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Amassing Stronger Data Through the Inside Self-Storage Top-Operators List Campaign

This month we’re collecting data for our 2015 Top-Operators List, which will be published online in late summer. The annual list “showcases 100 of the industry’s most successful facility operators.” You hear this every year, but what does it really mean? Who gets on the list, how and why, and what information can you glean from its listings? Well, I’ll tell you, and it may not be quite what you think. We've also made some changes to the database this year. I'll tell you about those, too.

Now through the end of the month, Inside Self-Storage is collecting data for its 2015 Top-Operators List, which will be published on this website on Sept. 2 and appear in the October issue of ISS magazine. The annual list “showcases 100 of the industry’s most successful facility operators.” You hear this every year, but what does it really mean? Who gets on the list, how and why, and what information can you glean from its listings? Well, I’ll tell you, and it may not be quite what you think.

We’ve also made some changes to the database this year. I’ll tell you about those, too.

Data collection is an open process. Anyone who owns or actively operates self-storage facilities can participate, no matter how many locations are under their care. Even if you only own a single facility, you can complete a form to compete for inclusion, which is completely free.

Participants range from real estate investment trusts to independent owners to third-party management firms. Some have hundreds to thousands of facilities. Most have significantly less (more than a third of last year’s listers reported 20 or fewer). On the 2014 list, the company that ranked No. 100, The Storage Place, had nine facilities totaling 655,000 square feet.

Don’t be discouraged if your numbers are small. The range changes from year to year based on overall contributors. As I mentioned, this is an open process, and participation is 100 percent voluntary. Companies that were on past lists may choose to forego a future publication, and new operators toss their hats into the ring every year. We do make a concerted effort to communicate with any companies that have been previously published, but we never force a listing, even if a brand is extremely well-known. It’s each operator’s choice to update the information from year to year.

Once all the forms are collected and the database closed, the ranking is based on total square footage, plain and simple. While we collect a lot of other information—number of facilities, number of units, contacts, Web addresses, facility operating names and locations, expansion plans, and more—we don’t sort on this additional data or apply any qualitative measures. We conduct a basic comparison analysis to ensure the reported square footage is accurate insofar as we can tell, and we run a straight numerical classification.

The phrase “top operator” means different things to different people, and we do get questions about our methodology. Bigger isn’t synonymous with better, and smaller companies can, and sometimes will, do a better job in the areas of customer service, curb appeal, facility occupancy and other standard gauges of performance. We don’t dispute this. It’s just that to evaluate hundreds of candidates on a subjective scale would be far more complex to execute and outside our current capabilities.

So, we rank operators based on size. It doesn’t tell you what kind of job a company is doing at serving customers or meeting business objectives. It does still manage to identify many of the most successful operations in the industry.

A question you may be asking is, who uses this list? Of course, operators like to see where they fall in the rank, and perhaps they find it useful to learn more about their competition. But I suspect the information is even more valuable to other audience types:

  • Facility managers use the list so source potential employers. Operators with several facilities obviously have lots of positions to fill.
  • Vendors use the list to source potential customers. Operators have many product and service needs, and those with multiple sites make larger purchases.
  • Investors use the list to scout potential business partners and assemble a general sense of the market.
  • Owners use the list to pinpoint candidates for acquisition or sale.

I’m sure there are many other pragmatic applications. The ISS Top-Operators List is a high-demand publication, and we get requests for it consistently throughout the year. We provide the list for free on our website, in standard directory format; but for those who wish to crunch and sort the data, we offer a more robust package for purchase through the Inside Self-Storage Store. It includes a PDF of the original printed list, a copy of our annual analysis and observations, and an Excel spreadsheet that includes all gathered information.

This year we’ve modified the database to strengthen the data and make it more constructive. The most notable change is we’re now requesting participants to clearly identify how many facilities and how much square footage they own vs. manage on behalf of other owners. In the past, we asked respondents to disclose whether they were a facility owner, a management company or both, but they only had to provide a single number for total square feet operated. Now we’re separating the two to paint a clearer picture. We’re also identifying the location of owned vs. managed facilities for each operator.

If you own self-storage facilities or provide third-party management services, I encourage you to complete a form and participate. If your company has contributed to a past list, you can simply update your existing listing. I can’t guarantee that you’ll appear on the final list; and as I’ve discussed above, your appearance on the list says nothing about the quality of your product. But I can say that being in the “top 100” will open doors to opportunity for your business. Perhaps you’ll hire better quality managers who seek you out for employment, a venture partner will approach you on a lucrative deal, or a fellow owner will offer you a profitable acquisition prospect.

The Top-Ops List is valuable and versatile. Take this opportunity to showcase your storage operation. If you have suggestions or observations, feel free to post them using the “Comments” link below. I look forward to seeing your company in print.

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