By Rob Wright
Anyone who is in the self-storage business knows that, more often than not, getting into it is a learning experience. It’s the nature of the business. People from all walks of life become owners, and their reasons for taking the plunge are as varied as the personalities of the tenants that they serve. Many get involved in the business as an investment and not as their primary source of income, or they enter the business after retirement to supplement their income. Some run the business themselves, while others choose not to.
The point here is this: most owners don’t have the life experience in self-storage and must depend on the professionals in the business to help guide them through the initial phases of ownership.
One of the early decisions that must be made is the construction or erection of the first building or buildings. Without the proper procedures, personnel, materials and expertise, this very important phase can become unduly expensive and time-consuming, and cause unnecessary delays.
Here are some procedures and suggestions that can alleviate possible problems and keep the planned opening of a facility on schedule:
The Importance of Site Conditions
Satisfactory site conditions will expedite construction. There needs to be a solid base of stone, gravel, paving or concrete around the perimeter of the foundation slabs and staging area. This will reduce downtime in case of bad weather, but it will also prevent materials from being damaged or soiled once they arrive on site. Otherwise, time may be lost and expenses increased for materials that may have to be replaced. This goes for the slab surface as well. It should be kept clean and unencumbered, ready for the components to be positioned and attached.
Concrete Contractors are Not All Alike
First, make sure your concrete contractor has the tools and capabilities to pour a concrete pad. Some contractors may be capable of pouring a driveway, but don’t have the experience to pour a slab that meets the specifications that are required to erect a self-storage building. Concrete must be poured to the correct dimensions and specifications of the building. Incorrectly poured slabs can shut down a project while material modifications, or in some cases repairs, are made to adjust building components to fit. This kind of expense to the owner can and should be avoided.
Find a Qualified Erector
Now comes the most important decision an owner must make in terms of his/her building erection process. Using an experienced erector is crucial because the construction will move faster, there will be fewer misused parts to be replaced, and the overall quality of the finished product will be enhanced.
As a rule, self-storage construction crews fall into two categories: crews that erect a variety of building systems and crews that erect a single brand of building. Certainly, the majority of construction crews are familiar with metal building installation; therefore, conventional wisdom would say a crew that has experience erecting a variety of different building systems would be more valuable because of their versatility. In this case, conventional wisdom would be wrong.
The better construction crew is the one that builds a single brand of building. Why? Familiarity. Each metal building is designed differently and requires different component parts to be assembled. The crew that is familiar with erecting the same building components on a regular basis can hit the ground running without constantly reviewing parts lists and plans to understand which items go where, how they fit together, and how they are attached. For example, a typical five-man crew familiar with the building brand can erect 4,500 to 5,000 square feet per week. It just makes sense to use this type of crew. It is more efficient, and the quality of the work will be superior to that of the crew that erects different types of building systems. In fact, when an owner is selecting his building manufacturer, it’s a good idea to check and see if they have their own construction crews. If they do, seriously consider choosing them, and many potential problems will be solved before they manifest themselves.
Then, too, the crew who is familiar with the construction process on a particular building type can work out issues with other suppliers on the project rather than be forced to consult with or go through the owner or contractor, which can cause delays. It’s an all-around better situation for everyone concerned.
Site Supervision is a Must
Unfortunately, some companies that provide labor will send construction crews to a site with no site supervision. This is a mistake because a site supervisor will conduct progress checks as the project moves along and final walk-throughs as the project winds down. His presence will ensure that every phase of construction stays on track and finishes on schedule. After all, every owner should expect to receive the finished product that they expected and paid for.
Anyone getting into the self-storage business or those who have had bad experiences with the construction process should understand the importance of the issues I have mentioned. Every phase of our business is important, but the ultimate product that tenants utilize is the buildings. Unless the construction process is planned and executed properly, owners can lose time and money. This is a scenario that should be avoided.
Rob Wright heads up project management for BETCO, Inc., the leading single-source manufacturer of metal self-storage buildings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org