By Leeann Fleming
Have you ever driven by a rundown building and thought it had the potential to be a great self-storage facility? Or maybe you’ve noticed an empty retail space in a high-traffic area and wondered if it could be transformed into a beautiful storage site.
Due to land constraints in many communities, it’s become increasingly popular for self-storage developers and owners to convert vacant buildings to their desired use. If demand and economic conditions are appropriate in a particular market, the conversion of an existing building can be the right solution for someone who’s looking to build his next storage project.
Location is always an important factor for a successful self-storage development, and many vacant structures are in infill areas on the cusp of transformation. These former retail, industrial and warehouse buildings often have adequate traffic counts, exposure along highways or main streets, and favorable demographics. If you’re considering a conversion project, here’s advice on assessing potential sites and designing the facility for success.
Once you’ve decided to move forward with a conversion rather than build a new facility, it’s critical to conduct a feasibility study to determine if this type of development is applicable to and appropriate for the market and existing structure. The common denominators for a successful development are local analysis and rational decision-making, which hinges on the recognition of market conditions. You also need to carefully asses the condition of the building in question and confirm the location is strong in current and future demographics.
The feasibility study should determine if a conversion to storage makes financial sense or warrants additional due diligence. This type of project often costs less than ground-up development because many of the structural necessities, such as elevators, HVAC systems, lighting and sprinkler systems, are already in place.
While the process will vary by project, most conversions take about four to six months. This is usually a shorter time period than that of new construction because much of the infrastructure already exists.
Design is usually the one of the most exhilarating parts of the conversion process. It offers you the opportunity to move your vision to reality—your space, your style. It’s imperative to build a safe and secure facility that’s welcoming, clean and comforting. Perception, first impressions and convenience are also important aspects, as self-storage is now seen as a retail service.
The flow and feel of the facility is the most critical design characteristic. Unit mix should be driven by area demographics and density, not the “most squares” that will fit in the space. When designing your layout, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Larger units should be closer to the access point.
- The maximum walking distance for tenants should be 180 feet, with no more than two turns.
- Avoid putting large units back-to-back in open areas.
- Unit walls perpendicular to the hallway should be installed first.
- Maximize efficiency as much as practicable.
- Avoid single-loaded perimeter hallways whenever possible.
- Consider automatic doors at a minimum of 4 feet wide at the main access points.
- Add carts near entryways to assist tenants with their move.
Also pay great attention to the design of your front office. The space should be a minimum of 500 square feet, inviting and furnished with finishes that reflect your brand. Here are some things to consider:
- Add a seating area.
- Offer free Wi-Fi.
- Have a designated area stocked with beverages and snacks.
- Consider adding meeting-room space that can be rented to tenants and other community members.
- Include a spacious restroom.
- Install flat-panel TV screens that display live security footage and a site map.
To differentiate your facility from competition, you may want to consider incorporating additional amenities that will generate revenue. These include climate control, stackable lockers, wine storage, and relocatable storage units for vacant parking areas or easements where traditional storage structures can’t be built.
As with any self-storage project, conversion or otherwise, you must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). All facilities must allot a specific number of units as ADA-accessible. Properties with less than 200 units should dedicate 5 percent of their total units. Those with more than 200 must designate 10 units plus another 2 percent of the total. It’s best to disperse these among classes of unit types.
To be compliant, the units will need to be outfitted with the appropriate door, latch and handle pulls as well as signage. There are also ADA guidelines for accessibility routes, bathrooms, drinking fountains (if applicable), elevators, entrances, parking and stairs.
In the real estate market, things are always changing. One quadrant of a market grows while another remains stagnant. Retail areas shift. Former non-residential areas become residential. Regardless of local macro trends, demand and use can change due to economic, functional and physical forces in a marketplace. The next time you see an empty building, forget what it used to be and think about what it could be. You just might find your next storage project.
Leeann Fleming is the marketing manager for Janus International Group LLC, which provides self-storage doors, hallway components, portable storage and mezzanine systems. Headquartered in Temple, Ga., Janus has eight U.S. locations as well as manufacturing facilities in Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom. It’s owned by Saw Mill Capital Partners LP, a New York-based private equity investment fund managed by Saw Mill Capital LLC. For more information, call 770.562.2850; visit www.janusintl.com.