Often, the ultimate success of a new self-storage facility hinges on the people hired to run the day-to-day business. As the manager, it’s your job to help the owner maximize his investment and fill the facility quickly.
Given the opportunity to launch a new site, managers are usually excited and motivated, have lots of new ideas and are looking forward to the challenge. But you may have some apprehension as well. Let’s explore how you can benefit from this experience and create a successful self-storage opening.
Working With the Contractor
When opening a new self-storage facility, there are specific tasks that need to be completed by the owner, the manager or a management company. In this article, we’ll refer to owner or manager, but keep in mind that either or both can or should be involved in the opening process.
A pre-opening checklist is a must, and getting things done on time is vital to a successful opening. In most cases, the manager should be chosen several months before the completion of construction, but it should be at least a month in advance.
The owner should introduce you to the construction superintendent, letting him know you’ll be on site from time to time but will not interfere with construction. Keep in mind that while many superintendents will be polite to you, most don’t want to hear about your personal experiences and what you would do differently if you were the owner. The construction company is following the plans it was given, and any variation from those plans will generate a “change order,” costing the owner more money.
That said, an experienced manager can provide feedback on what may help the operation run smoother, for example, the placement of computer hardware, the layout of the retail-sales area, the location of the maintenance unit, the number of electrical outlets for the office and apartment, the numbering of unit doors, etc. Actual examples can be helpful, and the construction company can often make these kinds of changes without incurring significant costs.
Preparing in Advance
Logistics. The owner should ensure all applicable licenses have been applied for and received. It’s embarrassing and frustrating to be ready to open only to be delayed because of the business license.
The appropriate insurance coverage should be purchased well in advance so there are no problems. Proper state and federal identifications as well as workers’ compensation insurance should be in place before opening the doors.
All appropriate utility companies should be contacted to ensure service will be ready when the store opens.
Shopping. Prepare a list of all the items you will need before opening, including rental agreements, business cards, marketing materials, accounting hardware and software, maintenance tools and materials, and ancillary supplies. Uniforms and other site-specific items should be ordered well in advance of the grand opening. Two weeks before the store is ready to open, acquire all the supplies necessary for facility operation, inside and out. That includes a golf cart, tools, computers, paper, cleaning supplies, etc.
Marketing. Before opening, work with the owner on a marketing plan. First, make a list of all the facility’s benefits and features. This will help define the facility’s branding and set it apart from competitors. (Speaking of competitors, you and the owner should meet and learn as much about your competitors as possible, including rental rates, unit sizes and other services such as mailboxes or retail sales.)
A website and e-mail addresses should be established prior to opening to create buzz and enhance the marketing plan. You and the owner should also join the local chamber of commerce to network and promote the facility’s grand-opening ceremony.
The facility owner should make contact with a Yellow Pages representative early so the deadline is not missed. Most books print several months after the order deadline and are usually distributed annually.
Learning the product. Get familiar with the layout of the facility, and be aware of any potential problems or features such as ingress/egress conditions, turning radiuses, bollards and drainage issues. Ensure that you have access to all of the necessary maintenance items, such as an outlet to plug in the golf-cart battery charger. Make sure you know your site’s inventory of specific unit sizes so you can best rent out spaces and manage the inventory.
If you and the owner work together and are clear about your respective responsibilities, it will result in a smooth opening. Most new facilities experience some problems early on, but by being prepared, you can minimize the negative effect. If, on the other hand, the preparation and communication are not solid, it can result in an opening disaster.
Owners can gain valuable knowledge by partnering with someone like you who has hands-on self-storage experience and knowledge of a facility’s day-to-day needs. If this is an owner’s first facility, he may ask for input.
Now it’s time to open the doors and welcome new customers to the finest facility in Anytown, USA! Good luck.
Mel Holsinger is president of Professional Self Storage Management LLC, which manages more than 40 facilities in Arizona, Colorado and Texas. Holsinger has been in the self-storage industry for more than 25 years. He is a frequent speaker at industry tradeshows, a contributing writer to Inside Self-Storage magazine, and an instructor of the Self-Storage Training Institute. To reach him, call 520.319.2164; e-mail [email protected].