The term “renovation” can be intimidating to self-storage owners and investors when it should really create excitement. After all, facility upgrades offer distinct business advantages including better site safety, higher rental rates and property value, and most important, happy customers!
But much of the industry is at a crossroads. Many properties have aged, but with little to no maintenance or restoration to keep them operating as they should. From broken unit doors and gates to cracked and buckled pavement to leaky roofs, some facilities are a minefield of safety and security hazards. Though you may not think your site’s flaws are a big deal, customers most likely disagree. Their perception can greatly affect the success of your business, while your reluctance to change can prevent you from staying relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Whether your self-storage facility is brand new or has been around for decades, renovating to provide a safer, more secure environment is an ethical duty laid at the feet of all owners. Every property should have doors that are easy to open, a roof that doesn’t leak, gates with simple yet functional access control, and a modern security system. It should also comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). When you remain vigilant in regard to these priorities, it allows you to complete with even the largest and best operators in your market.
By regularly assessing and improving your self-storage facility, you can satisfy the needs and desires of your tenants while increasing rental income and property value over time. When determining what to renovate, it’s wise to bring in an industry expert who can evaluate the site from top to bottom. A good consultant will look at building aesthetics and functionality to determine which components need to be upgraded or replaced. Doors, hallways, roofs, lighting, parking lots and security equipment are just a few items to appraise. Let’s look at a few of these in more detail.
Upgrading unit doors is one of the most common self-storage refurbishments we’re seeing today. Why? Because their appearance and functionality directly affect site safety, security and success. Though most of us are taught to not judge a book by its cover, odds are, if your unit doors are old, ugly or hard to operate, customers won’t want to rent with you. Let’s face it: Curb appeal plays a pivotal role in the number and quality of renters your facility attracts as well as the rental rates you’re able to charge; and doors are a big part of it.
Door replacement, before and after
Old doors negatively impact your site from an aesthetic perspective, but they’re also a safety hazard. When they become heavy or difficult to operate, they can physically hurt your tenants or damage their property. Replacing outdated doors is a smart risk-management move and can potentially lower your insurance costs.
If you decide to replace your doors, consider models that are customizable, easy to operate and virtually maintenance-free. Look for dead-axle, roll-up doors with factory-lubricated and enclosed springs that’ll be protected from harmful elements while ensuring smooth operation for years to come. This design translates to minimal upkeep and reduced labor expenses while prolonging door life.
Lighting. Once your light fixtures are outdated, they convey the wrong message to customers. Having a well-lit facility increases site safety while helping tenants feel more comfortable during their visit. There are many new options on the market that provide cost savings and better illumination.
Pavement. The condition of your parking lot and other paved areas is also critical. If you’ve got cracks or potholes, it’s probably time to consider repaving. While you may think a simple asphalt patch will do the trick, it isn’t a long-term solution. Making the same repairs over and over can get costly and sends a negative message to customers.
Security system. This should be a top consideration when evaluating your self-storage facility for potential upgrades. Consumers want to know their valuables will be protected, and security is definitely part of their decision-making process. Subpar surveillance cameras and old-school padlocks no longer meet their expectations.
By implementing a robust security system that uses Bluetooth-enabled locks and cloud-based access control, you can better protect your investment while making life easier for staff and customers. They allow tenants to access entry points via a smart device or dedicated fob. This can also help automate operational processes like move-ins, lock checks and overlocks. This type of upgrade allows you to take advantage of remote management while enhancing the customer experience.
Limiting Tenant Disruption
Many self-storage renovation projects can be done without the need to close shop or turn away business, and they needn’t be as complicated or stressful as you think. For example, metal-over-metal re-roofing and hallway re-skins can be installed without removing the original building components. With the right crew and product, you can replace up to 25 roll-up doors in less than 24 hours, which is very little downtime for such a great return. Smart locks can be easily retrofitted onto existing unit doors.
Just plan ahead to accommodate tenants during your facility facelift. Maybe do one project at a time, or use a phased approach, so customers don’t have to face major disruptions when on site. You can replace doors, hallways and roofing on a floor-by-floor or building-by-building basis, which allows ample time to notify affected tenants and stay organized.
Cost vs. Benefits
Though self-storage owners and investors often worry that a renovation project means taking on a big financial burden, it’s important to consider all the accompanying benefits. First, when you revitalize an outdated facility, you increase site safety and security, which is a boon in and of itself. In addition, improved amenities mean you can charge higher rents, which ultimately increase your property value. If you aren’t regularly investing in improvements and raising rental rates, you’re leaving money on the table!
Once your project is complete, you may also be eligible for significant savings via cost segregation and insurance discounts. Cost seg is a tax-planning tool that allows you to write off discarded, old materials as part of your federal tax filings, thereby improving cash flow. By providing a safer, more secure environment for customers, you may find your insurance provider is willing to lower your premium, too.
Renovations aren’t just for old, outdated self-storage facilities. They can benefit any site. Take a look at your occupancy rate. If its above 85%, consider upgrades that’ll help justify higher rental rates and increase property value.
You’ve worked extremely hard to build your self-storage business. Don’t get complacent by putting off repairs and upgrades. Continue to provide your customers with gold-standard products and services. It’ll be well worth it in the long run.
Troy Bix is president of the R3 (Restore, Rebuild, Replace) Division at Janus International, a global manufacturer of self-storage doors, hallways, relocatable-storage units, smart entry and other facility-automation solutions. Bix has spent more than 30 years in the self-storage industry and has been instrumental in helping independent owners remain competitive in an increasingly crowded industry. He can be reached at [email protected].