The Best of the Best

September 1, 2004

5 Min Read
The Best of the Best

The Best of the Best

Building luxury storage

By Bruce Jordan


uilding luxury storage is all aboutbeing responsive to a certain set of market conditions, designing for customersneeds, and eliminating barriers to new business. It is not about white-glovedattendants catering the storage experience, but making customers feel welcome,secure and positive.

Since the darker agesa time when dark, confined, clutteredand poorly apportioned offices were the self-storage normwe have developed amuch clearer understanding of the average customer. Here is what we know:

  • The majority of self-storage customers are female.

  • An aesthetic architectural design will be looked on morefavorably by the local community.

  • Self-storage is more a retail than an industrial use.

  • A sense of order contributes to a persons perception ofsecurity.

  • Colors also influence peoples perception, and bright,cheerful spaces are preferred over dark, dingy ones.

The best of the best facilities will consider all thesefactors in their design. The goal is to maximize the positive attributes andminimize the negative ones. Well-designed facility will have higher absorptionrates and potentially higher rental rates, retain more customers, and wearbetter over their lifetimes.

As self-storage projects have found their way out ofindustrial zones and into commercial centers, aesthetics and design have playedan increasingly key role. Since the majority of new projects undergo scrutiny bya planning commission or design-review board, it becomes important to have anarchitecturally responsive design to obtain approvals.

Upon Entry

Luxury self-storage starts with the street facade, office andentryway. These areas are most obvious to the public and will set a facilityapart from competition. A facility with curb appeal and attractive architectureis more likely to be remembered by prospective tenants and accepted by thecommunity. Attention to detail will result in a more pleasant and functionalspace that provides managers a better work environment.

The entry sequence should be obvious and straightforward. The office should occupy the most prominent position socustomers know exactly where to go. A colorful, well-landscaped entry andwalkway will make a good first impression.

When customers arrive, they should be able to see into theoffice through large windows. High ceilings and taller windows all contribute toa more luxurious office without a significant increase in cost. They alsointroduce more natural light into the office while giving managers more outwardvisibility. An open office is more inviting, user-friendly and allows for betterdisplay of the retail area, interior signage and logos.

When a customer enters the office, he should be facing theservice counter and manager. An attractive backdrop to the counter provides anopportunity to showcase the security system, facility logos, an American flag oreven some fresh-cut flowers. Ample counter space and storage allows for anuncluttered, organized appearance. The retail areas should make use of color andlighting and accentuate displays.

A small seating area will allow patrons to be comfortable andreview rental agreements at a leisurely pace. Some facilities have even hadsuccess with work stations, where customers can make calls or plug in a laptopcomputer. Consider adding a small play area for children, which is agreat way to showcase that 5-by-5 show unit. A conference room is another possible addition, particularlyin urban markets and those with a higher percentage of businesses. It can beused by customers accessing business or personal documents, and can include arefreshment area with coffee, bottled water and maybe a few items from the localbakery.

If the facility has a wine-storage area, it should be visiblefrom the service counter to effectively market the space. Wine storage isincreasing in popularity in luxury facilities. While it isnt suitable forevery market, and can certainly add to a facilitys ambiance.

Finally, office size is an important consideration and shouldbe related to the size of the facility. A large office would be 2,000 to 2,500square feet; a medium-size office would be 1,200 to 2,000 square feet; and asmall office will be approximately 600 to 1,200 square feet. It stands to reasona facility of 130,000 square feet will have more traffic than a facility of halfthat size and require a larger office.

Exterior Details

Contextual or thematic architecture becomes more important asmore cities strive to preserve the historical basis of their communities.Furthermore, horizontal and vertical offsets, towers, cupolas, eye-catchingmaterials and colorful landscaping are far more interesting than flat facadesand bland color schemes.

Facility access points should be architecturally accentuatedso customers know exactly where to park and enter the facility. A colorfulcanopy or a change in color or materials will make the entry more prominent.Entry gates are a key aspect of a facilitys curb appeal and can also befunctional. For example, double entry gates separated by pilasters can work askiosks. Not only do they separate entering and exiting vehicles, they cancontain keypads, video screens, intercoms and seasonal signage. Landscaping canbe added to the kiosk area for a colorful touch.

While a spacious office and great curb appeal contribute tothe luxury feel of a facility, less obvious areas are equally important. For example, access and loading areas can be critical to afacilitys success, particularly in the case of urban multistory sites. Thesespots should be well-lit, secure and colorful. A canopy-covered loading area isa great place to secure lighting, security cameras, and speakers for intercomsand piped music. It should alsoinclude lots of room for maneuvering, convenient cart storageand direct access to elevators for customer convenience.

Consider using a suspended ceiling system with integrallighting in elevator lobbies to make these areas more user-friendly. An exteriorwindow will introduce natural light and give customers better orientation. Alsoconsider adding intercoms to these locations and at prominent hallwayintersections to give patrons a greater sense of safety.

Luxury self-storage is not about designing the Ritz; itsabout carefully considering the customer and making the experience as satisfyingas possible. Some will say luxury storage is too expensive as well asunnecessary. In certain markets, that will be the case. In a majority ofmarkets, however, luxury storage can be achieved by careful planning, attentionto detail and only a relatively small increase in cost.

The economics of a shorter absorption period, higher rentalrates and more stable overall facility will usually balance the increase inconstruction costs. In markets dense with storage sites, luxury storage can bethe best way the beat the competition.

Bruce Jordan is president of San Clemente, Calif.-based JordanArchitects Inc., a full-service architectural firm specializing in the design andentitlement of self-storage projects. For more information, call 949.388.8090; e-mail [email protected];

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