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Seeing What You Don't See: A Fresh Look at Self-Storage Maintenance and Curb Appeal

Sometimes self-storage operators need a fresh point of view when it comes to facility maintenance. Follow these guidelines to “reset” how you and your tenants see your property.

Just as we don’t see ourselves aging on a daily basis, we sometimes don’t see aging in our surroundings, including our self-storage facility. We carry around a visual in our heads of what we believe something looks like. Consider when you see a new picture of yourself and everyone else looks OK, but you don’t look the way you thought you did. It’s human. It’s also human to adapt to your environment. It’s known as “already, always” thinking.

Our brain has a way of “hard coding” the stuff we see every day. After a period of time (and it’s not very long), it stops seeing familiar things. This is our brain’s natural way of filtering information for us. Without this filter, we wouldn’t be able to function. It does, however, cause us to “see” some things as we remember them rather than how they actually are.

Sometimes you need to “hit the reset button” and get a fresh perspective on your facility’s appearance. The best way to do this is to invite a peer to tour the property with you. Choose someone you respect and admire and just show him around. This’ll allow you to see things that your brain has pushed to the background.

Following are some common “already, always” things we may see differently from our tenants as well simple ways to improve your facility curb appeal and maintenance.

The Curb

As customers turn into your driveway, what do they see? Are they treated to an inviting, fresh picture or a stale, faded one? Having good curb appeal is critical, so your entrance should be as alluring as possible. Here are some places where a little care can go a long way.

Flags and banners. Everyone, including your tenants, has “already, always” thinking. If that banner outside your office has been hanging for longer than six months, chances are it’s become part of the background, and it’s time to change up the scenery. If you proudly display the American flag, replace it when it’s ripped or worn, and make sure it’s spotlighted at night. The number of customers familiar with flag etiquette would probably surprise you, so follow the correct display protocol.

Gate and keypad. Your security components are often a tenant’s first interaction with your property. Are the numbers clear and the instructions legible on your keypad? Does the gate open properly and easily? When was the last time you had these things serviced? No operator wants an angry tenant stuck behind a faulty gate.

Landscaping. Add seasonal flowers to brighten the entrance, but let them go when their life is over. Dying flowers do nothing for your brand. Consider adding healthy shrubs that require little upkeep. You also need to pull weeds, mow the grass, and trim bushes and tree branches as necessary. Consider outsourcing your landscaping to a reputable company. Not only will this help keep things clean, it’ll free up your time to focus on more important duties.

Pavement. Refresh the parking stripes in front of the office, and repaint any parking stops, bollards and curbs. Patch any potholes, and kill any weeds growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. Better yet, fix the cracks!

The Office

There’s a difference between “wearing out” and “worn out.” Recognize when it’s time to replace things—from office chairs to window treatments—before they’re the latter. Here are some areas to consider.

Electrical. Clean the dust from ceiling fans and fixtures. Wipe any wires and plugs. Check your outlets, surge strips and battery backups for fraying and broken parts. Is there a nest of wires under the desk that’s become a dust-bunny breeding ground? Managing this mess can be as simple as marking wires with masking tape for identification, and then tying them together with a twist tie.

Office door. Your office door is part of the first impression your facility makes on new customers. Is it clean and welcoming or covered with fingerprints, handmade signs, peeling stickers and tape remnants? Keep this portal shiny and clean.

Paint. While the paint you added five years ago still looks new in your mind, it may be time for a fresh coat. This is a simple weekend project. Just grab a couple gallons of paint and get it done.

Phones and computers. Without your computer, printer and phone, your business stops. Keep these items in top working order and plan to replace them every few years, as technology changes. Anticipate the cost by adding a line to the facility budget.

Restrooms. Do an honest evaluation of cleanliness. If you’d be uncomfortable with your mother or children using the restroom, then it’s time to do make some improvements. This area shouldn’t look like a bad gas-station bathroom! Replace the worn and discolored toilet seat, make sure the lights and door locks work, and ensure the room is well-stocked and clean.

Retail area. Change this up by rearranging the merchandise. Hang bubble wrap from fishing line to create movement or build an interesting box display that shows how items can be used together. Move everything, dust everything and get creative. Facilities where tenants must actually walk around a box display will generally sell more merchandise than if boxes are just stacked against the wall.

Signage. If the office always looks the same, your tenants become numb to it. Take stock of what’s hanging on the walls. Paper signs are designed to have a short life, yet we tend to leave them up forever. If it’s been a year or two, it’s time for a replacement.

Storage space. Just like our tenants, we tend to put stuff in storage and forget it’s there. Organize the breakroom and any company-assigned units. Look for items you can use like flags and banners, marketing materials, or office supplies you didn’t know you had. Sometimes going through the breakroom can feel like Christmas. Oh, there’s that box of magnets!

Other Property Features

There are a number of other components to a storage facility that can easily fall into the “already, always” thinking, including unit doors, exterior signage and even the roof. Here are other areas that should be included in your maintenance review.

Building exteriors. Look for damage caused by tenants, weather or pests. Do buildings appear dull? Maybe it’s time for a fresh coat of paint or clear coat. Fill any cracks to prevent water leakage and remove any rust spots.

Floors. If you have a drive-through facility or interior units, pay special attention to the flooring. Is it scuffed and dirty? Keep floors bright and clean.

Golf cart. If the golf cart is used to show prospects around the facility, a dirty one is a poor way to start the tour. Replace worn cushions. Take everything off the cart and give it a good scrub. Never store locks or company property in the vehicle. Your customers’ first impression shouldn’t include the experience of riding next to the trash bucket. Finally, don’t smoke on the golf cart, ever. The smell never goes away.

Heating and cooling system. Preventive maintenance will keep your heating, air-conditioner and ventilating system in tip-top shape. Regularly change the air filters, and have the system inspected by a professional at least once a year.

Lighting. A well-lit facility projects safety and quality. Regularly check for burned-out bulbs and replace them promptly. Also inspect lighting fixtures for cracks and broken glass. Consider upgrading to more cost-effective and energy-efficient lighting, such as compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Pests. Keep an eye out for signs of pests such as ants, mice, roaches, and even bees or wasps. This is another area where preventive maintenance—and professional assistance when necessary—can go a long way.

Roof. The best way to ensure the longevity of your roof is to fix small problems before they become expensive ones. When units are empty, inspect the interior for signs of water, which could mean you have a leak. Look for loose or missing fasteners. These can be fixed by installing a new rubber gasket and either a manufacturer-approved sealant or target patch. Check with your manufacture for guidelines.

Signage. This includes all of your exterior signs, from the giant one out front to the “No Smoking” warnings posted around the property. Signage with faded letters or numbers, graffiti, or cracks should be replaced. Make sure all signs correctly represent your brand. This means upgrading those that don’t feature your current logo or brand colors. Tenants will definitely notice mixed fonts and colors.

Unit doors. Your facility doors should open with ease and be free of dirt on the exterior and in the guides. You can wash them with a simple soap-and-water solution. Keep them free of cobwebs, debris and weeds. Once a year, spray the door springs with white lithium grease to keep the coils from seizing up on each other or rusting. Replace the rope handle if necessary.

Creating a Timetable

The complete catalog of maintenance tasks can seem overwhelming, but remember: You don’t need to accomplish all of these items in a day or even a single month. Many to-do’s can be addressed seasonally or even on an annual basis. Others will become a part of your daily or weekly duties.

The best way to keep on top of maintenance is to create an all-encompassing list. An Excel spreadsheet is ideal for this, or you can use a calendar-style format. You can include a completion-date column, and even use colors as coding for categories or timeframes. For example, daily items could be highlighted in yellow while annual tasks are in blue. Group related items to increase efficiency. The goal is to make your system easy to follow, so find a style that works for your particular operation.

While many self-storage operators are able to handle the bulk of their site maintenance, there will be times when it’s best to get help—for example, if have an electrical or plumbing problem, or a unit door that needs a new spring. Never attempt a repair if you lack the ability or confidence to do so. Don’t use cheap materials or unskilled labor. Instead, get bids from multiple contractors and choose the most qualified company to fix the problem.

Maintenance tasks involve effort, and some may even come at a cost. However, you can’t put a price on a fresh perspective. Don’t let your “already, always” thinking stand in the way of your facility appearance. Create a plan to tackle projects big and small, build a budget to pay for them, and get to work. Hitting the reset button on your property will lead to better occupancy and more satisfied customers.

Linnea Appleby is the owner of Lime Tree Management, a self-storage management and consulting firm based in Sarasota, Fla. To contact her, call 941.350.7859; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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