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A 10-Step Plan to Keep Your Next Self-Storage Development on Track

Keep Your Next Self-Storage Development on Track

From Alaska to Florida, more than 50,000 self-storage facilities are scattered around the country. That’s about the same number of McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway locations across the U.S. combined. These facilities are the foundation of the U.S. self-storage industry1, which was projected to generate $37 billion in revenue in 2019.

The typical profit margin of a self-storage business in the U.S. is 11%.2 That’s well above the profit margins for many other types of small businesses. Given those numbers, starting a self-storage business, and keeping your self-storage development on track is key. There’s a lot to do and many decisions to make.50 thousand storage facilities across us

Given today’s economy, it is key to act in a timely fashion. Developers and self-storage business owners sometimes get stuck in the decision-making process, unable to move forward. No doubt, pursuing a self-storage project can be overwhelming since there’s a lot to do and many choices to be made.

By being disciplined and taking one step at a time, you can make smart decisions. Here’s a ten-step plan to keep things moving forward in the right direction.

Step 1: Research and Develop a General Business Plan

Before scouting locations for a self-storage facility — no matter whether you’re looking at buying an existing facility or building a new one — you’ll need to look at the costs involved. The numbers will vary widely based on factors, such as location, acquisition costs, land costs and construction costs. Things you will need to consider include:

  • Do you have enough liquid assets to buy or develop a self-storage facility on your own?
  • Can you afford to allocate those assets for a self-storage facility?
  • Do you need to take out an acquisition or construction loan?
  • Do you need to recruit self-storage investors to help finance an acquisition or development deal?

Look at the cost of operation. A report released in early 2018 by commercial real estate company CBRE shows real estate taxes accounted for 28 percent of all self-storage operating expenses, with on-site and off-site management costs eating up another 38 percent of operating expenses.

Develop a business plan. This can help propel the business toward success, letting you realize your goals and manage issues that might arise. In addition, most lenders will want to see a business plan before extending a loan.

Determine your scale of investment. You might be able to put up a single-story, 40,000-square-foot self-storage development in a small town for $1 million or less, whereas a two-story, 80,000-square-foot facility in a more urban setting could set you back $6 million.

You can expect to spend anywhere from $25 to $75 per square foot on new construction. However, the location of the facility — including the cost of the land — will dictate the price tag for construction.

If you’re developing a self-storage facility, consider:

  • Facilities range from 10,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet or more
  • The average self-storage facility encompasses 46,000 net rentable square feet (the amount of money-generating space that can be rented by tenants)
  • A facility typically covers 2.5 to 5 acres

Step 2: Network and join your local Self Storage Association

Join networking groups and your local self storage association to help you learn from their experiences and gain referrals. Get to know professionals in the legal, real estate, financial, construction, and design industries that are experts in the self storage industry.

Step 3: Identify and Evaluate Your Potential Site

identify and evaluate potential siteDrive around in the areas that interest you. Look for high density residential areas and known upcoming residential developments (single- or multi-family).

Contact a commercial broker and/or your municipality. The city may be selling multiple parcels it owns. Think critically about what type of facility could be built on the parcel based upon its size.

Estimate whether its good for self storage. Call the municipality to find out how the land is zoned and any relevant regulations regarding industry development. If the property is already zoned for self storage, then that removes a huge barrier. But if the property needs rezoned, then you could expend months or even years to seeking approval for a zoning change.

Additionally, there’s the issue of entitlement that involves obtaining approval from government entities for your development plans. As with rezoning, an entitlement case could elapse valuable time.

Step 4: Put the Land Under Contract

Purchase the land with a 120-day due-diligence period. The contract should state that your deposit is refundable during this period if you decide to forego the purchase. If you choose to buy the land, your deposit becomes non-refundable at 60 days. Also give yourself 180 days to close.3

Complete a market feasibility study. This exercise will help you target the demographics of the customer base within a one- to five-mile radius of the facility. A three- to five-mile area is the typical size of a market for a self-storage facility.

You’ll want to validate the median income in the market area (self-storage renters tend to be in the middle-income and upper-middle-income brackets), along with the median age (self-storage tenants are normally in their early 20s to mid-50s).

In addition, you’ll want to review the following aspects of your proposed market area4:

  • Current population (anywhere from about 20,000 people in a rural setting to 100,000 or more in an urban setting, as a general guideline).
  • Projected population growth (more people mean more prospective tenants).
  • Daily vehicle traffic (the majority of self-storage facilities depend heavily on drive-by traffic to attract customers).
  • Competitive landscape. Which self-storage facilities already are operating in the area? What is their occupancy rate? Are there any facilities that are under construction or are planned within the trade area?

Other components of the feasibility study normally will include an overview of the self-storage industry; long-range projections for rental rates, income, expenses, and property value; and details about the storage project’s zoning. This will help you determine whether the land acquisition and building costs of the investment are sound.

This is also the time to look for any obstacles such as easements, building restrictions, zoning and entitlement hurdles, water retention requirements, wildlife, tree, or waterway conservation restrictions.

The study should also help determine your unit mix, what phases to build and the amenities you should offer to achieve your desired return. It feeds into the basis of your business plan, providing your operational budget, lease-up period, financial projections, and marketing plan.

Step 5: Financing

Determining how to finance an acquisition or a new development is your next step. Do you need to take out a loan? A number of options are available, such as acquisition loans, construction loans, and SBA loans. Many of these loans cover terms of 10 to 25 years. Work with a lending professional who’s well-versed in the self-storage industry to point you in the right direction.

To qualify for a self-storage loan, here are four things you’ll likely need:

  • A credit score of at least 680
  • A credit history clear of recent bankruptcies, foreclosures, and tax liens.
  • A cash down payment of 10 percent or more
  • A business track record of at least three years

Make sure you have enough liquid capital not only to buy or build a facility, but also to operate the facility.

You may also want to consider strategically partnering with other investors to buy or build a facility. This can be done through:

  • A debt partnership, which is a lending relationship that does not assign an ownership stake to the person or entity you are borrowing the money from
  • An equity partnership, with each partner chipping in a certain amount of cash and owning a share of the business
  • A joint venture with, say, a self-storage developer. Each partner owns a certain percentage of the business.
  • A syndicate of accredited investors assembled for the sole purpose of buying or developing a facility
  • A tenant-in-common arrangement, which allows at least two people to own a property and enables the relatively seamless transfer of an ownership stake to another party

If going the loan route, it is best to contact multiple self-storage lenders and negotiate the best terms.

Be ready to send each lender or investor all the documents they need to make a quick decision. Your packet should include everything from your feasibility study as well as the items mentioned above, along with your business plan, tax returns, and personal financial statement.

If you ultimately choose a Small Business Administration loan, allow 90 days to close. If you’re going with conventional financing, allow 60 days.

Step 6: Preparing for the Development Project: Organize a Design Team – Architect, Structural Engineer, Civil Engineer

At this stage, there are things you must do to prepare for building – obtain various reports and geographical surveys, such as a phase-one environmental site report, a soil-borings report, an engineer’s preliminary report, and an endangered-species report. Development of a self storage facility requires expertise so organizing your design team is crucial. The team at Forge can lead you through this process.5

A development team should include experienced legal, real estate, financial, construction and design professionals. Few people who are new to the self-storage industry can solely develop a new facility.

The design process starts with a survey of the land. The architect creates a plot plan, indicating locations of buildings in relationship to the land. In this initial design the architect considers all the information the civil engineer has provided about site restrictions and the availability of utilities.

The next step is to design the floor plans followed by the elevations, or what the building will look like. Cross sections and details are added to clearly indicate floor levels and details of footings, foundation, walls, floors, ceilings, and roof construction.

The structural engineer then assures the materials and the manner in which they are assembled is strong enough to withstand its own weight, the weight of any use it may be put to, and all internal and external forces—known as vertical loads and lateral stresses—applied to the building.

A load is any force exerted upon a structure such as snow, wind, or earthquakes or the weight of the building itself. Live loads are produced by people, furnishings, equipment, and materials inside the building. Stresses are internal forces of a material constructed so as to resist external forces.

The civil-engineering plan provides information about the excavation and grading needs the subcontractor will require to prepare the soil for foundations, ensure stormwater drains from the site, determine contours and elevations, and provide an earthwork estimate. That data will also help them provide an accurate bid for crew size, equipment, and timeline, and it’s needed by the retaining-wall subcontractor and building manufacturer.

Forge Building Company has created its own building design that allows for efficient use of material and allows for crews to build quickly.

Step 7: Contract with a General Contractor and Get Bids

contract with a general contractorOnce team has been assembled, the general contractor is responsible for making sure that everyone is building the project in accordance with the design. General contractors may provide labor and materials themselves, use subcontractors and vendors, or a combination of the above. Subcontractors provide their own shop drawings and may be in charge of trade-specific permits and inspections.

It is the general contractor that weaves everyone’s efforts into the completed product. Because of the volatility of material markets, most contractors won’t lock in pricing for materials and there could be price increases at the time material orders are processed. It is a good idea to ensure to include a Price Increase Contingency amount into your budget.

Step 8: Build Your Facility

When you reach this step, the team at Forge is ready to assist. We will ensure your self storage project gets built on schedule and on budget. We will take pictures along the way.

With a project start date determined, your general contractor will give you expert feedback on construction activity and sequence of work to best accomplish your goals. Along this path, milestones will be identified such as:6build your facility

  • The mobilization date for construction
  • The completion of foundation and steel erection
  • Installation for underground utilities
  • Building dry-in, including installation of the roof, exterior skin, and weather barrier

As the schedule is designed, the general contractor typically gets requirements from the major subcontractors to help determine realistic timelines. This info can also help identify long lead times for materials so they can be addressed early in the process for purchasing and reviewed for the projected construction cash flow.

This is also a great time to set up your property-management systems and marketing initiatives to be ready to open as soon as you receive your Certificate of Occupancy. For technology considerations, see our blog “Technology – What You Need for Your Self Storage Business.”

Step 9: Marketing Efforts: Prepare for the Grand Opening

Now is the time to leverage your marketing to get the facility storage units leased. One of the biggest assets for a positive customer experience is your website. Your website should be easy to find and use.

Content for your web presence is the single most important thing for search engine optimization and for prospects and customers to be able to quickly find your business. This includes your blog posts, social media, landing pages, FAQ pages, video, and everything else that relates to your business.

Other helpful technology that will improve the customer experience includes any automation you use, security and access tools, digital signage, and property-management software that facilitates online rentals and autopay. Remember, customers expect technology that’s easy to use, available around the clock, nice to look at, and engaging.

For more tips on creating the best customer experience, see our blog “Creating the Best Customer Experience for Your Self Storage Business.”

Step 10: Run Your Business and Manage the Operations of the Facility

Once your self-storage facility is built, open and renting, the most important aspects of hitting or exceeding your projections and maintaining high performance is to keep answering your phone, monitor rates regularly, keep customers happy, and monitor your marketing and online presence. In addition, it is key to think about giving back to your community, rewarding your employees and start looking for land for your next facility!

One of the best ways to create the ultimate customer experience is to walk through the experience of renting a unit, visiting the site, and accessing the unit. Was anything surprising? Confusing? Alarming? Go about this drill as if you’re someone who knows nothing about the industry and see how easy it is to navigate the process of looking for, renting, and using self storage.

The relationship you make with customers by using these strategies and how you go about fulfilling their needs is ultimately what will make your customer’s experience a pleasant one and help with retention and referrals in the future.


Works Cited

1 SpareFoot. (2021, January 27). Retrieved from SpareFoot StorageBeat: https://www.sparefoot.com/self-storage/news/1432-self-storage-industry-statistics/

2 Egan, J. (2021, September 13). Storable. Retrieved from Storable: https://www.storable.com/resources/learn/is-a-self-storage-business-profitable/

3 D’Agostino, K. (2021, October 5). InsideSelfStorage.com. Retrieved from Inside Self-Storage: https://www.insideselfstorage.com/development/9-step-plan-keep-your-next-self-storage-development-track

4 Egan, J. (2021, July 26). Storable. Retrieved from Storable: https://www.storable.com/resources/learn/starting-a-self-storage-business/

5 Inside Self Storage. (2008, September 15). Retrieved from InsideSelfStorage.com: https://www.insideselfstorage.com/construction/building-self-storage-creating-harmonious-design-team

6 Rogers, R. (2016, October 6). Inside Self Storage. Retrieved from InsideSelfStorage.com: https://www.insideselfstorage.com/construction/creating-and-managing-self-storage-construction-timeline

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