By Charles Plunkett
A little history
Over the past 20 years, the industry has gradually changed from simple facilities to complex structures. In the early days, facilities consisted of rows of buildings and garage-style doors. From those humble beginnings, we have progressed to large, complex facilities, including multi-story structures with sophisticated security systems, climate controlled buildings and amenities that were never dreamed of in the past. These include features such as wine storage, high security areas, computer tape/magnetic media storage, conference rooms, and hospitality suites. But no matter what features are offered, and no matter how high tech facilities become, the goal remains the same: to attract customers.
Get them in the door
One of the most important elements of successfully operating a self-storage facility is getting the customers in the door. Three factors come into play: visibility, signage and appeal. One way to solve this is to use bright colors both on buildings and doors. Or how about utilizing the building structure itself to act as signage? In some situations this can eliminate the need for a traditional large, expensive sign, by replacing it with a smaller building-mounted sign. When the building is drawing attention to the facility, then people will notice the sign.
What’s your sign?
Signage has gone high-tech. We see signs with features specifically designed to attract attention. In many cases these signs are trademarked to protect their unique characteristics. A-AAA Key Mini Storage utilizes a large key as a sign, appearing as if it were sticking into the ground. Shurgard uses a lighthouse as their trademark, which also serves as signage. In many cases, operators will have numerous locations and use of this type of signage to enhance product branding. Customers seeing a facility in another location realize that this is part of the same operation. Although neon signage can in some instances be too garish, tasteful utilization of this type signage can be very appealing. One project used neon behind the sign, to outline the letters and profiles. This provided soft back lighting around the edges and looked fantastic.
Build to impress
In the smaller and more rural environments, projects are still constructed in the more traditional way, with rows of buildings and an office facility out in front with a sign advertising the facility. However, in larger metropolitan areas where land is more expensive and larger parcels are difficult to find in desirable areas, facilities are being built vertically. In these areas, facilities are built on a larger scale. Often, the office and/or apartment structure is larger in height and proportion than is actually necessary. This, combined with the look of the structure, becomes signage. This is designed to attract attention and works quite effectively. It is also possible to dress up the look and magnitude of the buildings in the front of the facility to give a more impressive look.
Many projects now include materials that blend in with other types of construction in the area. We commonly see buildings constructed with materials not previously used much on the exterior of these newer structures. Examples are brick and cut stone, rock, stucco, synthetic stucco, metal utilized in non-traditional ways, glass curtain walls, and various combinations of the same. In many instances, designs are driven by the desire to blend into the area and to make a design statement. Of course, the design may be driven by the requirements of the governing architectural review committees or the necessity of working with the local home-owners’ communities.
If you are in an area that necessitates building up rather than out, it typically does not cost a great deal more to provide an attractive exterior to the structure. Generally, people like to be associated with something that is well done and attractive. When individuals go shopping, they like to go to a nicer store, especially if the price is the same to only slightly higher. In today’s world of self-storage, competition has forced operators to build the better mousetrap. This includes getting a better location, building a nicer facility with more amenities and features, and advertising it with effective signage.
The great outdoors
It is certainly common to provide more landscape areas today. Some projects even incorporate landscape islands into the interior of the project. Landscaping typically includes trees, greenery and seasonal flowers to provide color. The purpose is again to provide an inviting atmosphere. "Inviting" does not necessarily mean warm and cozy. It can mean professional and serious. Many projects incorporate very businesslike offices, up to and including industrial-looking features. This can mean open ceilings, steel awnings, or sealed concrete floors such as those you may see in a trendy restaurant or specialty store. It’s an appealing look, just different from the warm and cozy approach.
It has often been said that the difference is in the details. This can mean something as simple as the color of paint that you use. When you walk into a rental office with nice inviting colors on the walls, it feels much better than just walking into a square box with white paint. Try something as simple as making changes in the horizontal depth of walls to create pop-out areas. This can make such a big difference in the overall look of a facility. On the front end of a project facing the road, create pitched roofs for the first 10 to 20 feet of each building. Again, this creates a larger look and catches people’s attention much more than just flat roofs. This can easily be done with colored metal roof panels without significant additional cost. The idea is to be creative in the approach without breaking the bank.
Take the challenge
Each project can be different and pose its own unique design challenges. This article is intended to make you think. Each of us are consumers and have to ask ourselves the question: If there were a self-storage facility located in this spot what would get my attention? How could I blend a facility into the area, yet help it stand out and be unique? This thought process, together with the help of industry design professionals, could help you achieve this goal. Remember, the difference is in the details!
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