The Big Picture

September 1, 1997

7 Min Read
The Big Picture

The Big Picture

Issues in Construction

By Jim Killoran

When it comes to self-storage development, there are threedesign possibilities to consider: the conventional single-storyfacility, a multi-story project or a conversion. The determiningfactor of whether to build up or stay on one level will be thecost of the land. In areas where land costs are high, you'lllikely favor a multi-story facility in order to have enough netrentable square feet to make the project economically successful.

Another consideration for multi-story is the topography ofyour proposed site. Perhaps you can situate buildings in such afashion that the second story is accessible without the need forstairs or lifts. This concept is much the same as that of a housewith a daylight basement.

Be sure to consider your future business goals. A single storymay be the obvious choice today, but how about 10 or 15 yearsfrom now? There are many facility owners around the country whowish they would have prepared their single-story buildings for afuture second story. If the amount of available land that yourproposed project will initially control--or can feasibly controlin the future--is finite, give thought to how your surroundingarea will look in the years ahead. Would building up make sensein the future? If so, plan for it now.

Even if your current proposal does not include using all theland that you have available right away, draw up a master planthat makes use of the entire parcel. As opposed to"phasing," which infers a definite plan to expand inthe near future, the idea here is to take the long view, look wayahead, and give thought to some long-term "what if"scenarios: What if you were to build out in the future? How wouldit look? What should you do now to provide for futureconstruction?

Granted, you may be only guessing, but it will be an educatedguess. The important point is to look at the big picture and plannow to assure that you will be able to maximize your rentablesquare feet. Every square foot means income, and it would befoolish to paint yourself into a corner early on and limit yourfuture earning potential.

This exercise can save you time, trouble and money in futureconstruction. For example, if you plan now to lay some conduitfor security devices--such as individual door alarms--you'll saveyourself money and the headache of having to tear things apartlater on.

Of course, you can't foresee everything in the future, sodon't beat yourself up trying to plan everything perfectly. Justgive it sufficient thought, and do what makes sense now.

Management Considerations

Odds are you will be providing living quarters as well as anoffice in your initial construction plans, or you will be addingthese features in the near future. Therefore, some thought needsto be given to these amenities.

The Apartment. Typically, apartments for managers fallinto two categories: those with a ground-floor apartment attachedto the facility office, and those with a second-floor apartmentover the office.

Either way, the apartment needs to be separated--by more thana door--from the area where business is conducted. It often makessense to put the apartment above the office, with no insideconnection to the office, allowing for more rentable space on theground floor. Plus, if designed properly, the second-floorarrangement can provide the manager with good visibility of thefacility's grounds.

If at all possible, build a two-bedroom apartment. Even for aone or two-person management team, one bedroom is not adequate. Atwo-bedroom apartment, however, allows much more flexibility.Remember, just because your managers live on the premises, theyare not on duty 24 hours a day.

The Office. In planning your office space, giveconsideration to how it will be used. What ancillary products andservices are you planning to offer now and in the future? Willyou need additional work areas to accommodate those activities?Will you need display areas, shelving or racks for theseproducts? Allow adequate space for your intended activities, andthen give yourself some room to grow.

Some offices even include a separate "closing room,"where a manager can take a customer to complete paperwork withoutinterruption. This may be practical only in very large facilitieswhere there is constant office commotion.

Curb Appeal

How will your facility impress passersby? Will it conform toits surroundings, yet distinguish itself as a self-storagefacility, or will it stand in stark contrast with the rest of theneighborhood, void of landscaping, displaying only concrete,steel and asphalt?

Many jurisdictions will require that your development plansinclude landscaping and other design work that relate only to theaesthetics of the project. This is not necessarily bad, as everyfacility benefits by an adequate dose of curb appeal. It candefinitely get complicated, however, if the demands made by thepermitting authorities are such that your project no longer makeseconomic sense.

Aesthetically speaking, the industry has undergone a quantumleap since the early days of land-banking and some of the tackyprojects that resulted. Today's self-storage customers expectmore and will pay for more, so plan your project accordingly.

Material Considerations

The choices of material are several: steel, concrete tilt-up,concrete block, masonry, wood or a combination of thesematerials.

There are only a few locations in the country where wood caneven begin to compete with the cost of these other materials, andwhile wood has its own desirable qualities, it also has a veryundesirable quality: It burns. While there are a number ofsuccessful projects built of wood, it's certainly not the trend.

Steel is, by far, the most common material used forself-storage construction. When you combine the cost of materialsand delivery to the site, as well as labor costs for erection,steel is typically the most cost effective, and today'ssophisticated builders can offer a wide variety of style options.Plus, fires are usually contained within the unit if the buildingis constructed of steel.

Concrete tilt-up and block or masonry can be pricedcompetitively in some parts of the country, and this material isgenerally thought of as the most secure and impenetrable of theconstruction material options. Again, fire damage is minimal. Itis a bit more difficult to dress up concrete to achieve anaesthetically pleasing facility, but it can be done. Onedrawback: It is easier to replace steel components than to repairbusted concrete block, as in the case of a car or truck damage.

Local building and fire codes dictate the final choices ofmaterials, but consider the following option: Use concrete on theproperty-line walls of your perimeter buildings. Consider using atexture-faced block or masonry on those walls or building endsthat face the front of your project; this will give a secureappearance as well as add character to the overall design. Then,use steel for the remainder of the project.


The goal is to maximize rentable square feet. Consider that anaverage overall rental rate is 50 cents per square foot a month,or $6 per year. If a well-thought-out layout yields 5,000additional rentable square feet--which is very possible--you willhave increased your income potential by $30,000 per year.

Layout involves numerous factors: required setback orgreenbelts, width requirements for fire lanes, topographicalchallenges and, of course, zoning regulations. All of these makeeach site unique and make layout design a challenge.

The most common layout is the "circle of wagons"concept, in which the perimeter is lined with the backside ofbuildings and maximizes security. With a few exceptions, allingress and egress to and from the facility should be funneledpast the office through a controlled-access gate. The generalrule of thumb approach to layout tells us to run buildingsparallel with the longest dimension of the property. Typically,this yields the most square feet of usage.

When it comes to layout and design, it's in your best interestto consult with industry professionals that have a past record ofsuccess. Numerous companies provide building components to theself-storage industry, and many of them have computer softwarespecifically suited for design and layout. Don't hesitate to askfor their assistance. Many have been in the business for yearsand are very skilled, plus, they will gladly help you through theconstruction phase of your facility.

Jim Killoran is the owner of LeManx Information Products,a company based in Shelton, Wash., specializing in providinginformation to the self-storage industry. He is the author ofSelf Storage Success and Self Storage Startup. In addition, hehas been in the self-storage business for 15 years and isco-owner of Freeway Mini Storage in Shelton, Wash. Formore information, call (800) 764-1909, or write to LeManxInformation Products, P.O. Box 542, Shelton, WA 98584-0542.

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