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Articles from 2014 In January


3-Mile Domination Quick Hit: Promote Customer Reviews in Your Self-Storage Office

In this "Quick Hit" video segment from 3 Mile Domination, Jim Ross discusses how self-storage operators can take advantage of positive online reviews from customers inside their management offices. Although most walk-in customers are primed to rent a unit, visible examples of happy customers can help build trust for any prospective tenants sitting on the fence.

International Self-Storage Builder Steel Storage Opens Factory in Johor, Malaysia

Steel Storage, an international construction and development firm serving the self-storage industry, has opened a new production facility in Johor, Malaysia. The plant will produce the companys range of panel systems and doors, and serve customers across Asia and Australasia. It takes the place of the companys previous factory in Jurong, Singapore.

The factory is at the i-Park at Silc industrial park and split over two buildings. "Providing more floor space and improved layout, we will be quicker and more efficient in our production line, and with the additional investment in new manufacturing equipment, it will ensure Steel Storage customers continue to receive market leading innovative self-storage products, said Neil Waterman, production director.

Steel Storage is making a series of significant investments in infrastructure worldwide, according to Colin Jeromson, CEO of parent company Steel Storage Holdings Pty. I am thrilled that this new facility in Johor is home to our new production factory serving the emerging self-storage market in Asia, he said. It is proof again of our investment in expanding the self-storage concept around the world and where we can use our full spectrum of consultancy services and products to help new investors and operators develop the self-storage market in their region.

Steel Storage provides a full range of construction and development services to self-storage operators in Asia, Australasia and Europe. It has offices in Brisbane, Australia; London; Paris and Singapore.

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Online Self-Storage Marketplace SpareFoot Wins $23K for Kure It Cancer Research

SpareFoot, an online marketplace for the self-storage industry, won $23,000 for Kure It Cancer Research by claiming the overall gold medal in the Austin Startup Games in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 25. Competitors from 16 Austin-area startup companies competed in events like beer pong, foosball and Connect 4.

This is the second consecutive year SpareFoot has finished first in the competition. It won $15,000 last year on behalf of Kure It. Including this years check, the company has donated $43,500 in Startup Games winnings to the charity, which raises awareness and research dollars for underfunded cancers. Since 2007, Kure It has raised more than $1 million for research.

By bringing home the gold for the second year in a row, SpareFoot more than doubled its previous contributions to Kure It, said Karen Jones, director for Kure It. I was so pleased to be able to attend the games this year and experience the energy and excitement of the day. By far, my favorite part was meeting the SpareFoot employees and getting the chance to thank them for their commitment to Kure It.

SpareFoot employees won five gold medals and two silver during the 10-event competition. The company finished first in flip cup, CEO mystery event, beer pong, foosball and pop-a-shot. It finished second in Connect 4 and shuffleboard.

SpareFoots incredible team spirit was on display Saturday, when we absolutely dominated the Austin Startup Games, said CEO Chuck Gordon. While last year was a close 26-23 victory, this year we pulled ahead and won 31-15. SpareFoot bleeds gold!

Founded in 2008, SpareFoot.com helps consumers find and reserve self-storage units, with comparison shopping tools that show real-time availability and exclusive deals. With a network of more than 6,500 storage facilities ranging from mom-and-pop operations to real estate investment trusts, the company reaches prospective storage renters though partnerships with brands including SelfStorage.com, Apartments.com and Penske Truck Rental.

Westy Self Storage in Wilton, CT, Hosts American Cancer Society Relay Kickoff Event

Westy Self Storage in Wilton, Conn., is hosting the Feb. 6 kickoff for the American Cancer Societys 2014 Relay For Life race at Wilton High School, which will take place May 31. The kickoff is open to community members interested in participating in race and begins at 6 p.m.

Held in Westys grand lobby at 65 Danbury Road, the event will feature a keynote speech from ACS Honorary Chair Gene Fehrer. It will also include information about joining the event-planning committee, becoming a team captain, volunteering, prizes and refreshments.

"We are so grateful to Westy Self Storage for again hosting our kickoff event. They are dedicated community partners, Sara Augenbraun, chairperson of the 2014 Relay For Life, told the source. It is refreshing to know that our evening will run smoothly and take place in a picturesque setting. It will be a great start for the relay.

Launched in 1985 by Dr. Gordy Klatt, Relay For Life fundraising events are now held around the country. The overnight walk includes teams of people who camp out around a track and take turns walking. The events also include food, games and other entertainment. Relay For Life has raised nearly $5 billion to fight cancer.

Founded in 1990, Westy Self Storage is headquartered in Stamford, Conn. The company's portfolio of facilities spans the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

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Manhattan Mini Storage Collects Coats for NY Residents

Manhattan Mini Storage and parent company Edison Properties are collecting new and lightly used coats for New York Cares annual coat drive to deliver warm outerwear to state residents. The self-storage operator will have collection boxes at all 17 of its Manhattan, N.Y., locations through Feb. 7. In addition, collection boxes will be set up at other Edison-owned properties in New York .

We recognize theres a crisis here, right in our own backyard, said Stacy Stuart, executive vice president of marketing and human resources for Edison Properties. We know that if you ask New Yorkers to pitch in and help out their fellow citizens, they will. So were doing what we can to raise awareness and get these coats out to the people who need them as soon as possible.

New York Cares works with nonprofit social-service agencies, churches, schools and shelters in New York City to distribute coats as quickly as theyre collected. The organization received 100,000 requests for coats this season and says it doesnt have nearly enough donations to meet the demand, according to an Edison Properties press release.

Family-owned Edison Properties also operates Edison ParkFast, a network of 40 garages and lots throughout Baltimore, New York City and Northeast New Jersey. Its other properties include workspace offices, executive offices and pre-built suites, The Hippodrome office building, and The Ludlow, a luxury residential high-rise on the Lower East Side.

New York Cares is the city's largest volunteer management organization, running volunteer programs for 1,300 nonprofits, city agencies and public schools. The organizations city-wide coat drive has been an annual event for 25 years.

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ISS Blog

For Self-Storage Customers, the Waiting Can Be the Hardest Part

Watch Waiting Time

Im not easily broken as a consumer. I tend to be extremely loyal to companies and service people I like, so it can be particularly frustrating when my loyalty is thoroughly tested. This happened recently when I took my car in for some regular maintenance at the so-called express lane at my dealership.

It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and when I pulled up, there were already two side-by-side lines of cars snaking through the parking lot. I was immediately on notice, watching, studying, formulating opinions and wishing I was still in bed. I sat in line (trapped is more like it, as other cars queued up tight behind me) for nearly 15 minutes before a service tech greeted mewithout issuing an apologyand took down my information. Thats awful customer service.

Even if they were short-staffed, I shouldnt have been waiting for more than two or three minutes without being acknowledged, apologized to for the extra delay, thanked for my patience and assured someone would help me as quickly as possible. Fifteen minutes without acknowledgement or apology is a massive fail, and based on the numerous, angry complaints I overheard that day, this place lost a ton of current and future business.

Why did I stick around, particularly knowing all of the express services that day would take hours? As I said, Im not easily broken. My mix of patience and stubbornness can make me a glutton for punishment as I voluntarily enter a battle of wills. You dont want to know how long Ive sat on hold just to prove a point. Besides, I had previously experienced excellent service with this dealer, so I kept thinking, Itll be any second now. Any notion to leave felt like defeat.

I also knew right away I would eventually use the experience as an example in an article or blog, so I had some incentive to stick it out and document the experience. If youre thinking that type of ulterior motive makes me different than some of your typical self-storage customers, then youre underestimating the power of Yelp and every other consumer-review outlet at their disposal. The difference is Im not a disgruntled customer with an ax to grind, seeking venues to name names and spit vitriol with the intent of costing you more business.

The importance of customer engagement cannot be underestimated, particularly for new prospects. I was already a customer with previous positive experiences. I had the advantage of history and perspective. If that had been my first visit to the dealership, I likely would not have waited to be helped, and I certainly would not have been a repeat customer.

When was the last time you unwittingly tested the patience of one of your customers or prospects? Was it in person, on the phone, online, or maybe through an automated kiosk? Maybe all four? Self-storage businesses today have so many points of potential contact with consumers that the opportunity to create frustration and lose business can occur several times every day. If you create aggravation upon first contact, simply by making a prospect wait for service, he can quickly form a negative assessment of your operation and will likely be lost forever.

A simple Google search of self-storage reviews and wait times reveals a mixed bag. Customers discuss and comment online about waiting in management offices, being placed on hold, and even how long they have had to wait for an elevator. Time is a precious commodity for everyone these days. Every aspect of your business is being scrutinized, and prospects are quick to judge and form opinions.

Not long ago, I called a storage facility with a simple question and was quickly placed on hold for three or four minutes listening to total silence. If I had been a prospective tenant, I probably would have moved on to the next facility on my list. Instead, I turned to the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community to gauge the reaction of managers.

If we cant speak with the customer when they call, we explain why we cant, ask for a call-back number and call them back ASAP, responded SMSSId, a senior member on SST, who also noted customers are not placed on hold if it will be longer than a minute.

Of course, there is often a juggling act that must be performed if customers are simultaneously in the office and on the phone. What would you do? How do you minimize inconvenience? Most managers would serve the walk-in customer and obtain the phone customers contact information. Whatever your procedure, its critical that both customers be acknowledged and engaged, no matter who takes precedence. Call centers can also be invaluable in handling overflow and enabling managers to calmly and quickly take care of walk-ins.

During situations when there are multiple walk-ins present at the same time (much like my express-lane experience), its important that your office is equipped to subtly assist the manager in handling the situation. The manager certainly needs to communicate with each customer, but having coffee available, complimentary snacks, company brochures, magazines, a television, artwork, or other comforting and stimulating distractions can send positive messages about your facility and help ease the sting customers feel while waiting.

Believe it or not, theres a whole area of mathematical study called Queuing Theory, with academic studies on the effects of wait times on customers. If youre curious to see this issue broken down into mathematical equations, you might want to grab some caffeine and peruse this study. But, frankly, youre not going to handle every time challenge perfectly, and you dont need to mimic pizza-delivery guarantees.

The key is simply to be prepared and minimize as much frustration as possible. Without training and customer-service policies and procedures in place, efficient speed of service and customer patience are at risk. If you need incentive, simply assume that every customer you engage is a potential negative review. I may not be easily broken as a customer, but I cannot say the same for your tenants and prospects.

Let us know how you minimize customer-waiting issues in the comments section below.

USSelfStorageLocator.com Donates to Girl Scout Military Cookie Program in FL

USSelfStorageLocator.com, an online directory that helps consumers find storage facilities and generates rental leads for industry operators, is making sure active military personnel will soon enjoy a supply of Thin Mints, Tagalongs and other treats. The company has made a donation to the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida Inc. Cookies From the Heart program, which sends cookie care packages to active and deployed soldiers.

Many active military members are self-storage customers, company officials said. It is with great pride that we send Girl Scout cookies to the men and women who serve our country, said Victor Dante, CEO of USSelfStorageLocator.com. This small token brings something very American to our soldiers so far away and lets them know that we are thinking about them back home in the U.S.

We get many requests for Girl Scout cookies from deployed servicemen. Getting donations from companies such as USSelfStorageLocator.com helps us honor those requests, while the sale of the cookies helps us fund our many programs, added Eva Prada, the Girl Scout Councils product sales director.

According to the councils website, the Cookies From the Heart program partners with Forgotten Soldiers Outreach Inc., which sends care packages and letters of encouragement to deployed soldiers, and the medical facilities at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The council serves more than 20,000 girls and adult volunteers in Florida.

Headquartered in North Miami Beach, Fla., USSelfStorageLocator.com allows consumers to find, compare and reserve self-storage units online. The website features software integrations with all major property-management systems and the ability to pull data and push reservations in real time.

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Amazing Spaces Self-Storage Collects Donations for Shriners Hospital for Children

Houston-area self-storage operator Amazing Spaces Storage Centers is collecting donations of personal items for patients of the Shriners Hospital for Children facilities in Galveston and Houston, Texas.  The hospital is seeking gifts of new items such as games and toys, gift cards, hygiene products, and clothing such as socks and underwear. The contributions help patients and their families enjoy a more comfortable experience during their hospital stay.

Donations can be dropped off at the following Texas self-storage facilities: 

9040 Louetta Road, Spring
10830 West Road, Houston
2412 W. Holcombe Blvd., Houston
18250 1-45 S., The Woodlands

In addition, the Amazing Spaces facility on Holcombe Boulevard is hosting a pre-Valentines Day donation party on Feb. 13 from 4 to 6 p.m. Guests will enjoy holiday cookies, cupcakes and wine.

Open since 1998, Amazing Spaces provides self-storage, RV and boat storage, wine storage, packing and moving supplies, and Penske truck rentals. The company also offers franchise opportunities to qualified applicants through its sister company, Amazing Spaces Franchising LLC.

Shriners Hospitals for Children includes 22 hospitals in Canada, Mexico and the United States, providing advanced care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate.

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Dallas Cowboys Sean Lee to Greet Fans at Uncle Bob's Self Storage in North Richland Hills, TX

Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee will appear at an Uncle Bobs Self Storage facility in North Richland Hills, Texas, on Feb. 8. Lee will visit the facility at 5575 Davis Blvd. from 1 to 3 p.m. CST to sign autographs and greet fans. The event is open to the public, and there is no cost to attend. It will be Lees second appearance at an Uncle Bobs. He first visit in San Antonio brought in more than 400 fans.

Sean was amazing the last time he visited us, so we wanted to give more Cowboys fans the chance to meet him, said Kevin Bagwell, area manager for Uncle Bobs Texas facilities. We know how much the Dallas/Ft. Worth community loves their Cowboys, and were just as excited as the fans for this event.

The event will also include the Ultimate Fan Cave grand-prize drawing. During the NFL season, Uncle Bobs and the Cowboys sponsored a weekly trivia contest on Twitter. On Feb. 8, the 11 contest finalists will receive keys, one of which will unlock a storage unit containing the Fan Cave prize pack. The pack includes a 55-inch LED TV, team merchandise and more.

 We knew Cowboys fans loved their team, but we were still taken back by how many people entered the contest, said Chris Laczi, marketing director at Uncle Bobs. Its been fun seeing the contest unfold, and whomever opens the storage unit will have an incredible setup for watching the Cowboys next year.

Lee was drafted 55th overall in 2010 from Pennsylvania State University. The was the year he was also named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Month. In 2012, he tied the Cowboys team record for most tackles in a single game. Lee was again named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in October.

Uncle Bobs Self Storage is owned by Sovran Self Storage Inc., a real estate investment trust that acquires and manages self-storage facilities. The company operates more than 480 facilities in 25 states, including 30 locations in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

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Outsourcing Self-Storage Facility Maintenance: Common Misconceptions Revealed

Broom Sweep

By Tony Jones

There are some undeniable truths when it comes to self-storage facility maintenance. Mechanical components such as rolling doors, access gates and HVAC systems will eventually need service or repair. Standard fixtures like paint, flooring and pavement need care or will look unkempt over time. Landscaping also requires regular attention. No matter the size or location of your facility, site upkeep is essential.

This is why self-storage managers are often responsible for daily, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance tasks. But sometimes chores are too time-consuming or difficult for an operation to tackle internally. It may make financial sense to hire an outside company, particularly if it saves the manager from missing calls and visits from customers.

Do you outsource maintenance at your facility? If not, why not? Following are some common misconceptions associated with hiring a maintenance company and the truth behind them, bolstered with insight from operators and vendors on costs, quality, seasonal issues and more.

Myth 1: Outsourcing Is Too Expensive

Facility managers can perform most maintenance tasks/repairs themselves to save money.

This is a decidedly mixed bag. Whether its cheaper to have a manager handle most maintenance depends largely on the skill of the manager and the extent of the task or repair. Most operators believe general duties can be performed cost-effectively in this manner, but outsourcing certain jobs is sometimes a necessity.

We dont outsource our regular facility maintenance because its cheaper to have us do it, says Keith Monaghan, who manages A-1 Westside Storage in Bend, Ore., with his wife. However, they do outsource fence and gate repair, drain-basin cleaning, significant snow removal, asphalt work, and the painting of RV-parking lines and curbs.

In general, if the task requires special tools or training, we have the professionals take care of it, Monaghan explains. The owner doesnt shy away from paying for services that we need if we cant do them in-house.

Landscaping is one of those duties that sounds manageable but sometimes proves more cost-effective to outsource. MZC&D, a senior member of the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community, says he was surprised by its affordability. We recently had some landscaping done, and I thought for sure they would be way more [expensive] than what I could do it for. But surprisingly, they were able to do it for less than what I could rent the equipment for.

SST member and self-storage owner mseguin believes managers should stay focused on customers. When it comes to landscaping, depending on the property, we use company maintenance personnel and contract landscapers. In either case, we want our manager to be in the office answering calls, and not mowing the lawn and pruning trees.

This is where the issue of affordability gets tricky. Saving the cost of hiring a maintenance company is one thing, but is it really a good use of resources to put managers on the job at hand? For Pogoda Cos., which owns or manages 38 facilities in Michigan and Ohio, the answer has a lot to do with the size of an operation and the scalability of its infrastructure.

For storage facilities with less than 1,000 doors, it is more cost-effective for the facility manager to perform most maintenance tasks/repairs vs. an outside company, says John George, Pogodas vice president of operations. Utilizing a facility managers known abilities to perform in-house maintenance tasks that are at an acceptable safety level is cost-effective and helps ensure continued high standards for the facility.

Tasks such as changing light bulbs, trimming bushes, oiling gate chains and painting small projects can cut costs while boosting curb appeal, but even these duties are best handled when someone is available to cover the office. The primary responsibility of your facility manager is to answer that $1,000 phone call. In most cases, he only gets one opportunity to close the deal with the prospective tenant. Planning by the manager with scheduling is essential in getting these smaller tasks complete, George notes. That being said, if there are larger maintenance issues to work on that are more costly and dangerous, we always go with an outside company. This significantly reduces the risk involved, workers comp claims, and lets the manager focus on more important tasks.

The distinction of task priority is an important point that can sometimes get lost when scrutinizing every dollar spent. James Fawcett, president of Accent Building Restoration Inc. (ABR), a company that specializes in self-storage services including cosmetic construction, painting, maintenance and other repairs, says hiring professionals for maintenance and repair jobs generally saves operators money in the long run. Even when a manager or owner is able to do it himself, there is an opportunity cost involved, he explains. What might he be doing instead that will generate revenue for his business? Fixing a hasp on a roll door certainly doesnt generate revenue, but selling a lock or being available to rent a unit will.

Fawcett also believes storage operators shouldnt underestimate the value of trained expertise, particularly as technology plays an increasingly integrated role with facility operation. Today you have security systems, automated gate systems, elevators, cameras, climate-controlled buildings, magnetic locks on swing doors, controlled-entry times depending on the type of tenant, etc. Self-storage has evolved over time, and the need for a more highly skilled maintenance technician is more important than ever, he says. If you hire a professional, he can fix your problem quickly and right the first time, allowing the facility to run at maximum efficiency and keep those unrentable units online.

Myth 2: Youll Be Overcharged

Maintenance companies will find problems to fix (and charge for) that arent really there.

If you are hiring a true professional maintenance company, this shouldnt be an issue, Fawcett notes. Sometimes this comes down to perception. Our maintenance technicians are trained to look for additional problems when they work at a site. This is not to increase business but to take care of problems in one visit rather than numerous trips. Most maintenance companies charge some sort of trip charge, so the more you can have one company do in one trip, the less costly all of the repairs end up being.

While knowing the versatile skill sets of hired maintenance personnel can help operators make discerning judgments about the validity of recommended repairs, its also important for them to be knowledgeable and forthright about work that has already occurred at the site. A good and reliable maintenance company will only fix what needs to be fixed and nothing more, George says. Proper direction from the manager or regional manager regarding the exact problem will keep the focus on just that issue. Letting the maintenance company know what you have done in the past or what you are trying to fix will help it focus its efforts.

For projects that will require more than $500 to complete, George recommends getting at least three bids to verify theyre reasonable and help ensure companies are reputable. In a lot of cases, the lowest bid is not always the best bid because the work tends to be of a lower quality, he says. This method also allows you to negotiate with your primary maintenance company to get a better price.

Researching what is involved to complete a project prior to obtaining bids is also a smart way to protect against disingenuous bids or paying for unnecessary or low-quality work. Always ask questions and be sure you understand the scope of the work the contractor will do and that the specifics are included on the bid, suggests Gina Six Kudo, general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. For example, a painter needs to clean and prep surfaces, not just slap a coat of paint on. If the bid doesn't include cleaning and prepping, call the next painter on your list.

Myth 3: The Manager Can Maintain the Doors

Its cheaper to have a manager clean and maintain doors than to hire an outside company.

Among the most visible components of a storage facility are its unit doors, and their appearance and working condition can speak loudly to customers. Faded, dented or rusted doors and parts can give an immediate, negative impression. But with the potential for hundreds of doors at any single property, is it cost-effective for a manager to tackle the tasks of cleaning and maintenance?

This myth actually holds a lot of truth, depending on the severity of the project. Having your manager clean the doors is fine on a daily or move-out basis. In fact, cleaning the entire unit upon a customer moving out should include the inside of the door and the tracks, says Teresa Sedmak, president of Everbrite Inc., which manufactures Everbrite Protective Coating, ProtectaClear coating and a variety of building cleaners. However, for restoration of oxidized doors or metal buildings, it can be less expensive to have an outside company come in. The manager is typically busy with customers and may not have the time, equipment or training to do the job properly.

One of the common mistakes Sedmak sees that winds up costing operators money in the long run is the use of harsh cleaning methods. Some people use cleaners with silicone, like Pledge, which create nightmares in the future when painting or restoration is needed, she says. Nothing sticks to silicone, so adhesion becomes a problem when restoring or painting the metal.

Pressure or power washing can cause water to seep into seals and jeopardize tenant belongings, and the acid in vinegar can rust and corrode the metal parts of a door such as the hasp, lock and aluminum strip at the bottom, Sedmak says. The best thing to use to clean doors is to hand wash them with a mild soap and water and a soft brush or cloth, she notes. Rinse with plain water to rinse off the soap. Original Dawn dish soap is an excellent cleaner. It does not leave any film, and it rinses clean.

Myth 4: All Snow-Plow Companies Are the Same

Snow-plow companies are pretty much the same; look for one that is cheap and efficient.

Self-storage operators in every geographic region must contend with seasonal maintenance issues, whether from snow, rain or a relentless heat and UV rays. Snow plowing is among the most common and costly winter maintenance tasks for operators in many states. Many tasks can be handled effectively in-house with a reasonable investment in equipment such as shovels or a snow thrower, but clearing an abundance of snow is often counterproductive.

As a large regional player in the Midwest, Pogoda Cos. knows snow all too well. Not all plow companies are the same, says George, who highly recommends hiring an outside company with experience in plowing self-storage sites. The company needs to understand where to push the snow and that the doors can be easily pushed in by the snow. Improperly placed snow piles could require additional heavy equipment at a hefty cost, he explains. In addition, using an experienced snow-plow company will help keep your building safe from inexperienced driver damage and any damage to your customers belongings.

Another reason for not getting the cheapest deal in town is that the company will plow you to death. If a company promises to plow at $80 per time, it will more than likely try to plow your lot two to three times per occurrence or will charge you a ton of money for salting the property. In the end, you end up paying more money. Its best to have strict guidelines. These guidelines include when to plow, how many inches to plow, and how to determine the snowfall amount.

When it comes to keeping costs low, these perceived maintenance-company myths certainly have elements of truth, but they can quickly be dispelled if operators underestimate the technical difficulty of a project or overestimate the maintenance skill of a manager. The severity of the miscalculation can be particularly costly if in-house maintenance and repair projects interfere with the daily efficiency of facility operation or compound an existing issue and cause the need for outside expertise that would have been less expensive at the outset.