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From Drab to Fab: Renovating Your Older Self-Storage Property

If your self-storage facility is looking a little drab, especially compared to newer competition, it might be time to renovate. Consider building and safety codes, your budget, and new options you can add to better serve customers.

When considering a self-storage renovation project, there are owners who get excited at the idea and those who feel tired when they think about all the work involved. The latter likely recall a past frustrating project, one in which a contractor was unreliable, problem after problem stalled progress, and a blanket of regret covered the entire experience.

But guess what? Revamps don’t have to cause migraines! With the right game plan and a dependable industry partner, not only will the process go smoothly, you’ll make your store the best contender in the market. When considering facility upgrades, here are some of the most important considerations.

Don’t Break the Code

Some rules were made to be broken (like putting mayonnaise on French fries … we see you, Belgium). But guess what? Not when it comes to safety. If your self-storage facility is breaking building or codes, it’s time to re-evaluate your approach to site upkeep.

Safety codes are in place to protect people and shouldn’t be ignored. Keep up-to-date on local and state building regulations and fire-safety codes so you can adapt and make changes to your facility if necessary.

One code you must follow is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). You need wheelchair-accessible entryways, hallways and units, and doors that can be lifted and closed with minimal force. ADA compliance has become a popular focus in many industries, and the spotlight has started to shine on self-storage properties. Save yourself valuable time, money and hassle—and from a potential lawsuit—by making your facility ADA-compliant.

Set a Budget

Being a responsible business owner means you’ve always got your budget in mind. Getting the most out of your spending is a huge element in the retrofit process, but it doesn’t have to keep you up at night. Dave King, managing director of self-storage at development and acquisition firm Wentworth Property Co. LLC, is well-versed in the art of keeping a balanced budget and making wise money moves. That’s why he sets aside funds specifically for renovations when purchasing properties.

“We buy probably close to 50 percent of what we call ‘management turnaround’ and ‘value-add acquisitions.’ That can mean a lot of things! We try to buy them really well on the front end, price-wise per foot, and we always allocate some small to significant dollars for rehabilitation of that product; clean it up and get it into a more competitive offering,” he says. “We have a lot of competition coming into the self-storage world, and to compete, you have to spend the money to keep these facilities operating and looking good.”

Cutting corners on your retrofit might seem like a good idea when you’re in the thick of things, but consider the customer experience. Will renters have a nice environment with which to interact? Will it feel clean and secure?

Think Outside the Box

Humans are creatures of habit. We get set in our ways and balk at change; it’s just our nature. That’s one of the reasons retrofit projects can sometimes go sideways. If you’re stuck in the way you’ve always done things, you may not be willing to try the new options available for your site.

When Sandra Hack and Lance and Todd Stockhausen decided to undertake the effort of converting a car museum to self-storage, they knew they’d have to step outside their comfort zone to get the job done. With decades of experience in the construction and self-storage industries, they had seen their fair share of buildings by the time they set to work on Comfort Storage in Punta Gorda, Fla. Instead of creating a simple structure that would blend with the competition, the trio decided to take some risks and shoot for a top-notch facility. By the time they opened, the store had climate-controlled, drive-through storage, a mezzanine, covered RV storage, and a cloud-based smart-entry system.

“It’s all about having an open mind when you’re in this business,” Lance Stockhausen says. “Know that you’re going to run into problems—that’s just construction! But the important element is to not have your blinders on. Be ready to come up with a different solution or go in a different direction than you originally planned so you can get the best outcome for your project.”

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Often, when self-storage owners think about facility renovations, they focus on the building exterior. But there many ways to spice up the interior, too! Look at the current state of your office and lobby. What’s the first impression for customers when they walk in? If it’s dingy and uninviting, your prospects won’t feel great about leaving their items in your care.

The owners of Keylock Storage in Reno, Nev., knew an inviting office would be one of the important factors for the overall success of their business. When you walk in the door, you’re in an airy space that doesn’t feel anything like a run-of-the-mill storage facility. There’s a popcorn machine, a mini-fridge filled with water and soda, a coffee-maker, and an impressive display of HD TVs offering a live feed from the property’s numerous security cameras.

Two customer-facing monitors sit atop the counter, but they aren’t just for looks; both serve a highly functional purpose. Keylock chose an access-control system that integrated seamlessly with its property-management system. It allows customers to execute rentals on their own without having to complete mountains of paperwork. New clients can perform the rental process completely online, but they also have the option to pop into the office to talk to the manager or use one of the leasing monitors.

Enjoy the Process!

At the end of the day, you’ll have so many nuggets of advice thrown your way about how to handle your self-storage renovation. The most important thing is to come out on the other side of the process with a safe, accessible, modern facility that makes your customers’ storage experiences painless and increases your bottom line. Remember, retrofits have so much potential, and it’s an exciting time for our industry! Lean in and take advantage of the many opportunities available.

Rachael Wheeler Dempsey is a copywriter for Janus International Group, a global manufacturer of turnkey self-storage building and security solutions, including roll-up and swing doors, hallway systems, portable-storage solutions, door-replacement programs, and the Nokē Smart Entry system. To reach her, call 770.562.2850; visit www.janusintl.com.

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