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Let’s face it: Property upkeep can be challenging in self-storage depending on the age of your facility and its location. If you and your staff lack the time or expertise to complete this critical work, hiring a company to do so will ensure your facility looks and runs smoothly. Learn about the benefits and costs of outsourcing, plus how to find the right vendor.

Derek Walker

June 24, 2023

6 Min Read
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I was recently inspecting a few self-storage facilities for a client when I visited two small properties that were across the street from each other. On paper, they were similar. Both were built in the early 2000s, single-level, non-climate-controlled and steel-framed. They each lacked fencing, pavement and management offices.

That said, they couldn’t have appeared more different. Facility A showed extremely well. The doors were freshly painted and the buildings were in great shape. The landscaping was well-kept and weeds were nonexistent. It seemed a lot newer than it actually was. When I called the facility, someone answered right away and told me they only had one unit left, and it was priced at a rate far exceeding the rest of the market. I was very impressed.

Then I went across the street. Facility B was rough. Pulling into the site, I had to focus on avoiding muddy runoff and large dips in the driveway. Weeds and old leaves ran rampant, and the dated buildings hadn’t been painted in a long time. The units had taken a lot of hits over the years, with plenty of dents, holes and rust.

As I drove around the property, I noticed that only 40% to 50% of the unit doors had locks on them, suggesting low occupancy. When I called the number posted on the road signage, no one answered. I left a voicemail, and to this day, I haven’t received a call back.

Here were two facilities in the same location and climate, of a similar age and size, with the same clientele … almost everything. But one property had been well-maintained and the other had been left to its own devices.

Why Maintenance Is So Important

If you’re a regular reader of Inside Self Storage, you already understand the importance of facility maintenance. Good upkeep leads to better customer satisfaction, which leads to higher occupancy and rental rates, meaning more money in your pocket. On the flip side, neglect of even the smallest tasks leads to quick deterioration.

Yes, maintenance can be expensive, and it takes a significant commitment of time. The temptation to ignore noncritical issues is strong. However, the cost of not maintaining your storage property is far greater.

For one, small issues can quickly become large ones. If a tenant accidentally dings one of your buildings, it might create a small eyesore, but one you can live with. However, that little dent can eventually rust and erode the steel, creating much larger issues.

Further, what message does it send to your current and prospective tenants? One blemish can quickly lead to many. Through the eyes of a tenant, if you as the operator don’t care about the facility being damaged, why should they treat it with respect? To a security-conscious customer, a neglected maintenance item can lead to bigger questions: What else is the owner refusing to fix? Security cameras? Keypads? Gates? How can they trust their items will be safe if the operator isn’t willing to spend money or time on simple repairs?

For these reasons and many more, it’s easy to see why self-storage maintenance is critical. The question then becomes who should manage it. While you and your staff can certainly handle many tasks, there could be a better option for your business: outsourcing.

Outsourcing Your Maintenance

There are many areas to focus on in relation to self-storage maintenance: security systems, roofing, HVAC, lighting, doors/gates, fencing, pest control, landscaping, driveways, etc. Which tasks should be handled in-house and which outsourced? There are no right or wrong answers, but here are some things to think about.

The first is opportunity cost. Every hour you or your employees spend one task means less time and energy for another. For instance, time spent cleaning or painting unit doors is time taken away from sales or marketing. Should you mow the lawn or make those collections calls? If you only have one hour, it should be spent in the most impactful way. This can get tricky if you have competing, high-priority responsibilities. If you’re struggling to juggle it all, perhaps it’s time to outsource.

Next, what are your strengths and weaknesses? To what tasks are you and your team naturally drawn, and which do you dread? Often, the jobs we’re most interested in are the ones we’re the best at performing. If you’re good at marketing and like doing it, but you’re not so great at yard work, then hire a landscaper so you can free up time to capitalize on your strengths.

If done correctly, outsourcing can take a load off and allow you to focus on the things that matter. In addition, trade professionals can work more efficiently than you or your staff. A building repair may take you all day, whereas an expert can get it done quickly and do a better job.

That said, not all tasks are worth outsourcing,. Changing a lightbulb might be a pain, but paying $50 to $100 and waiting all day for an electrician is probably not worth the five minutes it saved you.

Contractor availability can be an issue today as well. Some self-storage operators struggle to find reliable vendors. If you’ve built an operation that relies on outside help to accomplish certain tasks, you can be left in a tough spot if one of your partners closes or otherwise goes cold on you.

Before hiring any vendor, whether for a one-time job or on an ongoing basis, carefully vet them. Check Google reviews and other online sources, including the Better Business Bureau. If you use third-party apps like Angi, TaskRabbit or Thumbtack, get multiple bids and select a company with a solid history on the app. Also, try to hire someone who’s worked in a self-storage environment.

Finally, keep in mind that outsourcing some of your maintenance doesn’t mean your job is over. Stay involved throughout the process to monitor the quality of work being done and keep the vendor accountable.

General Costs

Costs vary widely from market to market and vendor to vendor. Larger outfits may be more professional than small companies but will generally charge more because of their increased overhead. Below are some general guidelines for maintenance costs:

  • Plumbing: $50 to $150 per hour (minimum charges may apply)

  • Electrician: $50 to $150 per hour (minimum charges may apply)

  • Lawn care: $100 to $150 per acre per cut

  • Handyman/general repairs: $40 to $100 per hour

  • General cleaning: $30 to $70 per hour

  • Pest control: $150 to $200 per month

When thinking about your self-storage maintenance, consider how you’d like to spend your limited hours. You might discover there are some areas in which outsourcing will provide significant advantages. Hopefully, the above points can help better inform your strategy.

Derek Walker is a principal of self-storage consulting firm Box Pro, which specializes in self-storage feasibility studies. He also develops and manages self-storage properties for Storage of America, which operates 25 facilities in five states. To reach him, call 801.839.5844 or email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Derek Walker

Executive Vice Presiden, Storage of America

Derek Walker is a principal of self-storage consulting firm Box Pro, which specializes in self-storage feasibility studies. He also develops and manages self-storage properties for Storage of America, which operates 25 facilities in five states. To reach him, call 801.839.5844 or email [email protected].

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