Prospective customers will draw conclusions about your self-storage facility in seven seconds. Here’s why it’s important to have a set of fresh eyes assess the curb appeal of your property as well as the areas your viewer should examine.

Magen Smith

March 5, 2017

5 Min Read
The 7-Second Snap Impression: How Fresh Eyes See Your Self-Storage Facility

You have only seven seconds to make a first impression. Seven. Actually, seven seconds might be too generous. When I’m driving down the road and see self-storage facilities with letters missing from their signs, broken gutters and trash near the driveways, I judge them in less than seven seconds. I don’t even know their names, but I know I would never rent there.

As potential customers drive by, how do you want your facility to be perceived? What’s the first thing you want them to notice? Curb appeal plays a significant role in which self-storage business a customer chooses. Because you see your facility regularly, it’s impossible for you to see it with fresh eyes. You’re too personally involved and likely biased. To understand how your property may be seen by customers, you need to bring in someone who can give you a different perspective, for example:

  • An industry consultant who can give you honest feedback

  • A friend who hasn’t been to your property and won’t hold back to spare your feelings

  • The spouse of a business partner who’s able to give you truthful criticism

  • A focus group you create through Craigslist, in which you hire a few people to fill out a questionnaire about the appearance of your facility

No matter who you bring in to be your “fresh eyes” (we’ll call this person your viewer), you’ll need to give him some guidance on where to look. Here are some key areas and items that should be examined.

First Impression, General Appearance

When customers first see your property, what’s their initial impression? What catches their attention? What are they thinking during those critical seven seconds?

Our brains are wired to observe, sort and discard information that isn’t needed, so whoever serves as your “fresh eyes” needs to write down his initial observations. Try not to give too much guidance on what to look for in this first step. You’ll get valuable information by letting the person tell you about his impression. It’ll very likely be close to how your customers feel about your facility the first time they see it.

While a first impression is the feeling a person has when he first sees your facility, the overall appearance is more about the look and feel of the buildings and property as a whole. What’s yours? Your viewer should pay attention from the moment he first sees the property while driving until he stops in the parking lot. Is the site clean and welcoming, or dirty and disheveled? What rating would a prospect give it on a scale from one to 10?

Signs, Banners and Flags

Make sure your viewer looks up to see any signs, banners or flags. Your primary sign should be in excellent condition. If there’s space for custom messages under your business name, make sure all the letters are present and in good shape. Other signage or banners should not be torn, discolored, faded or tattered. If they aren’t in perfect shape, remove or replace them.

Correctly displaying flags is also crucial. When I managed a self-storage property, I once had the American flag hung incorrectly, and a gentleman came into the building to educate me on proper etiquette. I’ll never forget that lesson and the embarrassment I felt.

Buildings, Doors and Gates

Your viewer should assess the state of your buildings, doors and gates. Have him walk completely around the structures that comprise the facility. This simulates what a potential customer sees during a tour. He should consider these questions:

  • Are the buildings in good shape and visually appealing?

  • Does the site need fresh paint or a new façade?

  • Is anything dented or broken?

  • Is all glass intact?

  • What’s the state of the unit doors? Are they clean and free of dirt and smudges?

  • What about the manager’s office?

  • Does your gate offer instructions on how to input the access code?

  • What does the gate look like? Does it need a fresh coat of paint or replacement?

A quick note: Your office doors should feature proper signage including business hours, your phone number and after-hours instructions. All signage should be easy to read and, preferably, typed and printed.


Lighting is a big part of security and will attract attention to your facility. Have your viewer visit after dark to ensure it’s well-lit. Most owners focus primarily on how their property looks in daylight and forget people view it at night as well.

If your sign has lights, make sure they all work properly. All of your security lighting should function. If your lights are on a timer, make sure they turn on at the right time.


Landscaping is an easy way to increase your facility’s visual appeal. However, the presence of weeds and overgrown shrubbery will turn customers away and give the impression that your property is neglected. Choose landscaping that’s low-maintenance and keep it managed. Have your viewer note his impression of the landscaping and if it adds or detracts from the property.

If you have a lawn, it should be well-maintained and free of debris. If you’re on a busy street, trash may be an issue near the road; make this your problem and remove it.

Parking and Driveways

What’s your viewer’s impression of the parking lot? Are the parking lines visible? Is the handicap space adequately marked? The lot and driveways shouldn’t have visible cracks or signs of deterioration. They should be well-marked, well-lit and easy to access.

Every aspect of your facility should give the impression of a clean, well-maintained and well-run business. Successful self-storage owners make the best use of those first seven seconds by making an excellent first impression and drawing customers’ eyes to the most important visual aspects of the property. They know that any negative distraction can cost them a customer.

Based on the expected lifetime of a tenant, a new rental is worth an average of $1,200. Would you willingly lose that much over a piece of trash or because you thought it was too expensive to buy a new banner? Invest in having a fresh pair of eyes provide valuable feedback about your facility at least once per year.

Magen Smith is a former self-storage manager turned certified public accountant (CPA). Her company, Magen Smith CPA LLC, helps storage operators understand the financial side of their business. Services include monthly financial management, bill-pay functions, revenue management and strategy. She also offers a curb-appeal checklist available for download. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit

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