Opening a new self-storage facility can be an exciting but stressful experience. There are always concerns about the initial success of a venture and its long-term financial outlook. You have zero customers, loads of operating expenses and debt service due, now. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. After all, you’ve put in a ton of effort, time, money, emotion and sacrifice to get to this point.
Still, the work isn’t done just because construction is over. You now need customers, staff, inventory and equipment, operational tools, and a whole lot more to ensure you generate revenue. But don’t be discouraged. Below are some things you can do in advance to reduce opening-day anxiety and start business off strong.
Experiencing good customer traffic on opening day is a direct result of skillful marketing. It starts with performing proper due diligence when selecting your location. For a new build, conduct complex research on areas under consideration to determine sites with significant market reach.
Once you break ground, you’ll want to immediately install signage to let surrounding businesses and residents know what you’re building. My company has successfully leased units from the get-go simply because potential customers could drive past the construction site, see the sign and prepare to move in on our first day of business.
Create an online presence for your new location as soon as you break ground. This ongoing task will mark the beginning of your online-marketing campaign. Your goal is simple: to generate content featuring your facility and get it on the Web. Create Facebook, LinkedIn, Google My Business and Yelp pages. Build and publish a website. Include your mobile number or obtain a marketing line that can be transferred to track calls. Start blogging and posting, adding pictures and videos weekly. Optimal, organic search engine optimization results take three months to one year to achieve depending on your market conditions.
Hiring and Training
LinkedIn and similar networks are good resources for finding the right employees. Indeed, Craigslist and local marketing are acceptable, too. Don’t shy away from using current facility managers as references to source candidates. Begin your search at least 60 days before opening. This two-month window isn’t as long as it seems. Ideally, training should take place at the storage facility 30 days prior to opening, if the contractor will allow it. This means you have only one month to find the ideal hires.
Your team needs to learn the property and get comfortable in their new environment. Confident, well-trained managers will be warm and welcoming to new customers at a time when rentals are most crucial. We value staff who are invested in the well-being of our company as a whole, so we developed an intensive training program for this 30-day period. Store employees learn about our mission and culture in addition to industry best practices and what motivates customer behavior.
Stocking the Essentials
Establishing and maintaining an inventory of maintenance, retail and office supplies is imperative in balancing expenses, keeping the facility functional and ensuring good customer service. There are basics no self-storage operation can live without. Beyond those, you’ll want to use discretion. For example, the size, location and type of facility you operate may justify the need for a golf cart, snow blower or lawn-maintenance equipment.
Prepare and save a company supply list to your office computer. Track new purchases on a formal inventory sheet. You’ll need this to complete property-tax forms. Keep it updated throughout the year.
To ensure your new self-storage facility enjoys the highest revenue potential, the best customer reviews and the lowest liability, make sure every aspect of the operation is functioning properly before opening. There are a lot of details to cover, but here are a few important ones:
- Set up your office computer well in advance. Allow time for software troubleshooting by purchasing and programming your property-management program at least 30 days before opening.
- Prep customer files, including a rental agreement and any information your business will distribute to new tenants. These can be paper or electronic.
- Create a list of vendors who provide services your facility needs, such as landscape maintenance or snow removal. Include their contact information. If you work with any independent contractors, get a W9 form from them in advance to help streamline payments.
- Create an information sheet. At my company, we have one for each location that contains key account numbers, passwords, access codes, website information and just about anything related to the property.
Inspecting the Site
Before construction began, you should have addressed with your general contractor (GC) all the finishing touches you expected the company to complete prior to opening, for example, purchasing and installing unit numbers, or connecting gate keypads and cameras to the office computers. It’s important to be clear about these expectations from the start and follow up on them as the project progresses.
Once construction is complete, your GC should offer to conduct a walk-through of the property with you. Any issues or unacceptable flaws will impact revenue, safety and customer satisfaction; so, make a checklist that covers plumbing, concrete, unit doors, latches, electrical components and ceilings, and check all items carefully. Any maintenance or construction concerns should be recorded on the sheet, which is given to the general contractor immediately after the inspection.
During your tour, open every door, slide every latch, look for cracks in the concrete and make sure all electrical components and plumbing work properly. If possible, perform the walk-through when it’s raining. Leaks are inevitable, and it’s best to identify these and other issues before renting units to customers.
Anticipate and Adjust
Prepping a self-storage facility to succeed from day one is all about good planning, patience and execution. For eager business owners looking to turn a profit quickly, it’s critical to thoroughly research your market. Some facilities struggle with occupancy well into their third or fourth year due to underwhelming marketing in a bad location.
Even if your business connects with the community and plenty of prospects by opening day, without operational systems in place, all your hard work, time and money will be for naught. There’s no time to waste and no room for error in self-storage, especially when new, competing facilities are being developed every day.
If you’re preparing to open a new facility, I wish you the best of luck. You’ve chosen a great investment class. Those of us who have been around awhile love to talk about the industry. I encourage you to reach out and talk to as many owners, developers and managers as possible to learn from their experiences and adjust your plans accordingly.
Denise Bowley is owner of Self Storage Science LLC, a property-management company specializing in self-storage. A licensed Texas real estate agent, Denise has served the self-storage industry for more than 25 years. She’s opened dozens of new facilities as well as integrated acquired facilities into her platform. She has experience setting company policies, supervises 38 staff members and oversees the accounting department. For more information, e-mail [email protected].