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Follow Your Nose: Keep Your Self-Storage Facility Fresh From an Olfactory Point of View

We place a lot of emphasis on curb appeal in self-storage, which affects what customers can see, but what about what they can smell? If your facility gives off foul odors in the office, restroom or elsewhere, it will deter rentals. Learn to detect and eliminate bad smells on your property and replace them with more pleasing scents.

Gary Edmonds

December 3, 2021

8 Min Read

When you think about your senses, sight is probably the first to come to mind. Next up is quite often hearing. Maybe you’re a foodie and think first with your stomach, placing taste at the top of the list. However, you might be surprised to discover how large a role your sense of smell plays in your day-to-day decisions and memories.

Why? It has a strong influence on our emotions, and this affects the way we experience and relate to people and places. Countless research studies have shown the ways in which smell effects our behavior. The conclusion is the portion of the mind related to smell and taste is part of the emotional brain. This means smell can impact our buying decisions without us really being aware of it.

For many of us, smell is subliminal. We walk around all day, not actively sniffing, but allowing scents to unconsciously impact our brain. What does this mean for your self-storage operation? Well, simply close your eyes and focus on what your nose knows! Anyone who runs a business should be conscious of the customer’s “scent experience.” Aromas can make a big impact on prospects and tenants, whether pleasing or off-putting.

We spend a lot of time in self-storage focusing on what customers and can see at our properties and how well things look and function. Perhaps we need to spend a bit more time on what they can smell and what those things tell them about our business.

Identify and Remove the Cause

A grocery store near me has a deli that sells fried chicken. They must have sold a lot over the years because the smell is dominant when you walk in the door. There are times I wish to leave because of the attack on my nostrils. I don’t associate that aroma with pleasant memories, so it’s annoying to me. Others might not have that response.

The problem is after years of frying chicken, the smell and associated grease have permeated the building. They’re unable to cover it by spraying a little air freshener. They can’t counteract it by increasing the air turnover. Without removing the source of the odor, they’re powerless to create a more welcoming environment.

Commercial buildings like self-storage have it relatively easy. We have minimal traffic compared to office and retail buildings. We don’t have large kitchens or bathrooms. There are relatively few areas where bad smells can be created, but it does happen.

When you encounter an unpleasant odor at your property, you need to identify and remove the root cause immediately, before your tenants have an adverse reaction. One example of something that’ll create a stench is a dead mouse. Spraying air freshener does absolutely nothing if the cause of the odor remains. So, throw the mouse in the garbage, take out the trash and scrub the area. This will accomplish more than two cans of air freshener ever could.

When weeding out and eliminating bad odors, keep the following focal points and remedies in mind.

  • Outdoors

    • What: Cigarettes, standing water, dead animals, feces/urine, dumpster/trash

    • Prevent: Improve the landscaping drainage and add mildly fragrant plants. Place the dumpster away from the building. Put the smoking area far away from doors.

    • Eradicate: Mother Nature will cure this if the source is removed!

  • Inside buildings and units

    • What: Gasoline, rotting food, dead animals, feces/urine, mold

    • Prevent: Discuss with tenants what they plan to store. Have an aggressive pest-control program, and adjust your humidifier as needed.

    • Eradicate: Remove the source of the smell, and work with tenants and staff to clean the affected area.

  • Front office

    • What: Employee lunch, burned popcorn, cleaning products, mold, perfume and deodorants, cigarette smoke

    • Prevent: Implement a remote-management strategy. Also, discuss with employees their impact on the nasal side of the business.

    • Eradicate: Implement food guidelines for the team, and create an awareness of cleaning products and frequency.

  • Restrooms

    • What: Cleaning products, human waste, mold

    • Prevent: Discuss products with the cleaning crew and sanitize more often.

    • Eradicate: Improve ventilation, remove garbage cans and add automated air fresheners.

The Human Factor

One of the by-products of having human staff, particularly if you have resident self-storage managers, is they come with odors. They eat food, wear cologne or perfume, sometimes they smoke. They may not even be aware that their smells have permeated the front office from their desk or breakroom.

While there’s sometimes no way to eliminate these short-term odors, it’s good to be aware of them and do what you can to mitigate them. Eat lunch outside when possible, use mild-smelling or natural cleaning products, and never scorch popcorn in a microwave. That’s a horrible odor that hangs around for hours!

Also, keep in mind that fabric retains scents. It’s important to regularly launder office curtains if you have them. Any carpeting should also be cleaned frequently. Not only will this keep out odors, it’ll keep the floors looking fresh.

Careful Cleaning

The way smells are perceived varies from person to person. I spent the first 30 years of my life in agriculture. I’m well-educated on the variety of odors in rural America. I can identify the difference between a cattle and a hog farm with my eyes closed, and those scents don’t bother me. But a perfume counter in a department store? I can’t breathe as I walk by due to its assault on my sinuses.

COVID-19 increased our general awareness of respiratory-challenged individuals. There are many people who have a decreased tolerance for chemical scents. These can be perfumes and fragrances or simple cleaning products.

Aggressive cleaning might not be the best solution for your self-storage environment. My wife and I recently went to a restaurant. When the people at the next table left, the employee brought a bottle of cleaner and a rag. He got an A+ for effort but an F for overall effectiveness. He sprayed every surface within 5 feet with a heavy bleach product. By the time he was done, there wasn’t a germ left, but everything reeked of bleach. We left quickly due to the odor. We didn’t get COVID from that experience, but we didn’t enjoy our meal either.

Bleach might be the best solution in some cases, but there are less intrusive options. Consider natural odor fighters such as white vinegar, baking soda and Dawn dish soap when appropriate. There are also many products that’ll kill germs but won’t stink up your space.

Air Movement

Building ventilation can play a large role in facility smells, too. Anyone who’s ever shared a bathroom can attest to that.

Air changes per hour is a calculation that refers to the amount of outside air that needs to be introduced into a building. It’s becoming more important than ever. Improvements in construction techniques have made buildings tighter and less porous, which limits the amount of air transfer and can increase health and related issues. When building a new self-storage structure or converting an existing building, talk to your engineer to ensure the ventilation is properly designed for its use.

In addition to air flow, humidity can greatly impact smells, as it traps odor-causing molecules and makes them linger. Using HVAC equipment to extract moisture will go a long way toward decreasing odors in your self-storage facility. The ideal humidity level in buildings is 40% to 50%. Check it regularly, especially during the summer months.

Smelly Units

One of the olfactory challenges in the self-storage industry is we store other peoples’ stuff; and their clothes, mattresses, appliances, shoes and food can all contribute to environmental odors. Depending on the aroma, there are two ways to deal with it:

  • If it smells like they left food in the fridge when they moved in three weeks ago, call them. Ask if they’ll come check what might be causing the problem. Remind them that mice might be drawn to their unit due to the smell. This threat seems to motivate people!

  • If it’s just a stale odor, try to mask it. Check the humidity levels and perhaps decrease the setting on your dehumidifiers. Use aerosol sprays. Open an exterior door in the area to increase air flow.

Pleasing Scents

It’s also possible to use fragrance to create a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere. For example, healthcare facilities often use lavender to create a calm, pleasing environment. A tremendous amount of research has gone into how to create a welcoming, enticing aroma at hotels and retail establishments. They use aloe, calendula, cedar, cinnamon, jasmine, laurel, lemon blossom, sandalwood, vanilla and many others to offer the best client experience.

Self-storage operators can follow this cue by lightly adding these scents inside the office and interior hallways. Try some automated air fresheners or an essential-oil diffuser that’ll evenly distribute the fragrance. You might also add an air purifier in the office. Just be careful to not overdo it. Even pleasing scents can become overpowering.

Odors, good and bad, will affect how tenants and prospects interact with your self-storage business. Ignoring toxic smells will keep people away, while a fresh scent offers a positive experience. So, follow your nose!

Gary Edmonds is owner of Pike Co. Storage, which operates 17 facilities. In 2020, he launched The Storage Manager, a third-party management company specializing in remote operations. With nearly 20 years of industry experience, he has extensive knowledge of the successes and challenges related to running unmanned properties. To reach him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Gary Edmonds

Owner, Pike County Storage

Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at [email protected].

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