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Check It All, Check It Often: Maintenance Advice for Self-Storage Managers

Keeping a facility in top shape is an important part of a self-storage operator’s job. Here’s insight on property maintenance from a facility manager in Bluffton, S.C.

By Kevin Edwards

With all the things we do as self-storage managers, facility maintenance is one thing that rarely gets noticed—unless it isn’t done. Broken or missing door handles, dysfunctional light fixtures, faded or peeling paint, dirty and dusty roll-up doors, beat-up push carts, or a generally unkempt property can really make a bad impression on customers. These are the kinds of details people only seem to notice when they’re subpar, even though they should be attended to every day.

The best way to prevent minor problems from becoming major ones is to pay attention. First, walk your storage property and really look at it. Try to imagine yourself as a new or potential customer. Would you rent here? As you review the site, do the following.

Keep It Clean

Walk the perimeter of your property, around your parking lots and roadside entrances, and pick up any trash. There should never be any cans, bottles or wrappers floating around. Try doing this twice a day.

Also check hallways, floors and doors. Clean, swept and mopped hallways mean you were there and you were paying attention, not only to stuff on the floor, but everything else. Carry a broom and dust pan whenever you leave the office. Depending on the type of doors you have, find a dusting brush or tool that works well on the nooks and crannies. Over-the-counter cleaning products usually work well, just be sure to spray the brush, not the door.

Look for Pests

Always watch for signs of pest intrusion. Check the ceiling insulation for holes, and look for scraps of insulation, food, paper or siding material on the floor. These are signs of rodent nesting and activity. If you see any of this, talk to your pest-control vendor. Don’t wait, as ridding your property of pests can be time-consuming and costly.

Even if you have a pest-control contractor who visits your site once or twice per month, add some pest spray around the edges of each space upon tenant move-out. This will help prevent critters from creeping into units.

Make Sure the Lights Work

Outside lights should be checked and replaced at least twice per month. If you offer 24/7 access to customers, then check and replace them every week. Timers should be working properly. Emergency lights should be tested at full capacity at least once per month by shutting down power to the building for about 10 minutes. (You can always just poke the little button on it as you walk past every morning, too.) Your local fire marshal will probably ask you to keep a record of these tests, so make a file.

Check Other Items

There are many other systems and items to monitor. Here are a few big ones:

HVAC system. Check this every month. Service contracts are great, but they can only do so much. Ask your HVAC technician what kind of cleaning solution you can safely use for the drainage lines and the best way to apply it. Keep notes on temperature settings and filter sizes.

Batteries. Check water levels in the batteries for your golf carts and security gates. A cheap voltage meter is helpful, too, just to ensure they’re charging correctly.

Paint. Painting can be fun—really! Try to make a day of it. Repaint your parking stripes, curbs and bollards as needed. Exterior areas should be touched up as soon as you have the chance, just because they’re more visible to passersby. You may even need to repaint your floors. Our property has painted floors in the hallways and units. We touch up the hallways every so often and completely redo them every year.

Signage. Paint or replace signs as necessary. Attack them with a broom to remove cobwebs or bug nests. Do this to your outside light packs about once per week. Insects love to gather around these things and just hang out. Small static mops work well for this.

Gutters and downspouts. These can be a headache. Backed-up gutters can lead to roof leaks and structural damage from water getting into the walls. Check these twice per month and clean them out as needed. You may have to do this more often if you have a rainy season like we do in South Carolina.

Trees and bushes. If you have a lot of greenery on your property, try to keep it from encroaching on your buildings or growing through your fences. You also need to keep them out of the gutters and building seams where they could cause leaks. Hedge trimmers and a weed whacker should suffice for this task. If you have a landscaper or any tenants who work in this field, ask about chemical treatments to keep plants from taking over.

Get Support When You Need It

When it comes to maintenance, your tenants can be among your biggest allies. You probably have a few electricians, carpenters or plumbers renting from you who’d be happy to walk you through a simple task such as changing out a light fixture or replacing a broken door handle. Online do-it-yourself videos can also be a huge help.

Keep track of these tasks and any others that may be unique to your property via checklists or a manager’s log. Date and initial everything so everyone knows when it was completed and by whom. We have three checklists at our facility: daily, monthly and yearly. All of them include task descriptions and blank spaces for initials and dates.

When and if you have a service technician stop by for a repair, pay attention to what he does and ask him to walk you through it. It could save you both a headache—and some money—in the future. If it’s a simple enough task, it could be done in-house rather than waiting for a tech to show up and turn a screw. Then you don’t run the possibility of having the problem escalate to a major repair.

Of course, there are some things that can’t and absolutely shouldn’t be done by managers, regardless of their experience. Hire licensed, bonded and insured professionals to handle any major electrical, plumbing or construction work. These folks have the proper experience and training to prevent a small repair job from becoming a major undertaking; and then any damage resulting from a botched repair won’t come out of your pocket. It’s not worth risking your own safety or job for something you’ve never done but have seen someone else do “a hundred times.” By using a professional, your business is protected if something should go awry.

I could write a small book on this subject, but I hope I’ve covered enough of the basics to give you an idea of how maintaining your facility will help your business, keep your tenants happy and entice new customers. When it comes to maintenance, everything else should be common sense. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s not, fix it!

Kevin J. Edwards is part of the management team at Plantation Storage in Bluffton, S.C., operated by Southeast Management Co. He can be reached at 843.815.8000; e-mail pbl@plantationstorage.com; visit www.southeastmanagementcompany.com.

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