erector’s schedules.
A well-crafted building plan with minimal changes during construction will help speed the process along. Be wary of promises of quickness to earn your business. Also keep in mind that the vendor who tells you the truth—even when it’s not what you want to hear—is the partner that will ultimately benefit you the most.
Your building-supplier relationship will be built on trust. You want a supplier you can trust to provide fair pricing as well as good quality and service. The supplier is trusting you to provide accurate information about the property, your permit and zoning status, and the timelines of your local site-work and concrete contractors. Good luck on your next project!
Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. He also owns a self-storage facility in Wisconsin and is a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit www.trachte.com.