When I rent a self-storage unit to a new tenant, I always ask why he chose our facility. During a recent move-in, one customer said, “Because your competitor’s place looks rundown compared to yours.” It just goes to show that curb appeal plays a role in the success of our industry. While site maintenance may not be exciting work, it enables us to stay relevant, fill units and maximize rental rates! Here’s some advice to maximize your curb appeal and facility performance.
Walls. Modern steel buildings with standing-seam roofs require little effort to maintain. In the case of wood or older, painted buildings, fresh paint is occasionally required. Depending on your environment, your walls may need occasional cleaning. Avoid harsh chemicals and opt for plain water or mild detergent. When in doubt, check the product label and test a small area. Inside hallways, I find a Swiffer Wet Jet loaded with window cleaner works well on walls. If you use a pressure-washer on the exterior, be careful about shooting water into building seams.
Doors. Roll-up doors are a major moving component on any self-storage property. The springs must be property lubricated to avoid rust and breakage. As doors age, the springs will lose some strength and likely require an adjustment; spring tension should be evaluated between rentals.
Gutters and Downspouts. It’s important to clean out your gutters regularly, particularly if you have trees near your buildings. You’ll need a long-handled brush and a garden house. It isn’t fun, but it’s important to avoid clogs, which can force water into the building. If the property has underground drainage, watch for signs of slow drains or stoppages and have them cleared to reduce the risk of flooding.
Roofs. On buildings with screw-down roofs, the washer screws may eventually need to be tightened, especially after decades of roof expansion and contraction.
Unit interiors. Between tenants, sweeping out a unit is usually all that’s required, along with knocking down any cobwebs from the corners. Some managers use a leaf blower, but I think that just moves dust and debris around more than it removes it.
Trash. Left unchecked, a storage facility becomes an impressive repository for empty water bottles, cigarette butts, dead batteries and all kinds of debris from tenant moves. Pick up any detritus frequently and regularly.
Bollards. The amount of paint and scratches on my bollards from customer vehicles never ceases to amaze me. If your site doesn’t have bollards to protect your buildings, add them. You can either cut and patch your asphalt around them or bolt them to the concrete. I recommend a 6- or 8-inch diameter well pipe, sunk three to four feet underground, set in and filled with concrete.
Steel bollards should be primed and painted with oil-based paint for protection and appearance; however, the paint will eventually fade. Slip-on covers are a simple way to keep bollards looking great, and they won’t chip when a car bumps them.
Pavement. Asphalt should be periodically crack-filled and seal-coated. Joint expansion in concrete can be filled with self-leveling filler for a neater look and to reduce weeds. Sealing cracks prevents water from getting under the surface, where it can eventually freeze in northern climates and cause heaving or potholes. Avoid using salt de-icer, as it’ll eventually splash up on your metal buildings and cause rust. Of course, any weeds coming up through the pavement should be removed or sprayed.
Landscaping. Mowing, tree and bush trimming, and snow removal are all important. Depending on the size of your facility and staff, you may choose to handle these tasks internally, but you may be better off outsourcing to a lawncare firm. It’ll do a better job and be more meticulous about extras such as weed prevention. As a bonus, you can avoid buying and maintaining the lawncare equipment!
Signage. Damaged signs can really make a property shabby. Periodically examine your signage for dirt, breakage, and burned-out or damaged bulbs. If your signs are worn or dated, replacing them is a low-cost way to improve curb appeal.
Lighting. Burned out or mismatched lights tell customers you don’t care about the state of your property or their safety. Conduct regular inspections of your lighting, taking note of any fixtures that need replacement or repair. Don’t forget to do a walk-through at night!
When LED lighting became popular, we were told fixtures would have exceptionally long life. Most modern commercial fixtures now have the chips permanently soldered in, but they can fail, so purchase a few backups. If you have failed LEDs that are out of production, you can have them repaired (I take mine to a retired local electrician). When replacing any lighting, pay attention to the color temperature of the bulb or LED chip and use the same hue.
Also, keep your lights clean and free of debris. Aside from the usual dust and dirt, exterior lights attract bugs, which attract spiders, who spin webs. You’ll want to wipe those down regularly.
Batteries. Backup batteries should be tested regularly on any equipment that has them, like your gate controller and emergency lighting. They’ll require occasional replacement. Check with your manufacturer for best practices.
HVAC. On forced-air and dehumidification systems, check the filters periodically. Inspect drainage systems for blockages or kinks. Air conditioners, dehumidifiers and condensing gas furnaces create moisture, which may vent to the outside of the building or a floor drain.
Other. Most self-storage sites have a golf cart, lawn mower, hedge trimmer or snow blower. Their oil should be changed, batteries charged and blades sharpened as necessary. Keep a log of maintenance to ensure these tasks are handled. Keep an inventory of items that may need replacement, such as string for the trimmer and shear pins for the snow blower.
By now, you’ve probably come to about the same conclusion that I have in five years of self-storage ownership: It’s like maintaining an extra house, but on steroids. Instead of my kids leaving little messes here and there, it’s a few hundred tenants! Just keep the above guidance in mind, and you’ll be able to properly maintain your investment and impress your customers.
Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. He also owns a self-storage facility in Wisconsin and is a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824.