What’s one of the most cost-effective ways to boost your facility’s occupancy rate? Improving the curb appeal.
As any Realtor will readily attest, buyers often love or loathe a property at first sight. So strong is our instinctive reaction to the appearance of structures designed to house our family or belongings that we’re usually inclined to buy, rent or run before we even enter the building.
In fact, judging by the boom in reality TV shows and even cable networks such as HGTV and DIY devoted to home makeovers, curb appeal is so hot right now that we even devote some of our leisure time to vicariously honing our buying instincts.
‘The best money you can spend’
Self-storage operator and consultant Marc Goodin said operators who ignore the subtle, often inexpensive ways to improve the physical appearance of their facilities are, in effect, driving business to their competitors.
“Curb appeal is still the best money you can spend,” Goodin said. “If you look at the statistics, 60 to 85 percent of your renters make their choice just driving by. … If you can get them to your self-storage facility and make them comfortable and welcome, you can rent to them there.”
How do you make the most of the often limited curbside frontage and architectural limitations of your storage facility? Let’s approach it street to shed, just as your drive-by customers do, and see what improvements you can make to convince more of them to stop by.
Curb to office: Think nature
A customer’s first glimpse of your facility is your best opportunity to lure them in. This is where curb appeal happens—or not.
If you ignore this space, even if it’s the typical 25-foot easement of a “flag lot,” you’re forfeiting the opportunity to visually welcome customers who are actively searching for a home for their stuff. Showing you care about the appearance of an area your competitors ignore sends a positive message to your potential tenants.
First, remove the unsightly: rusted fencing, unused temporary structures, litter, discarded concrete, junk cars and so forth.
Next, envision your frontage easement as you would the front yard of your home. Are there trees, land contours, native plants, water features or other natural elements, however limited, that you might build a scenic vista around?
Nature is not only the best way to soften the hard edges of a typical storage facility; it’s the cheapest as well. Consult your local Home Depot or Lowe’s store for free advice on how to choose affordable, low-maintenance plants that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Goodin had the luxury of making the most of his natural setting when designing his storage facility in Caraquet, New Brunswick, two years ago. The following steps enabled him to optimize curb appeal:
- Designing a 75-foot setback instead of the required 25 feet.
- Establishing a 200-by-20-foot garden.
- Bringing in a truckload of sizable boulders as focal points for landscaping.
- Adding low post piers and ropes, along with a 6-foot-tall Inuit rock statue to acknowledge the nautical nature and heritage of the local fishing community.
“For the whole first year, people would stop by just to say, ‘Hey, I don’t need any self-storage—I just wanted to tell you that your landscaping is the best I’ve ever seen,’” Goodin said. “That $700 in boulders and landscaping did more for my business than the whole three years of marketing. If you only have $500 for marketing, I would put it all in landscaping.”
Stuck with frontage that doesn’t lend itself to landscaping? Goodin said that even small, inexpensive statements can make a big impact.
“Buy a pack of sunflower seeds and plant them,” Goodin suggested. “All of a sudden, you’ll have giant, eye-catching sunflowers that show customers you care. In every neighborhood, there’s always one house that you can tell somebody loves landscaping, loves their garden. We want people to feel that when they come to us.”
Office makeover: Think character
Once you’ve captured the customers’ eye with your landscaping and convinced them to visit your facility, their attention quickly shifts to your office. In seconds, their quick survey of its appearance (style, color, general maintenance, accessibility) will influence them to consider your facility a good fit — or not.
Carl Touhey, co-founder of Performance Self Storage Group in Redwood City, CA, doesn’t believe in halfway measures when it comes to the heart of his facility.
“We bought a storage facility in Napa in 2012, and it had horrible curb appeal,” he recalled. “We went in and, for $8,000, replaced the signs, took everything out of the office, installed Pergo flooring, completely repainted inside and out, and put in new desks, two new 42-inch computer monitors and a new restroom. It’s always worth it. It wasn’t that much money, but people come in and go, ‘Oh, my gosh, this place looks so much better!’”
When a complete makeover isn’t within your budget, modest visual improvements still can improve business. A few examples:
- Surface cleaning: Customers shop with their eyes and hands. Seeing or touching unclean surfaces that leave chalky or oily residue on the hand is a lousy way to begin a sales tour.
- New façade: Adding faux stone, brick, stucco or other residential textures can help offset the industrial feel of a storage facility. Consumers instinctively distrust environments that have a foreign feel. A nod toward softening this reality demonstrates that you want to earn their trust.
- Add some sunshine: Dark offices discourage sales. Add or expand windows or sliding doors to create a more welcoming atmosphere.
- Lamp it up: The same holds true for office lighting. Floor lamps give a warmer, more residential feel to any decor, even with florescent panels overhead.
- Small things close deals: Find something small but unexpected and make it a signature of your facility. Goodin grows his own tulips at his Connecticut facility and gives one to every person who enters.
Hybrid facilities: Think outside the box
Want to really ramp up your curb appeal, not to mention your traffic?
George Thrush, director of the architecture school at Northeastern University in Boston, said hybrid storage spaces in urban locations often are the perfect way to add curb appeal when there’s little physical curb to work with.
In fact, his graduate program produced a study on the future of urban self-storage facilities that includes adding retail outlets to the footprint. Learn more about the study at blog.selfstorage.com/self-storage-ideas/hybrid-opportunities-for-storage-facilities-4342.
“Hybrid buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston and other inner cities may have greater curb appeal by mixing in ground-floor retail with the storage space they’ve converted from 100-year-old factory space,” Thrush said. “These buildings already look reasonable as a neighbor because they’re about the right size and architectural quality on the outside. So maybe a six-story building having an office on the ground flood, it would have a UPS Store or a Starbucks.”
A version of this story originally appeared in Mini-Storage Messenger.