Supporting Your Self-Storage Business: How to Locate, Vet and Work With Contractors

There will come a time when you need to hire a third-party company to perform maintenance or repairs at your self-storage facility. Whether it’s a one-time thing or an ongoing project or arrangement, there are several factors that’ll ensure a successful partnership. Read how to find, vet and work with contractors to meet your business goals.

Brian Penosa, Facilities Director

July 27, 2023

7 Min Read

It’s common for self-storage businesses to rely on vendors to help them maintain a competitive edge. However, finding trustworthy companies can be daunting. It’s important to consider several factors before engaging in a supplier relationship, particularly when considering facility upgrades, ongoing maintenance or one-time repairs.

In my 15-plus years in facilities management, I’ve developed systems for everything from a $28M remodel all the way down to painting a handicap parking stall. Here are some of my best practices to find, vet and work with third-party service providers.

Identify Your Needs

The first step is to identify your self-storage facility’s needs. This involves examining your business goals, recognizing areas where your property could use improvement, and assessing your existing supply chain. This is a great time to determine what skills and manpower your business has on the existing payroll to see if needs can be met internally. If your staff doesn’t have the time or expertise to accomplish certain tasks, you’ll want to look for experts outside your organization who can.

For example, if your facility requires a new security system, you’ll need to find vendors that specialize in this area. However, if the property’s hedges need to be trimmed and you have the necessary tools and an employee capable of completing this chore, it’d be more cost-effective for them to do it than hiring a third party.

Find Vendor Partners

Once you’ve identified a need outside the scope of internal staff, you’ll want to find potential vendors that can help you meet it. This can be accomplished in several ways including online research using industry-specific directories, marketplaces, social media, industry forums and tradeshows. You can also ask for recommendations from your professional network, such as colleagues, industry associations and business partners. You might even have commercial tenants who offer maintenance or contractor services or can recommend someone.

If an issue is mechanical or related to a piece of equipment, another option is to check with the product manufacturer. Many industry vendors have a network of certified installers or repair companies they can suggest.

As I’ve built relationships with industry peers and colleagues over the years, I’ve found that referrals from these contacts tend to produce the best results. In addition, having a good relationship with a general contractor is helpful since they hire all sorts of vendors and will more than likely have someone in mind if you ask.

Vet Potential Vendors

Once you’ve identified potential vendors, the next step is to vet them thoroughly. This involves conducting a background check to review their qualifications, capabilities and references. For example, you can check their website, social media profiles and online reviews to get an idea of their reputation and reliability. It can also be beneficial to ask for professional references to better understand what it might be like to work with a particular provider and the results you can expect.

Also, be sure the company meets all licensing and insurance requirements. This is particularly critical for jobs that involve special skills such as security installation, electrical or plumbing. Ask for a copy of their license and insurance policy, with your storage business listed as “additionally insured.”

Another critical consideration when vetting vendors is their financial stability. This is particularly important in the self-storage industry because it involves a significant investment in real estate and infrastructure. If the relationship is one that you need for ongoing or long-term support, you’ll need to ensure the vendor has the resources to meet your organization’s needs and that they’re financially stable enough to weather economic downturns. To determine this, you need to take several factors into consideration, including the amount of work they have, the scale of the jobs they perform, their reputation in the community, and references in their trade.

Build Relationships

Once you know the company you want to hire, strive to establish a strong working relationship. This involves clear communication, setting expectations and monitoring performance. It typically requires more effort in the beginning; but eventually, you should build up enough trust that you can rely on them to get the job done without your regular oversight.

Establishing supervision also allows you to catch mistakes or errors in the early stages of your relationship, which is beneficial to both parties. You don’t want to discover weeks or months into a project or contract that something was done incorrectly. Nor do you want the vendor to spend unnecessary time redoing work at their cost or yours. Communicating expectations up front also means any unrealistic expectations on your part are addressed before the project begins.

Additionally, it’s beneficial to establish long-term partnerships with vendors that align with your self-storage operation’s values and goals. This ensures the vendor is committed to the success of your organization and can provide ongoing support and assistance as needed. It also means less time managing vendors if you’ve worked with them in the past and had satisfactory results.

Having great relationships with service providers can also come in handy when you need something in a hurry. A strong rapport might help you move to the front of their work line or receive a discount if you need budgetary assistance on a project. If you have an established partnership and your vendor knows it’ll continue to receive work from you, providers will sometimes adjust pricing to fit your requirements.

Mistakes to Avoid

While working with vendors can be a beneficial way for self-storage businesses to outsource specific functions, there are also some common pitfalls that can arise. Here are a few:

  • Hiring based on the cheapest bid. This very rarely works out. The lowest bid almost always comes with change orders later, an increase in the overall costs, or the work or materials are subpar. To be safe, get two or three bids for every project.

  • Hiring a vendor that can’t handle the scale of your project. Just because a company can do the type of work needed doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. Make sure it’s experienced and capable of handling your specific job.

  • Not asking enough questions. Cover all your bases when hiring out work. Try to think of anything and everything that might come up throughout the course of the job and make sure you ask the vendor about all of it.

  • Not having a detailed contract in place. Always have a comprehensive contract or bid in place with all contingencies listed and a detailed scope of work. This will help keep everyone honest, and it’s really just a good business practice.

Build a Strong Contract

Establishing a strong contract that outlines the scope of work, timelines and payment terms is essential to ensure both parties are clear on their roles, responsibilities and deliverables. Some items to include are:

  • Scope of work: Describe the specific services the vendor will provide and any warranties or guarantees.

  • Materials: Outline the exact materials the vendor will use for the project, including the type, quality and quantity.

  • Timeline: Detail the timeline for the project, including start and completion dates as well as any milestones that need to be achieved.

  • Payment: An outline of the payment terms for the project is essential. It should contain the total cost, payment schedule and any penalties for late payments.

  • Termination: This describes the conditions under which the contract can be terminated, including any penalties or fees that may be incurred.

  • Liability and insurance: This part of the contract details the vendor’s liability and insurance requirements, including coverage for any damages or injuries that may occur during the installation process or repair.

  • Dispute resolution: This outlines the procedures for resolving any disputes that may arise during the project.

  • Confidentiality: Add any confidentiality requirements for the project, including proprietary or sensitive information that needs to be protected.

  • Change orders: These can happen on any project, so outline the process for making changes to the job scope, timeline or budget.

  • Signatures: The contract should include signature blocks for both the vendor and the client, along with the date it was signed.

By following these best practices, self-storage operators can establish strong, long-term partnerships with vendors. Not only will you receive the services you require, you’ll increase the likelihood of achieving your business goals.

Brian Penosa is the facilities director for Shield Storage and Crescendo Self Storage Management. He has more than 15 years of experience in mechanical engineering, project management and facilities management, ranging from multiple small-scale facilities to expansive structures spanning up to 1 million square feet. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Brian Penosa

Facilities Director, Crescendo Self Storage Management

Brian Penosa is the facilities director for Shield Storage and Crescendo Self Storage Management. He has more than 15 years of experience in mechanical engineering, project management and facilities management, ranging from multiple small-scale facilities to expansive structures spanning up to 1 million square feet. He can be reached at [email protected].

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