Whether you’re working on your first self-storage project or your 50th, your development team is essential to realizing your vision, ensuring it’s financially successful and an operation you’re proud to own. Of course, many owners and developers have wishes and ideas that, while being important to them personally, may not be viable. The right professionals can help you determine what’s crucial, steer you away from bad decisions and keep you on a fruitful path. Team assembly is the first and most important step in the development process.
Industry knowledge is central to a successful outcome. Developers and owners who are new to the industry are at the beginning of their education, but even those who are seasoned should know the business is evolving. Depending on your level of experience, it can be smart to hire a well-informed consultant who can help you choose your development team and provide guidance throughout the project.
The common denominator between your team members should be storage-specific experience. There’s always the possibility of mistakes during development, but having a skilled team will keep any missteps and your overall timeline to a minimum. One of the most common questions people ask when developing a self-storage project is how long it’s going to take. There are simply too many unknowns to be able to provide a pat answer, which is why it’s critical to have experienced professionals in every position.
It’s also crucial to select your supporters at the outset of your project, before you put any site under contract. Conducting due diligence takes patience, and allowing them to assist in the process will save you time and possibly a lot of money. Let’s look at the essential roles to hire into your self-storage development team and what each should bring to the table.
Your civil engineer will assist in overall site development. He’ll figure out what you can build, the amount of square footage and the estimated costs to develop the site. He’ll also determine the facility layout based on site topography, drainage and setbacks.
The history and rights of a property are extremely important in making a land-purchase decision. Your civil engineer should be able to access those things to determine if there are any easements. He should also figure out what infrastructure is needed to meet the standards of the local jurisdiction. Owning the property doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. The land is governed by multiple authorities and agencies designed to protect the area and rights of the community, ensuring its highest and best use.
All of this takes time, so before putting a site under contract, the engineer should estimate how long it’ll take to perform his scope of work. All the information gathered about the site will help you determine exactly how much it’ll cost to develop.
Geotech Engineering Firm
You need a geotech engineering firm to perform a soils report during due diligence. This can be critical to understanding the overall cost of the land. Though it may be priced at $3 per square foot, the soil could be so bad that you need to remove and replace it, increasing your actual cost to $8 to $12 per square foot.
Hire this team member at the same time as your civil engineer, and make sure the firm has history in self-storage development. Ask if it can value engineer the site after it completes its report to make the project work. This step will be critical in determining how much you’re willing to pay for the land.
The architect handles the design of the project and will typically factor in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing team with his proposal. Together, they’ll address any jurisdictional codes required for the property. It’s extremely important to work directly with your architect to ensure no one gets ahead or falls behind. Teamwork will keep the job moving in the right direction and help eliminate costly changes.
You may wish to consider an architect who isn’t based in the city or state in which you’re developing. Not only is this acceptable, it’s sometimes recommended. Many architects are licensed in multiple states. In conducting a search, consult industry directories and your state self-storage association for a list of experienced professionals. Believe me, the last thing you want to do is train up an architect who isn’t familiar with storage. It’ll only cost you time and money.
Versatility is a good trait to find in an architect, too. We’ve sometimes worked with a single architect on multiple jobs in multiple cities simultaneously, which prevented a lot of duplication that would have occurred if we’d chosen a different person for each job. Similarly, whether you’re building single- or multi-story buildings, it’s important that your architect can do both. No site is the same, so you can’t rubber-stamp drawings. The same image can be designed but not the same building. Your branding can be duplicated but not the same design.
Finally, your architect must be willing to work with you. While you want his expertise, he needs to work within your budget. If this doesn’t happen, you’ll wind up with a project that’s over designed and out of alignment with industry dynamics. Climate-control considerations, designing to code and industry standards are all critical aspects to consider.
Remember, there will be problems no matter how hard you try to do everything right. Everyone is human. Make sure the architect does his part in reviewing the team’s work. When mistakes occur, make sure he corrects them.
The structural engineer will work with the civil and geotech engineers to determine the type of slab you need. This person will also need to do the building drawings for steel design. Though some steel companies will offer to do the design and construction on your project, it’s your call in how you want to move forward. Once you commit to that company, you’re obligated. Hiring your own structural engineer allows you to gather multiple bids to get the best pricing.
Each member of your self-storage development team is critical to the success of the project. Like anything in life, once you’ve done something right the first time, doing it again is often better and a little easier; but there will sometimes be mistakes. When they occur, it’s best to correct, move forward and forget the blame. Always try to learn from any errors as a team. If you have a member who can’t admit to his fault, he needs to be replaced.
To help facilitate a team atmosphere, gather everyone’s schedule at the outset and plan a series of meetings to ensure you’re all on the same page and moving in the right direction throughout the project. Use an agenda to keep things organized. Meeting every three weeks is a good rule of thumb, but remember that each team member is probably working on more than just your project, so be mindful of scheduling conflicts and time constraints.
Self-storage can be challenging, but it’s a community industry in which people work well together. Operators are almost always willing to share their knowledge. This should give you encouragement to pursue your project with confidence. Assemble your development team up front and listen to their knowledge and advice. Together, you’ll be able to create a project of which you can be proud.
Glenda R. Jacoby is owner of RCM Services, a full design and construction-management company specializing in self-storage. She works directly with developers and owners in pursuit of projects, works with jurisdictions to ready sites for development, and creates plans to arrive at Certificate of Occupancy. She’s served the self-storage industry for 28 years and has experience in multiple states. To reach her, call 210.861.9216; email [email protected].