Assembling a Quality Development Team to Help You Bring Your Self-Storage Project to Life

If you’re building a self-storage facility, you need a solid team behind you from day one. Find out who should be on it and how to choose the best partners, plus strategies to keep everyone on the same page as you move through the development process.

Nigel Kreft, Director of Operational Improvements

April 30, 2022

6 Min Read

From the early stages of a self-storage development, it’s important to create a roster of industry-centric, experienced individuals. It’s a step to consider even before you seek funding because it’ll show your lender your level of competency, seriousness and forethought. To assemble your team, start by interviewing experts and discussing your project with them. This’ll allow you to learn about the nuances of development and give you time to build trust and confidence, both in your plan and those you’re entrusting to carry it out.

So, who should be on this team? Below are the key members who can help you build a successful self-storage project and bring it to life.


A licensed architect who’s familiar with self-storage, including unit mix, feasibility studies and local codes, is a great first addition to your team. Though they must have a license from the state in which they plan to work (some states allow active licensee reciprocity, which allows them to practice in its jurisdiction if they meet special requirements), an architect will often have experience with the municipality and be able to create a design to meet local zoning requirements, which will help your project get approval. Someone who understands the latest cost-effective options is even more valued, as their expertise can help reduce the financial burden of today’s high construction costs. When an architect has the influence to create a design-build, it might even change the fee structure.

Align with an architect who has a passion for the self-storage industry and you as a client. Get to know this team player, and trust them to guide your development!

Civil and Structural Engineers

Like architects, civil engineers are state licensed with reciprocity. Typically, a qualified local professional can be found through the architect’s network. They’ll assist you and the architect in determining the best orientation for your buildings and the most effective use of the land area for net rentable space. They’ll also address the subterranean requirements to integrate your property into community utilities, easements, landscaping and any other land-usage constraints.

A structural engineer is different than a civil engineer. Their job is to determine the proper building codes and assess local factors that exert force on the structure and its design, so it’s built to withstand those forces. These experts deal with the smallest of calculations when evaluating wind, live, dead and seismic loads.

Both the civil and structure engineer must be licensed in the state they serve. It’s also a good idea to ensure the professional you chose has indemnity insurance. Find one with a proven track record to assist with value engineering, which can save you and your general contractor (GC) time and money.

General Contractor and Subcontractors

A GC makes your design ideas a reality, and engaging this person early on gives you a chance to assess financial impact. Find someone who’ll take the time to offer feedback about your project design even at this initial stage. They can provide insight in ways the architect or civil engineer can’t. Don’t be surprised if they pull the primary structure subcontractors into the conversation, too.

By looking at the architectural drawings and your conceptual designs, they can produce a preliminary budget at current market costs. One who’s experienced in self-storage will also help identify any hidden scope gaps, cost overruns and design flaws. If they see that your ideas are too expensive or not easily achievable, the conversation is easier and less stressful, as everything is still just a concept.

Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to engage a GC for this level of detail so early in the process, as nothing has been finalized to build. From their perspective, there’s no guarantee for work. However, a conscientious person will recognize your request for assistance as an opportunity to bring awareness to the constructability of the project and overall process. This preliminary, proactive step is also an opportunity for the GC to procure the best subcontractors. It creates dialog on the necessary jobsite conditions and how to best mitigate hazardous liabilities. In short, GCs who offer advice at this point are proving their credibility and trustworthiness.

Industry-specific subcontractors who cover the various trades are also an important part of your team. Their specialized knowledge will help coordinate the overall design of the building to reduce conflicts during construction. In addition, they can speak to more refined craftsmanship and constructability of your project. For example, an experienced metal-framing subcontractor can offer detailed insights into means and methods that make the project more efficient and cost-effective. In addition, they can introduce or circle back around to the structural-steel engineer to confirm the integrity of the building.

Same Page and Pace

Now that you know who needs to be on your self-storage development team, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Proven team-building strategies can keep the group cohesive and on point. Below are a few that’ll help you create a strong crew and successful project.

Clearly establish expectations. From day one, share the vision and set the tone. Clear, confident communication is key, as it sets the expectations for the project and its various team members. A good vision creates a sense of common purpose and ownership for all stakeholders. The tone establishes the environment under which members will rely on and engage each other.

Build trust. This fosters creativity and innovation. Lead by example. Recognize that your team members are going to perform their best when they feel engaged and well-respected. Open, honest communication that encourages active listening and feedback is a great way to establish a relationship and develop trust.

Communicate. This can’t be overstated. Effective communication will allow your team to achieve milestones quicker, find the best solutions, reduce misunderstandings and create a positive working environment. Without it, goals and objectives are merely plans. At a construction jobsite, communication occurs in many forms: verbal, email, red-lining and bubbling drawings, and shared, detailed project schedules. Collectively, these produce a plan that’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Be prepared to address conflict. Disagreements may arise when it’s unclear who’s in charge, or when a goal between multiple crew members isn’t properly aligned. It can also happen if there’s a conflict of interest or personalities. Sometimes, there are arguments about timing constraints, scheduling or sequence of activities.

Understand that each person has their own point of view, and misunderstandings happen. It’s easier to address a problem while it’s small, before it spirals out of control. Encourage honest communication and accountability. Respect is earned as team members own up to the good as well as the bad.

If you take time to develop a strong, effective team from the beginning of the development process, your self-storage project will proceed smoothly. There’ll be fewer surprises because you’ve taken the time to plan with the proper people. The added bonus is your connections turn into lifetime collaborations and even friendships.

The self-storage industry is full of competent professionals who enjoy working together. This asset class has proven to be well-regarded and a great way to establish residual income. When it’s time to start building your next facility, assemble a crew of experienced professionals and have fun!

Nigel Kreft is director of operational improvement for Storage Structures Inc., which designs, supplies and installs self-storage buildings. With 20-plus years of jobsite industry experience, he’s helped streamline design and development planning, and trained installers on industry standards as well as proper and efficient procedures. To reach him, call 877.456.1602 or email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Nigel Kreft

Director of Operational Improvements, Storage Structures Inc.

Nigel Kreft is director of operational improvement for Storage Structures Inc., which designs, supplies and installs self-storage buildings. With 20-plus years of jobsite industry experience, he’s helped streamline design and development planning, and trained installers on industry standards as well as proper and efficient procedures. To reach him, call 877.456.1602 or email [email protected].

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