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Choosing a Self-Storage Builder: Industry Experience Trumps Low Bidders

While its tempting to go with the lowest bid, contracting with the wrong self-storage builder can cause frustration, time delays and hard cash. Follow these tips when selecting a company to build your self-storage project.

November 17, 2013

5 Min Read
Choosing a Self-Storage Builder: Industry Experience Trumps Low Bidders

By Caesar Wright

Youve done your homework, selected the site for your new self-storage project and received financing. Now youre ready to hire a builder. Choosing one can be a daunting process. After all, your future prosperity depends on a well-designed building that presents the image you want while providing the income potential you need.

There may be builders who are willing to cut you a deal, but cost cannot be your only consideration, especially if this is your first venture into self-storage. While its tempting to go with the lowest bid, contracting with the wrong builder can cause you frustration, time delays and hard cash. Below are some tips to help guide you in selecting your builder.

Prescreening Contenders

First, make sure any builder you consider is legitimate: licensed, bonded and insured. Check with the Better Business Bureau and professional organizations such as the Self-Storage Association. While the law provides some protection from fraudulent or incompetent contractors, it doesn't guarantee honest transactions or quality work.

Do your homework. Your financial investment is at stake. Look at previous projects that are similar in scale to your project and check references.

Industry Experience

Self-storage is an investment that will bring substantial returns over time, and with so much at stake, the builder's experience should be a top priority. Its not enough to be a great builder. The company you choose needs to be a great self-storage builder.

In most types of commercial construction, architects, engineers and designers would design the building and the contractor would construct whats dictated on the approved plans. In self-storage, there are construction requirements specific to the industry that an architect who doesnt have extensive experience in self-storage would not think to include.

Drive aisles, turning radiuses, door size, security, lighting and more need to be considered. An experienced self-storage builder will be able to advise you on these issues early in the design process. He can also help you lay out your buildings to maximize occupancy.

Amenities in the self-storage business can help you attract customers or can be a drain on your budget. An experienced self-storage builder will help you determine when it makes sense to invest in certain amenities that will increase revenue opportunities and when not to.

Engineering and Design Services

Work with an experienced builder who offers site design and engineering services and is willing to consult with you through the entire project, from site development and design through completed construction. These services will not necessarily eliminate the need for an architect, but having a builder who can work closely with your architect to design all the amenities, utilities and structural requirements that are unique to self-storage is going to save you time and money. Its certainly much less costly to make changes on paper than on the jobsite.

The Permitting Process

Permitting and environmental processes are not for the faint of heart. A professional builder who understands the permitting process and the industry-specific issues that arise will help you through the often arduous process.

Single-Source Supplier

Youll save time and money if your builder designs, manufactures and builds the entire project. You want to look for a builder who can offer everything you require such as multi-purpose self-storage buildings, customized structures, movable structures, and boat- and RV-storage buildings and canopies. By working with one, full-service company for all elements, youll eliminate duplication of effort and the need to deal with all the brokers, shipping companies and subcontractors. Ultimately, youll have more control over budgets and deadlines.

Quality Products

While budget is always a consideration, it will cost you more in the long run if the products used in the construction of your buildings are not designed to withstand weather or resist corrosion, leaks and other types of damage. Make sure the products your builder supplies are top-quality and designed to last.

Project Management

You want to work with a company whose team of professionals will run your construction site, maximize efficiencies, foresee and solve potential problems before they cost you time and money, and keep you informed at each step of the project. Experienced self-storage builders have well-honed protocols to minimize surprises and keep a project on track.

Dont just trust your gut feeling. Talk with previous customers to make sure they had a good experience. Take a tour of facilities the company has designed and built. Meet all the key players who will be working on your project.

Customer Service

A company that understands that your success is its own success will ensure your project is completed on time and budget and meets all your requirements. And it'll be there after that final check is cashed.


Finally, you need to consider cost. Get competitive estimates, but make sure youre comparing apples to apples. To do so, youll need to understand what materials are being used, how much insulation youll include, what the finishes will be, requirements for grading the site, and many other factors. Don't be taken in by a low number on the bottom line. Scrutinize the bid to ensure there won't be extensive change orders and hidden costs later.

Its a long road from site selection to opening day. Make your journey a little smoother by choosing an experienced self-storage builder.

Caesar Wright is president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mako Steel Inc., which designs, supplies and installs steel buildings for the self-storage industry nationwide. For more information, call 800.383.4932l; visit www.makosteel.com.

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