Budget Time


THIS BEING MY LAST COLUMN OF 2002, IT'S A GOOD TIME for me to get on my soapbox about the involvement of managers and other key employees in a store's budget planning. Every chance I get, as I travel around the country, I talk about this subject with owners. In conversations with countless managers, I find many are still not involved in planning the coming year's budgets.

I do not understand this logic on behalf of owners. Yes, I appreciate the fact there are very few expense items on which employees can have a positive impact. However, it is planning for the gross-income figures that concerns me. If employees do not have a sense of ownership about the income goals for the year ahead, how can they be expected to generate enthusiasm, not only for achieving but beating them?

The same is true for setting priorities for annual capital-improvement funds. All employees should participate in making the tough choices between getting the parking lot sealed and painting the unit doors. There is only so much money to go around each year, and how it is allocated is important. Who better to help make those decisions than the team members who deal with the issues every day? It makes no sense to have someone who sits in an office all day pushing numbers around on a spreadsheet make budget decisions without any input from the operations folks.

Owners, if you are reading this, please take advantage of the biggest resource you have: your employees. I guarantee if you honestly involve them in building the 2003 budget for your store, everyone will win.

Are You Putting a URL to Work?

The acronym URL stands for universal (uniform) resource locator or, in layman's terms, a web address. If you have not set up a website for your store, the time is now. You cannot afford to be left behind as this source of advertising, information and sales continues to build momentum. A customer can visit Shurgard's website, for example, and pay his rent on any rental unit at any store in the company's portfolio. However, you do not have to be a large company to take advantage of the Internet. That is one of its greatest benefits--it creates a level playing field, if you work hard at it.

Recently, a bottle of wine taught me a very valuable lesson on this very topic. My wife, Jackie, and I had been traveling on the road for an extended trip and decided to treat ourselves by having a nice wine with dinner. When the cork from the bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle chardonnay was given to me by our waiter, I was surprised to see "www.ste-michelle.com" printed on the cork. Now here is a company taking advantage of its website to promote its product.

Someone in the company's marketing department realized that no matter how few customers it might reach, it was worth adding the URL to the corks. People cannot ask for the label off the wine bottle at the restaurant, but they certainly can take the cork. If they liked the product, they can easily find all the information necessary at the website.

The point I want to make is simple: Are you taking every opportunity to promote your website? Is your URL on every marketing piece--letterhead, business cards, envelopes, Yellow Pages ad, signs and even your rental agreement? And don't complain you don't get any leads from your website if you are not taking every opportunity to promote it and make it really worth visiting. There are many owners who are quietly making the Internet work for them. Are you going to be one of them in the year ahead or continue to stand on the sidelines saying, "That website thing will never amount to anything for our industry"?

Once a potential or current customer accesses your website, what will he find? Is it simply a color version of your Yellow Pages ad, or is it truly interactive? Do you have frequently asked questions and answers posted? What about packing tips? A rental-space calculator? Can someone reserve a unit or make a payment? Can they take a virtual tour? Or download a copy of your rental agreement? Look at your site and ask yourself what information you can provide to help prospective customers choose to rent with you.

Happy Birthday!

Since moving to the Charlottesville, Va., community more than a year ago, I have driven past the All American Car Wash several times a week. It is a simple, four-bay, do-it-yourself car wash with two unique characteristics. First, it is always busy. Second, its marquee reader-board sign always has birthday greetings posted on it: "Happy Birthday Kim (8), Danny (52), Sandy (??)." The company will post a birthday greeting for anyone who asks--you don't even have to be a customer.

I have never seen anything about the business posted on this marquee reader, only birthday greetings. But judging from all of the traffic the site generates, it is not necessary. How are you using your reader board to get attention? Posting a birthday or two might be a good idea to consider.

On a Personal Note

It doesn't seem possible that more than a year has passed since I stood on the roof of a building in Wallington, N.J., on Sept. 11 and watched our world change forever. I hope it has made me a bit more tolerant of little things that used to bug me and put my priorities more in line, that I say thank you more often and thank God for my countless blessings: my wife, Jackie; our daughters, Alyssa and Christie; their husbands, David and John; and our granddaughter, Courtney. I also want to thank Inside Self-Storage Publisher Troy Bix and Editorial Director Teri Lanza for the privilege of writing for the magazine. Finally, thanks to those of you who take the time to read my "Thoughts From the Road." I hope to see you Feb. 24-26 in Las Vegas for the next expo.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to contributing regularly to Inside Self-Storage, Mr. Chiswell is a frequent speaker at Inside Self-Storage Expos and various national and state association meetings. He has just introduced the new LockCheckTM inventory data-collection system to the self-storage industry at www.LockCheck.com. For more information, call 434.589.4446 or visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.

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