After the holiday spirit takes hold at our Thanksgiving dinner tables, December is brimming with energy. There are facilities and offices to decorate, company parties to host and attend, charitable donations to be made, and gifts/bonuses to be given. In addition to the festivities, December is also a time when many companies finish up winterization efforts and plan for the upcoming year by focusing on budgets.
When self-storage owners and operators review their budgets, they are constantly looking for ways to cut costs. Although some expenses are fixed and cannot be negotiated, other areas present opportunities for savings. Facility maintenance/repairs is one line item that may leave owners asking whether they can complete projects themselves instead of paying experienced individuals or companies to do the work.
Charles Plunkett, CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based CAPCO Steel, Inc., and CAPCO General Contracting, is urging self-storage owners, operators, and managers to give that question a second thought before grabbing their tool belts.
Know Your Limitations
Indeed, in this Do-It-Yourself era, it’s easy to have an inflated confidence about your capabilities. “All around us we are being told that you too can do this,” Plunkett says. “There are shows on television about buying a house, fixing it up, and selling it for a fabulous profit. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, your local tile and flooring store, plus numerous other iterations advertise how you too can install this yourself.”
But Plunkett suggests asking yourself these questions before making a decision: “How well are you able to perform that trade or myriad of trades? Are you truly a ‘Jack of all trades’?”
He then reminds owners, operators, and managers that there is a second part to the saying “Jack of all trades,” and that is “master of none”.
In other words, broad experience in many areas is not always preferential to proficiency in a single trade. “I’m pretty sure that everyone is really good at something,” says Plunkett. “The carpenter is good at framing houses. The tile setter should be installing beautiful tile work. The accountant should provide spotless, accurate books and records, and so forth and so on. You get the idea.”
Even Plunkett, who has had plenty of construction experience, has received guidance about the subject. “I was once given some really good advice by an older seasoned businessman,” he recalls, stating that it was “Stick to your last Mr. Shoemaker”.
“Of course, what that means is stick to what you’re good at doing,” says Plunkett. “If you don’t mind some imperfections, you may be able to muddle through a task that you’re not really adept at performing. Maybe you don’t mind some crooked lines in your new tile floor. For me, I prefer that it be done right the first time.”
Oftentimes, admitting that you lack the skills, tools, or capabilities to get the job done right is the first—and most difficult—part of the decision-making process as no one likes to bruise their own ego.
“I’m reminded of the children’s taunting song: ‘Anything you can do, I can do better … no, you can’t; yes, I can; no, you can’t; yes, I can.’ And so it goes, on and on,” says Plunkett. “Certainly, one of those children chanting back and forth knows in the back of their mind that they really can’t do everything better than the other child. Some are better at sports, some are better at music, and some better at making fantastic grades. The question is: Do we know what our limitations are? What are we good at, and not so well suited for?”
Leave It To The Pros
Regardless of your self-storage experience, at least seeking guidance or advice from an expert is a good place to start. Vendors, suppliers, and industry veterans who are knowledgeable in their areas of expertise are generally available to answer questions and provide insights that can enable you to make better decisions and obtain better results.
“Let’s say that you are considering developing a new self-storage facility,” says Plunkett. “Are you qualified to determine what the state of your market might be? Do you know how to determine what the demand is in your area? This relates not only to whether or not someone is going to come and rent your units once you have built them but also to the size of unit and whether or not they should be climate controlled or ambient. If everyone in your market area will want to rent 10-by-10 units, you would be foolish to build mostly large units and vice versa.”
Per Plunkett, this concept should continue throughout the entire development process and beyond. “Do you know how to properly lay out the site for traffic flow, fire department access, tenant access, and a friendly environment for your customers? Do you know all the fire and building codes and how they relate to your site and your perceived project?”
I have met a few people along the way that feel that they are qualified to be their own general contractor,” he says. “Most likely a few have been qualified or at least managed to muddle through it without too many mistakes; however, most are not qualified. Just because you built a barn once or you watched a contractor build your small office does not mean that you have the knowledge and skill required to build a complex project of this nature. In today’s environment, being a really good contractor is about 30 percent knowing how to build a project in the correct order, with the correct specifications, and without costly mistakes, and about 70 percent dealing with paperwork, regulations, insurance, complicated contracts that protect all involved, OSHA and other safety factors, very stringent specifications to know that it is done right, inspectors, design teams, and on and on.”
Although there are likely some general maintenance and landscaping tasks that you can tackle on your own, it’s best to leave the major projects to the pros, especially the ones that can impact your ability to generate revenue.
“The point is that if you are not properly qualified, get qualified help,” Plunkett says. “If you are not a feasibility expert, then hire one. This is frankly the cheapest insurance that you can ever purchase for a prospective development. What if you put on the blinders and just go develop a facility and then it does not get rented up? If you don’t know design, then hire a design professional. In almost every corner of the country you will be required to provide plans for permitting, so let them help you from the beginning. This will save a lot of time, energy, and mistakes on your part. If you’re not qualified to build your own facility, then hire a highly capable, experienced, and reputable contractor. The money that you think you will save in all of these and other respects quickly fades in the face of mistakes that cannot be erased. A friend of mine has a saying that I believe is pure gold: ‘If you think education is expensive, just try ignorance’. So, in this now complex time that we live in and this complex industry that we operate in, and with many people convinced that they too can do it on their own, my best advice is ‘Stick to your last Mr. Shoemaker’.”
At the end of the day, sticking to what you know and leaving the rest to the professionals is usually the best route, alleviating headaches and ensuring higher quality outcomes.
“Wishing you all the best and success in your endeavors,” Plunkett adds.
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.