While most of us who work in self-storage operation have skill sets well beyond those of managers in other industries, there comes a time when we need the help of a professional contractor or vendor. I’m pretty handy around my property, but what I don’t have is the training and experience to handle large, commercial-type projects, like replacing traditional light fixtures with LEDs, hot-sealing and striping a parking lot, repairing stucco, or re-painting a two-story building. (Heights? No, thank you.)
Whether it’s for an electrical repair, deep cleaning, painting upgrade or a capital-expense renovation, finding the right people to do the job is critical to your business reputation. Vetting these folks doesn’t have to be a difficult process, and keeping everything organized and legal will help you focus on with everything else you have to do as a site manager. So, let’s get started!
The Prep Work
Before you open your laptop and start searching for a vendor, you need an outline of the project and a list of qualifications you seek in a contractor. If necessary, schedule a call or virtual meeting with your superiors to get a better idea of what they need or expect; and run your checklist by them, in case they have anything to add.
One you have the green light, you can begin your search. Think of finding a contractor like conducting a job interview, as that’s basically what you’re doing. You’ll want information on services offered, licenses held and articles of incorporation. You’ll also want job-specific references—professional and from customers—which should include contact information,
the scope of work completed, an evaluation of quality and the project timetable. Previous employers can provide good insight to a person’s work ethics and habits.
Once you’ve picked a few solid options, start digging a little deeper. Check these companies at your local Better Business Bureau and chamber of commerce. Even online reviews can help with this process, as they offer a first-person perspective.
The First Impression
Now that you’ve narrowed your list of vendors, it’s time to have them visit your self-storage property and offer a quote for work. The fun begins!
What’s your first impression when they arrive? Are they in a proper uniform that includes a work shirt with a name tag or company logo, or did they just come in off the beach? Are they organized and ready to discuss the project, or are they distracted and constantly checking their phone?
Also, do they have the right tools? These might include a pen, clipboard or notepad, measuring devices, a camera (or phone nowadays), and maybe a ladder. Vendors who show up unprepared concern me. And if they ask to borrow any of the things they need, I’ve already made my decision, and they won’t like it!
Finally, does the vendor do the proper inspection to bid the work? For example, a roofer who tries to tell you what the problem is without even going up on the roof probably shouldn’t be your first choice for a leak repair or replacement. If he shows up without a ladder, definitely keep looking!
Negative first impressions are hard to get over, but the reality is, if your potential vendor doesn’t look or act professional upon first meeting, they probably never will. You want clean, tidy, qualified workers on your property, especially while tenants are around. After all, your customers are paying for this work with their rent, and they rely on your decisions to keep the facility well-maintained and their belongings safe. You want them to see you’re making good ones!
Once you’ve chosen professional, viable candidates for the bidding process, the details kick in. Just don’t forget that you need to be professional, too. Have your checklist handy, a file with the project expectations and timeline, and any last-minute notes from you, the owners, or your district or regional manager. If you’re dedicated, prepared and organized, vendors should follow your example to get the job.
Ask any contractor you’re considering to provide a full scope of work, outlining the what, where, how and when in their bid. They should have a timetable with details of the work in a clear, concise outline. This will lessen anxiety for all parties, establish clear intentions, and keep everyone accountable and safe. It’ll also help you better compare bids between candidates. You want to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.
Along with confirming each vendor’s licenses and certifications, make sure they’re insured and have current general liability and certificate of liability that includes worker’s compensation. Most companies require this coverage, even if it isn’t a state requirement, so make sure it’s on your checklist. You’ll also want a current W9 tax form.
Make sure all the information you receive or give out is correct and current. You don’t want payments or important paperwork bogged down in red tape. You’re basically collaborating on whatever project this is. A good, solid relationship with open communication will ensure the vendor does a good job the first time and is willing to come back if you need them again in the future or at another property.
One final note: Any vendor who says they can start the job tomorrow isn’t the one for you. If they’re really good at what they do, they’re likely too busy to start immediately.
The final details of your service contract should be clear and easy for everyone to understand. In addition to the timetable and project expectations we discussed earlier, it should contain:
- Methods and timing of payments, including any deposits
- Project start and completion date
- What will happen under “unforeseen circumstances” for either party
- Any concessions you’ll make for the vendor, for example, letting them use a vacant unit to store large tools, compressors or generators while on site
For a larger project that might include subcontractors, it’s important to know who’s responsible for which aspect of the project. For example, Subcontractor A may be doing the prep and clean-up, while Subcontractor B will do the painting and stucco. The plan should also contain points of contact to keep the job organized.
Finally, keep everything together: bids, contract, contact information, etc., on paper or in a file on your computer desktop so you can keep a running tab on what’s going on and regularly report progress to your supervisors.
Expectation and Reputation
As self-storage operators, we’re expected to show up to work on time, in uniform, and run a clean, safe facility. We should expect the same from our vendors! Untrained, unskilled or unqualified workers not only jeopardize your personal and business reputation, they can open the door to liabilities such as property damage, personal injury or worse. The well-being of your self-storage tenants, vendors, staff and coworkers should always be top-of-mind.
Keeping things honest, organized and safe will ensure any projects you work on at your self-storage facility go smoothly and timely. It’ll also ensure you make a great impression on your tenants, with little if any interference to everyday operation. Making certain that only proficient, specialized vendors work on your property will paint you in a positive light with customers, the community and your company superiors.
Kevin J. Edwards has worked in the self-storage industry since 2015. He’s a licensed property manager in South Carolina, and has served as a site manager, traveling trainer, facility auditor and auction coordinator. His experience in the restaurant industry, specialty retail and safety training for the petrochemical industry has proven useful in organization, scheduling, site safety and security, and maintenance. He can be reached at 843.422.3461 or email [email protected].