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Leveling the Competitive Self-Storage Playing Field Through Facility Renovation and Upgrades

There are thousands of self-storage facilities reaching the age at which they could use a facelift, especially if they have or are about to have new competition. Here’s a look at some upgrades that can greatly enhance an older property.

Terry Campbell

December 30, 2014

7 Min Read
Leveling the Competitive Self-Storage Playing Field Through Facility Renovation and Upgrades

In sports, one team sometimes has a competitive advantage over another, whether it’s faster runners or taller/stronger/bigger players. When the other team finds a way of compensating for its shortcoming, it’s known as “leveling the playing field.”

Sometimes it’s necessary to level the playing field in self-storage. Let’s say you own or operate a facility that’s been around for several years and you’ve enjoyed having the market mostly to yourself. You haven’t done a whole lot to upgrade the site, making it more attractive or user-friendly. Then one day you’re on the way to work and see a sign: “New state-of-the-art self-storage facility coming soon!”

The sign displays a rendering of a beautiful new facility with features you may not have. You get that feeling in the pit of your stomach. Suddenly, you’re going to be playing defense against those taller and faster players. But remember, you can level the playing field. The time to start is now, not after the new facility opens.

There are thousands of storage facilities out there reaching an age at which they could use a facelift, especially if they’re about to have new competition. For the last several years, owners have shied away from spending the money to update their sites because they enjoyed great occupancy and there wasn’t much new building going on; but things are changing. Pent-up demand caused by years of slow development is now being met. New facilities are on the rise and building is picking up. This means existing, older facilities may be forced to make some changes.

Fortunately, there are several areas in which improvements can be made. Some aren’t going to cost much, and the most dramatic might even cost the least. Let’s look some upgrades you can make to greatly enhance an older property.

Curb Appeal

Your property should look appealing from the street. A good-looking facility often equates to safety in many people’s minds. Remember this when you make changes or add buildings. Sometimes simple things like adding new landscaping and re-striping the parking lot can make a huge difference, and these projects don’t need to have a big price tag. For example, plant some flowers for color, and you’ll have instant improvement. Cut back or remove overgrown weeds and shrubbery, and make sure the grass is green and manicured.

Now look outside your office. Consider updating or adding an awning to dress up the front of the building. You could add a façade to give the building an updated look and really catch the eye. You might also want to replace the old door with a new glass one. Installing a couple of faux windows can really dress up the exterior as well. There are many architectural-style changes that can be made without any structural changes to the building.

Another aesthetic alteration you can make is to re-skin the building. If you have old or faded columns and headers around the doors, you can recover them with painted covers. This option, along with new trim and doors, will make the building look brand new.

A fresh coat of paint can also make your facility resemble a newer one. Maybe it’s time for a new sign. Perhaps you need a fresh layer of asphalt, or paint or sleeves for your bollards. The goal is to make your property look good from the street. It should make potential tenants want to pull into your parking lot.

The Management Office

Here’s another area where small changes can make a big impact. Is your office clean or cluttered? Is the counter inviting? Maybe a new granite countertop is in order. Is the office well-lit and bright with a retail area? Make sure the office is tidy and smells fresh. What does the floor look like? Maybe consider some new tile to replace that old, worn-out carpet.

After the exterior, the office is your second opportunity to make a good impression on potential and existing customers. It says a lot about how you do business and can give your renters confidence that you’re the right choice for them.

Unit Doors

Your unit doors are quite often a focal point of your facility, particularly if they can be seen from the street. This is what makes it obvious that you’re a self-storage facility. In what kind of condition are they? Are they dented? Is the paint faded or peeling?

When it comes to refreshing your doors, you have several options. If the paint is faded, there are products you can use to clean and recondition them, saving on replacement costs. If the paint is actually coming off, you could have them repainted, but if they’re old enough for the paint to be peeling, you may need to replace them. There’s more time and money involved in doing this, but it may be the best option.

When the doors are that old, they probably also have operating issues. If they don’t open and close smoothly and easily, you may have trouble renting these units. You might also get complaints from tenants. If you do replace the doors, look for ones with stainless-steel latches and handles, high-quality springs, tension adjusters, bearings, great paint warranties, extruded aluminum-bottom bars (especially in areas that use snow-melting agents), and bulb-type astragals.

Also consider security when replacing unit doors. There’ll be a period of time between removing the old doors and installing the new ones when the unit is vulnerable. Consider hiring a security guard and video recording the removals and installs, or having tenants on site while the work is done. You don’t want unexpected claims for damaged or missing items after the job is complete.


Another potential renovation is to update or replace the roof. It really isn’t a part of the facility’s curb appeal, but it’s very important for the reputation of your business. If you have leaks, you can bet word will get out, and you may have a hard time renting units. Take care of it before it becomes a problem.

You’ll need to decide whether to replace the old roof completely or add a new roof on top of it. Consider adding a standing-seam roof that has concealed clips so you aren’t penetrating the roof everywhere you insert a screw. Don’t skimp on your roof. It can come back to haunt you.

Other Property Elements

There are many other upgrades you might consider for your property. One option is to convert part of your facility to climate control if you don’t currently offer it or it’s in high demand in your market. It isn’t impossible to do, though it could be more involved than some of the other items mentioned above. If your market has changed since you built the facility, it may be worth the work and expense, especially if you’re going to have new competition that offers this amenity.

The same goes for your security system. If you don’t have video cameras, perimeter fencing and gated access, you’re already behind the eight ball. Luckily there are retrofit systems that can be installed without the need to run all kinds of wiring. New lighting can also go a long way toward improving site security.

Whatever types of renovations you consider, plan them so they don’t impede business. Try not to inconvenience your customers. Keep the site clean and drive aisles free of debris at all times. Small fragments like screws can easily puncture a tire, which will lead to a very unhappy tenant.

Updating your existing self-storage facility will help you level the playing field and keep you in the game. Take a look around your property and consider what changes—big or small—can be made to help you better compete. Sometimes there are small things you can do that will have a huge impact.

Terry Campbell, director of sales and marketing for BETCO Inc., is in charge of the company’s self­-storage and components sales worldwide. He’s been in the industry for 20 years and is also a facility owner. He contributes to industry publications and conferences, and is a board member of the North Carolina Self Storage Association. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.betcoinc.com.

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