When building a new self-storage facility, your goal should be to maximize rentable square footage and, therefore, the profitability of the operation. You need to determine the optimal size and configuration for the buildings as well as the best unit mix. Location is critical, as are facility aesthetics and security. Opportunities for expansion might also be important.
There’s a lot to consider, and arriving at your final design takes research and patience. Here are eight tips to help drive your development decisions.
Tip 1: Research the Competition
To choose your self-storage unit mix, it’s important to know the unit sizes available in your market and their level of availability. For example, if you discover that most competitors’ 10-by-10s are full, your new facility should include an appropriate number in that size to help meet demand. Most facility operators these days post their inventory online, which can help you get a feel for your local market. Driving by or even secret-shopping properties is another way to gather helpful intelligence.
Tip 2: Gauge Local Demand
When scouting locations for your self-storage project, pay attention to the types of businesses and community activity around each site, as this’ll help you judge demand. For example, if there’s a college campus nearby, you know many students living in dorms will need seasonal storage. If the area is teeming with recreational activities, such as boating or auto racing, it’s reasonable to assume you’ll need some large units to accommodate vehicle storage.
In addition, check to see what future developments are planned for the market. This can be done by contacting local city or county offices. Plans for multi-family projects, for example, are good drivers for new storage demand.
Tip 3: Focus on Rent Per Square Foot
When deciding your unit mix, lean on your market research to determine the right balance of sizes without sacrificing profit per square foot. If possible, build more smaller self-storage units than large. Here’s why:
Larger units carry higher rental rates, but they deliver less income per square foot. Plus, they’re often rented to house vehicles, like boats and RVs, which makes it very easy for the tenants to move out. Smaller units tend to be filled with lots of boxes and small items, which are more of a hassle to move. As a result, these tend to be longer-term rentals.
Tip 4: Avoid Offering Electricity
Though you might be tempted, equipping units with electrical outlets can lead to problems. For one, you don’t want tenants working on car repairs or other projects that generate noise or eyesores for other customers. Second, some renters may try to live in their units if they have access to power. Though it was relatively common years ago to provide and charge customers for electricity with their units, that practice is dwindling.
Tip 5: Design With Security in Mind
Traditional self-storage buildings should be aligned at right angles to the street frontage to offer clear sightlines, which helps customers feel safe when on site. Ample exterior lighting also provides a feeling of security, particularly at night. Also, erect perimeter fencing around the property, and install security cameras. Keypad entry on individual units adds an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access.
Tip 6: Reduce the Need for Maintenance
Opt for a self-storage design that ensures the property is easy to maintain. For example, it’s common for tenants to enter the property in trucks or trailers, but few are experienced in driving them. Install bollards on all corners of each building to help avoid crashes and damage. Also, keep exteriors as simple as possible. For structures with steel coverings, choose a paint system with a warranty, as rust or fading can be expensive to fix.
Tip 7: Allow for Snow Removal
Self-storage operators need to provide year-round unit access to customers. If you’re going to operate in a cold climate, make sure your facility layout includes enough room to move and stack snow. Having to haul snow away from your site can be very expensive. In areas with higher than average rainfall, make sure your development plan includes proper grading and drainage to avoid standing water.
Tip 8: Plan for Expansion
Growth is the lifeblood of many businesses, and self-storage is no exception. As you look at potential properties and home in on facility design, envision where additional structures could eventually be situated and plan accordingly. Building with high-quality, durable materials will help maintain the fresh look of older buildings as new ones are added and provide a cohesive appearance.
Also, keep records of the unit sizes requested by customers in your earlier phases. This will help determine space allocation for subsequent buildings.
Plan for Future Revenue!
A thorough planning process will help ensure your self-storage development is efficient and meets the needs of ownership, staff and customers. It’ll also reduce the risk of problems during and after construction. A well-planned facility can provide positive cash flow, well into the future.
Dan Nyberg is sales-training manager for Morton Buildings Inc., which offers building solutions for self-storage and other industries. In his 30-plus years with the company, Dan has also served as director of sales and regional manager. His career has included writing environmental-impact statements, public relations, on-air radio and sales, and farm management. He enjoys raising grass-fed cattle on his small farm in Northern Illinois. For more information, visit www.mortonbuildings.com/projects/mini-storage.