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  22 Aug 2022

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Self-Storage Design and Layout

Going down memory lane, the need for a self-storage system never got in demand until the 1970s. Moving came with a price – taking all your loads with you. And if this means moving multiple times a year, you might have to drag your items with you every single time.

As a result, the demand to stow essential materials while moving gained traction, leading to the self-storage industry as we have it today.

For long-time analysts, it wouldn’t have been a shocker to see it climb into one of the fastest-growing real estate sectors in the 21st century.

In the earlier days, however, the designs weren’t planned out with the average individual or family in mind. They were just an extensive patch of single-story buildings with fanciful colours without proper architectural and storage considerations.

Files, wines, and clothes, among others, couldn’t be stored for long in them without getting wrecked. These fundamental failures informed how self-storage facilities would transform in the 21st century into one of the top leading real estate investments.

It attracted more clients because more attention was paid to accessibility, safety, and convenience.

Currently, over 50,000 self-storage facilities are scattered around the United States yielding about $40bn in revenue annually.

And in this article, you’ll learn what to pay attention to while designing a self-storage facility, the steps to take, and the expected outcomes.

What Are The 4 Ds of Self-Storage?

You’re probably already familiar with what the 4 Ds are as it remains a common phrase people.

In self-storage, the 4 Ds are the prime reasons people need self-storage facilities. They include death, dislocation, Divorce, and downsizing.

Except for minor occasions, the 4 Ds are usually traumatic and emotional to your prospective clients.

This should inform how you cater to their needs, the set of services you render to each category, and the discounts you offer.

Let’s consider each one.


The death of a loved one comes with gloom and the dilemma of what to do with their belongings. Decisions are usually made based on several realities on ground.

One of such is if that relative owned the house they lived in or rented it. Even if they owned it, the newly licensed next of kin could decide it’s best to rent it out or sell it. And in the meantime, the need to get their items somewhere safe will come up.

Another ‘death’ situation is in the case of someone who used to rely on or live with the dead but now has to move out.

In either case, people caught in these scenarios require the services of the self-storage industry and come for it.


In several divorce situations, it gets so vicious that one of the partners has to leave the house until the divorce hearings are over.

During such periods, they employ the services of self-storage facilities to escape the hassle of hurling all their loads around. Some even do so to put stuff that brings back old memories away for that period.

Since over 50% of first marriages fail in the United States, these cases will happen often. The self-storage facility must put measures in place to protect its customers’ items. Negativity stays in the air during such periods and some partners even attempt to steal from their exes’ storage unit


Dislocation is driven primarily by things out of people’s control. A change in relationship, losing jobs, going bankrupt, escaping a bad neighbourhood, rent expiration, or even losing one’s house contribute to it.

With this at the back of your mind, let empathy lead when such people want to rent a self-storage unit from you.


Moving from a larger space to a smaller one is one of the reasons people need a self-storage facility. It might sound like the least traumatic of all the 4 Ds, but remains stressful and emotionally demanding for many. Students and people who just lost their jobs, or parents with most kids out of town fall in this category quite often.

How Do You Layout A Self-Storage Unit?

Four decades ago, designing a storage facility wasn’t as complicated and demanding as what we have today.

The reasons are clear. Lands weren’t as costly, acquiring building materials didn’t require you to break the bank, and legislations guiding designs weren’t as stringent.

Today, requirements might have gone up, but so has better access to good industry data been made public. These can guide how you plan, design, and construct your self-storage facility.

Site Planning and Site Parameters

Your success with designing your facility starts with planning your site. With site planning, there are important considerations you must make before initiating designs.

With the growing options for people to pick from, here are the most crucial site planning considerations you need to make.


The popular entrepreneurial chant Location, Location, Location is as valid as it gets. Take it or leave it, a good site location is 100% unnegotiable to compete economically and appeal to the average person or institution that will require your services.

These are good location questions to Ask

Is it located on a high traffic count street?

Can it be easily spotted?

Is there a low number of competitors within a 3-mile radius?

Can it be easily accessed?

How close is it to high-activity commercial businesses?

How close is it to high-density residential apartment clusters?

Land Price

The asking price for the land is very integral and will impact how much you charge and the net profitability of your self-storage in the long run. As a result, always do your financial due diligence and make sure you secure the land at the most economical price.

Rentable Space

You also want to determine how much rentable space you want to set back, which has to align with your zoning requirements. It remains a pivotal determinant of success, with the industry average hovering at 40-50%.

The lower the cost of land and the larger the rentable space, the more the chances for higher revenue and consequently, ROI.

Development Cost

While planning, you need to consider the entire cost of developing the site.

Get your team to draft out the entire cost of erecting the building, grading, having driveways, water and fireproofing, and landscaping, among others.

Seven Essential Design Features

Features vary from one self-storage to the other. While designing, you can decide to overlook some while giving attendance to others.

However, there are features considered the industry standard which you shouldn’t sideline. Here are seven of them

1. Reception office

A top-notch reception office at first glance seems like a waste of space. With further consideration, it paints you as a ‘serious and ready for business’ facility.

Allowing you to deal with payments, questions, probings, and other paper works in person. It also creates that space your workers need to work in comfort.

2. CCTVs

Install CCTVs at pre-planned sites throughout the facility. It suggests to your customers that you care about their security and that of their items.

3. Entry and Exit Points

Proper Entry and Exit points for vehicles. Depending on the size of the facility’s compound, you can offer both entry and exit gate points for automobiles, wide enough to cater for large trucks.

4. Elevators

If you plan on building a multi-story self-storage facility, then having an elevator is an industry-standard at the moment. You can lose customers if they have to climb stairs with their carts.

5. Automatic Doors

A high-traffic or multi-story facility will be more efficient with automatic doors. With this, loading, unloading, entry, and exit becomes easier for your customers while eliminating the need for more staff dedicated to that.

6. Carts

It’s critical to ease up moving items for your customers. As a result, you should place a cart storage close to the front entrance.

7. Canopy

It’s industry standard to provide a covering for the loading and unloading deck since they are usually outside the main facility. It provides the needed cover for items and people, especially from harsh weather.

Vital Considerations for Self Storage Layout.


Gaining access to your facility should be a priority in your layout plans. Can trucks easily steer into your site and maneuver around the site?

For easy access to your facility, provide wide street approaches, large enough gates, and increased drive widths.


While designing your storage layout, make your aisles big enough to accommodate at least two people walking side by side. It’ll also make it easier to load and unload to and from an indoor storage unit.

Security Design

The more visible your storage building is to people outside, the more secure your customers will feel. It will make crimes more challenging, with a resultant decrease in the rate of thefts.

Office Location

The reception office should be positioned close to the entrance and made accessible to the gate to allow easy access.


Make navigating through your facility as easy as possible. For instance, ensure one place always leads to another while designing your layout. The last thing you want is telling customers in a large truck to turn back. Other provisions to make for the convenience of your customers are parking spaces, dumpsters, and intuitive unit places.

What Are the Different Types of Storage Units?

Drive-Up Storage Unit

The drive-up storage unit is an outdoor type of storage that allows your customers to move in and out with ease. It allows your customers to drive straight to their units, load or unload their stuff and go out conveniently. You can make your drive-up storage large enough to permit the storage of cars, motorcycles, and heavier goods.

Climate-Controlled Storage Unit

It is becoming a more widespread offering in the self-storage industry which you should consider. Years back, several users of self-storage facilities did so in good faith, only to return to dilapidated furniture, ruined antiques, and mould-infested goods. As a result, the provision of climate-controlled storage is, therefore, necessary, especially during adverse climatic conditions to prevent this.

Indoor Units Unit

This will serve as an affordable option for your customers who want to store sensitive documents and valuables away from destructive elements. Since they’ll load to and unload from the carts within the aisle, they wouldn’t have to bother about what the weather looks like. Most indoor units also happen to be climate controlled, so consider it an additional offering you should add.

Business Storage Unit

Your service offerings shouldn’t be to individuals alone. Businesses are good targets to plan for when developing your storage units. Such units should be large enough to serve as containers or warehouses where businesses keep inventories and store valuables.

You’ll save them from getting another store outside, acquiring new commercial space, or expanding to a larger office. This makes the business more efficient; they spend less, keep their current location, and maximize the current space for other significant things.

Vehicular Storage Unit

Asides from drive-in storage units, you can develop several self-storage units just to support the storage of business or personal vehicles. This can vary from a car to a motorcycle, truck, construction vehicles, cranes, and boats.

This would allow companies and individuals to free up space they consider valuable for other use.

Student Storage Unit

This works more if your facility is situated close to one or more colleges or tertiary institutions. Students are usually met with the dilemma of how to handle their luggage after a semester when moving out of town for a holiday or training.

Having small student storage units where it’ll be easy for them to access, save cost, drop their items and move out quickly becomes a good deal for them.

Military Storage

Just like students, military personnel move around often with their families due to a temporary duty or a permanent change of station.

Whatever the reason is, a self-storage facility should have this in mind. You can decide your entire service will cater for military personnel primarily by locating it close to a military base or post.

24-Hour Storage

It’s important to mention that this isn’t precisely a storage unit option, but a general facility option that should be provided for your customers.

Some self-storage facilities offer customers only a limited number of hours daily to have access to their items. A way to beat this and appeal to a more significant number of people is to be a 24-hour self-storage facility.

A person coming back from a late-night journey and needs quick access to their stuff would appreciate that the facility is still open at the time.

It gets better when your facility has security guards on the ground 24/7; making people feel safer while using your facility.

How to Choose the Optimal Self-storage Unit Mix

Determining the proper building placement and mix of different storage units contributes immensely to how successful a Self-storage facility will be.

Several first-time self-storage developers make the mistake of “just get a location, build structures, erect doors and walls, and start leasing”.

However, before choosing a unit mix, it is integral to assess the target market you considered while selecting the site location. This will give you an edge, allowing you to meet your ideal market’s needs.

Besides, it’ll allow you fully exploit the rentable square footage and up your profit potential.

Below Are 5 Tips to Guide Your Choice of A Perfect Self-Storage Unit Mix

Research the Local Market

It’s the 21st century, and the odds that there are other self-storage facilities in your city are high.

You can avoid a big chunk of possible headaches about the appropriate unit mix by surveying the other facilities. What are their current unit sizes, offerings, target market, rates, specific locations, and occupancy rates?

You can exploit the lapses in the current market by creating a blue ocean for underserved gaps in that locality.

Evaluate Demographics

Research has shown that over 80% of those who utilize self-storage facilities are between 21-55 years of age. Age, however, is only one of the several demographic factors to consider while choosing the perfect mix.

Here’s what you should do. Check out the most underserved demographics in the locality and create units for them. If there are more students in your target area (who mostly have a tighter budget) but with lesser offerings, build smaller storage units for them.

What’s the Climate Like?

If your facility is located in areas with relatively high humidity or extreme temperatures, providing climate-controlled storage services is integral for success.

This doesn’t spare facilities in areas with a relatively temperate climate as customers still want the assurance that comes with knowing their items are protected all year round.

Commercial Prospects.

Large businesses with their structure usually have enough space to house their machinery and other items. Smaller businesses, on the other hand, might not have such luxury and as a result, need self-storage. If there are several SMEs located around you, design storage units big enough to accommodate their needs.


Paying attention to the population density of your location is also essential while planning your unit mix.

Cities with a massive population usually have the majority of the citizens renting small housing units, no thanks to the high rent prices. To cope, many seek the services of self-storage facilities to store their furniture and equipment that would require more space.

Quite importantly, societies with a high population tend to have more cases of the 4Ds. If your site is situated close to residential areas with people moving as a result of either of the 4Ds as your primary target, your unit mix should cater more to these people.

Putting it Together

Provide climate-controlled units for at least some of your units.

If your demographics are primarily students or lower-income earners, construct several smaller units. A mixture of 5 by 5, 5 by 10, and 10 by 10 will allow you to maximize more profits per square footage.

Provide drive-up units in the case of potential commercial customers. A 20-30 feet driveway is optimal.

An integral point is to never finalize your site plan or unit mix at the initial stage. More market and demand insights will arise after leasing starts and a lot of adjustments might need to be made.

What Is the Average Size of a Storage Facility?

The average land size of a self-storage facility is between 2.5-5 acres. Single-story facilities take between 3-5 acres while multi-story facilities use at least 1 acre of land.

Of this figure, most facilities have a net-rentable space of 40-50%. Say you decide to go for a single-story facility on 4 acres (174240 Sq ft) of land. The optimal net rentable space storage space should be about 70,000 Sq ft.

Multi-Story Self Storage Building Designs

The recent growth in the number of multi-story self-storage facilities can be linked to several developers springing up more of them in more high-density residential and commercial environments in major urban cities.

Basic design considerations listed above like Location and land price still stand for multi-story self-storage. But here are important multi-storey design specifics that you should consider.

Building Code and Fireproofing

Hiring a good construction company and a design team for your multi-story self-storage facility is a no-brainer. They should be acquainted with the building codes and shenanigans that come with multi-story buildings. Currently, the International Building Code (IBC) sets the standard for buildings.

For example, while exceeding three stories, you must meet the provisions for fireproofing. It will range from erecting your building using heavy-steel framing to fire-proofing every supporting structure.

Climate Control

An essential factor you should consider should be what units should be climate-controlled. For most facilities, the interior and upper stories are usually climate controlled.

Density and Stacking

It’s not uncommon to see driveways loading and unloading areas, aisles, and packing units for customers on the ground floor. It allows all the storage units to be on the upper floor(s).

Choose the suitable number of floors after proper planning, following building codes, and concluding on the profitable footprint. The visibility and moving distances to units you want should drive your choice.

Elevator Design

Ensure you have an elevator in your self-storage facility as people won't stress themselves climbing stories just to get their units.

Design elevators around the centre of the main building to allow equal travel distances so different storage units on the upper floors.

If it falls within your budget, have two elevators to serve the entire customer base. This will reduce the maximum travel distance for your customers.


The self-storage industry is expanding rapidly and the competition is getting more intense. Proper planning, quality, and well-tailored offering will deliver to you the expected results.

Never forget that no marketing beats a good positioning (location) for your facility. Make it visible and close to your target market.

Make your customers feel secure. Provide climate-controlled options and 24/7 security.

Consider the best financial options from your market research. Let it guide the story-building type, rentable footage, unit mix, and land size.

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