Retrofit Buildings for Self-Storage

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The Perfect (Retro) Fit 

The self-storage business is booming in Canada. When the housing market goes bull, so does self-storage, and both have seen a healthy, steady incline – especially in urban and metropolitan areas. Even in more rural locales, self-storage is on the rise as “toy storage” for vacationers’ boats, RVs, ATVs and snowmobiles. Facilities are getting more expansive too. U-Lock Mini Storage Group president Robert Madsen explained in a recent Inside Self-Storage article that the 40,000-75,000 square foot facilities of yesterday have ballooned. “Today they can be 100,000, 250,000 or, in an extreme case, 500,000 square feet of net rentable space,” he said.  

Locked Out 

Demand may be up, but it isn’t all rosy for self-storage groundbreakers. There are several barriers to entry. Land costs are at an all-time high, and overall costs aren’t much better. As Madsen explains, “A modern, multi-story site ranges from $120 to $230 per square foot … far from the $55 to $70 of only a few short years ago.” Those are simply hard costs. There is also the much grayer, unpredictable prospect of rezoning. Apple Self Storage vice president David Allan points out “Rezoning is a much riskier process that has no outer time limit for completion… Even getting a site-plan agreement completed with the city of Toronto … take[s] 18 months.” 

On top of that are Development Cost Charges, or DCCs. Paid by the developer, these are municipal taxes designed to offset the costs of continuing upgrades to things like local infrastructure, public transportation and social programs. But according to Allan, they’ve been reported to reach as high as $49.32 CAD per square foot – amounting to millions of dollars for the largest projects. These charges must be paid before construction begins. It’s all intended to be for the greater good, but as you can imagine, DCCs often stop a project in its tracks. 

Robertson Has a Solution 

There is a straightforward way to circumvent many of these barriers to entry. Land and construction costs can be offset by retrofitting an existing structure into a self-storage facility. A conversion project is much more cost-effective than buying, clearing, zoning and building from the ground up. As DBCI (sister brand of Robertson) Sales Representative Barry Nilson explains, “Because of the emergence of online sales, a lot of bricks and mortar, consumer outlets are no longer as popular.” That means across the country, you can find large, solid structures for sale in prime areas – ideal for converting into the self-storage that’s in such high demand. 

Yesterday’s JC Penney, Kmart, gym, grocery store or even office and manufacturing space can be converted into self-storage. In fact, Walmart recently announced the closing of six stores in Alberta, Ontario, and Newfoundland. 

Robertson specializes in providing a turnkey self-storage conversion project. From roll-up frames and door headers to modular wall and hallway systems, Robertson’s single-source, comprehensive, coordinated systems and depth of experience streamline the process from start to finish.  

Due Diligence 

At Robertson, we can handle quoting, delivery and speedy installation, but we highly recommend you attend to a couple items outside our area of expertise: 

  1. Conduct a Feasibility Study 

Before you invest substantial resources in a retrofit, consult the experts to learn about traffic in the immediate area, disposable income levels, competing self-storage facilities and expected community growth. Their findings can also help decide which unit mix is most appropriate. A college town full of apartments and dorms needs small lockers, while a sprawling, wealthy suburban area will rent larger units for furniture, heirlooms and even vehicles. 

  1. Examine the Building’s Condition

A thorough inspection of your prospective property is essential to ensure it’s up to code, is structurally sound, has a solid roof and HVAC equipment in good condition. 

Planning Ahead 

Once you have your feasibility study in-hand, we can create an ideal blend of unit types and sizes, then design the floorplan to make the most of every square foot. If the building’s height allows for it, we can also consider the construction of a second-level mezzanine. Typically, at least 20’ of unimpeded height is needed for such a mezzanine, but it can essentially double your rentable space. Once a plan is approved and materials arrived, installation is typically fast and efficient – covering up to 8,000 square feet per week. 

As a comprehensive manufacturer, supplier and installer, Robertson can also supply precisely what your future business needs to make it as modern and attractive as it is efficient and durable. With custom coatings, you can choose any color for your materials – including your precise brand colors. Furthermore, kick plates, corner guards, column wraps and wainscoting can protect your doors, walls and hallways from the scrapes, bumps and accidents that are all but inevitable in self-storage facilities. For lower clearance roofs, swing doors are an excellent choice. And to ensure the security of your tenants’ possessions, we offer burglar bars, mesh panels, and a selection of locks and latches. 

It’s also smart to consider other value-added additions, like exterior updates to heighten your facility’s curb appeal and new restrooms. You could also include a small retail area for customers to buy essential supplies they may have forgotten or need, like cardboard boxes, tape, furniture blankets, stretch wrap, packing peanuts, dolly rentals and even pain relievers for tenants who might have overdone it. 

Overhaul the Old U-Haul 

Another trend sweeping the nation is renovation of older self-storage facilities. While they may not be much to look at, existing storage facilities do not face new construction challenges like land costs and zoning. With a contemporary facelift via clean new white Robertson metal panels, new doors, updated fencing and clean, bright LED lights, such a facility can feel like new. Robertson can streamline such an update too.  

Ready to lock-in your project? Talk to a Robertson representative about tackling a conversion project today.