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Don’t Be the Ugly Stepsister: Incorporating Design and Technology to Renew Your Self-Storage Facility

Is your self-storage looking a little dull next to newer sites in your market? If so, it might be time for a makeover. A fresh design and new technology can turn an “ugly stepsister” into the belle of the ball.

Next month I plan to take a week of vacation. Rather than heading out of town to a nice hotel, the beach or an amusement park, it’ll be a “staycation.” Scratch that, it’ll be a “work-on-the-house-cation.” I plan to use at least five of those wonderful nine days to tidy up, organize, renovate and renew my abode.

There are several reasons I’ve earmarked this particular week to tackle some long-overdue projects. First, there’s the problem of time. There simply aren’t enough hours in a two-day weekend to complete the regular to-do list of grocery shopping, house-cleaning, laundry and other tasks and tackle a renovation project. So, with several days off in a row, I can focus on completing bigger projects. Second, I’ve reached by limit. By this I mean, the peeling paint on a doorway in the hallway, the cluttered middle closet, the constant “where did I put that?” that pops up several times a month. In short, it’s time to dig in and organize my home. Sadly, the more I ponder what I want to tackle, the longer the list seems to grow!

But it won’t be all about fixing things. I also plan to pretty up the place! Tired of the same décor, I’m looking to renew my home and make it feel fresh again. I have outdated and non-functional furniture that, honestly, is boring to look at, mementos that were once cute but now seem drab, and too much stuff. It’s time for a refresh to make my place inviting and fun again!

As a self-storage operator, you might have similar feelings about your facility. Whether it’s looking a bit drab compared to a new entry in the area, needs a few fixes or you’re thinking about incorporating new technology, it might be time to put those ideas in motion.

Let’s first consider your site’s aesthetics. Just about every operator has faced new competition in the past year or so. Of course, a new property will be fresh, so you might be feeling like your facility is the ugly stepsister in this scenario. But there are fixes you can make to freshen your appearance. Take a critical look at your property from all angles. Start at the drive and really see how your facility looks from the street. Consider the building exteriors, colors, roof, landscaping, asphalt and even your entrance. Would some contrasting hues, flowers and street repairs make your site more inviting? Would you be excited to drive onto your property? If not, it might be time for some renovations.

One area many people don’t think about is the facility façade. In addition to a fresh coat of paint, you should consider minor architectural elements that can change the face of your front office. While you don’t want to disturb the structural system of the building, there are some additions that’ll make it pop. Think windows, accent textures such as stone, vibrant colors, a covered canopy or other architectural element that can be easily added. If you need some inspiration on fabulous looks, check out the design showcase featuring 50 amazing storage properties.

Moving into the site, are your doors in good shape? Do you offer too many small units when large ones are in demand in your market? If so, it might be time to re-evaluate the sizes you’re offering. Consider your lighting—a place for huge savings—flooring, office interior and retail store. Older sites might also not meet all current building and safety codes. Plus, you might qualify for lower insurance premiums once you complete the upgrades.

The fact is your customers have so many more options these days. While price and location still play a large role in their choice, customer are becoming more discerning. Consider where you can make improvements and put them on your to-do list.

Another area that should be a focus is your site’s technology. If you don’t have a website, get one. You can’t operate without one these days. If you’re not offering online billpay and reservations, you should be. Your current and future customers want to do business with you online. Whether to allow completion of a rental online is up for debate. There are operators who stand on both sides—some advocating total automation, while others prefer to “screen” their clientele.

How much automation you should incorporate into your site depends on your location, physical site and even your business goals. There are many successful brands such as 10 Federal Storage and Storage Express that are fully automated. There are also hundreds of sites that are incorporating technology such as electronic locks, online rental agreements, kiosks, apps, voice-enabled technology and so much more!

The fact is we live in a digital world. Sure, there’ll always be customers who don’t have smartphones (like my aunt) and prefer pen and paper, but that group is dwindling every day. Technology offers so many amazing advantages that you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice by ignoring it.

If you’re not sure where to start, join us next week for the first segment of our three-part webinar series featuring Janus International. Available for free to all industry professionals, they'll focus on ways to modernize your facility. The June 27 webinar will explore mobile technology while the Aug. 29 session will highlight the unattended self-storage model. The final installment, Sept. 19, will concentrate on facility design.

If you’re like me and you’ve put off these projects for a while—whether it was lack of time or money—now’s the time to act. Of course, I won’t get to everything on my list during my time off. I might only finish a few projects, but it’s progress. Plus, just getting something completed will be a huge relief and inspire me to tackle the rest. As with a home, your self-storage facility is one big never-ending project. It’ll always need improvements here and there, whether they’re monumental or subtle. But that’s part of the fun in ownership, am I right?

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