Dont Be a Data Dud

Many self-storage owners arent taking advantage of the data theyve been collecting for years on their facilities. Because of the various software programs in our industry, were fortunate to have layer upon layer of financial and marketing information to use in planning the months ahead.

ZIP codes, length of stay, method of paymentratios of cash to check to credit cardautomatic payments, delinquency rates and even the seasonality of call volumes should be followed in detail. I could fill this entire issue with reasons to track these and other factors.

For example, use your tenants nine-digit ZIP codes to pinpoint customer locations. Do you have a market void within a given area? Map the ZIP data, and youll quickly find out. You can then refocus your marketing dollars or send targeted direct mail to the missed zone. An increase in the number of cash versus automatic payments may indicate economic turmoil within a segment of your customer base. Even a slight increase in traditional delinquencies should raise a red flag about staying on top of collection-related activities.

I know its more work to gather data and develop your own methods of analysis, but I strongly believe your business will run more professionally and profitably if you harness all your information resources.

Media Continues to Use Self-Storage as Backdrop

The premier episode of the popular Fox TV program Prison Break was the latest show to feature self-storage as a backdrop. Unlike last years self-storage scenario on Alias (Jack Bristow stashed his private weapons arsenal), the escaped prisoners storage unit (entered without the proper search warrant) was empty.

As the use of self-storage becomes more prevalent in TV and movies, I think its important to keep track of these images. In many cases, theyre helping shape the publics view of storageespecially those who havent used our service in the past. More important, the portrayals could be influencing the decisions of municipal decision makers.

If youre in the middle of seeking a rezoning, for example, you better know whether a TV program with a negative spin on our industry aired the day before your hearing. Its even more important to be aware of newspaper or TV news coverage of crime at self-storage complexes in your community. In addition to concerns from zoning officials, be prepared for potential customers asking in-depth questions about your security.

So, weve had a musical group that practiced in a self-storage facility get nominated for a Grammy; fiction books specifically relating to our industry; and even a play featuring the industry by Gillian Stevens-Guille and Russell Bennett presented at Robert Gill Theatre in Toronto last year.

We claim to now be bigger a bigger industry than Hollywood. While that may be true in absolute financial terms, its portrayal of our industry might have a long-term impact no one has started to measure.

Thanksgiving Reflections

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, Im aware of the pro-turkey lobby, which prefers we feast on tofu. But I honestly dont care if the PC Police get up in arms over my comments. Im thankful for so many things in my life, and I guarantee you no turkey substitutes will be served in the Chiswell house.

Im grateful for the sacrifices of the young men and women in the U.S. military services who, following in the footsteps of patriots dating back to the Revolutionary War, give their full measure of devotion to peace and democracy. My status as a grandfather fills me with joy as those little arms wrap around me. Ive been blessed to be part of an industry that has provided well for my family while giving me an opportunity to share my knowledge with othersand watch them succeed in one of the greatest entrepreneurial business on the planet.

And most of all, Im thankful on this journey to share the love of a great partner and my best friendmy wife, Jackie. I hope you will take a few moments to reflect on your own life and circumstances and share your feelings this Thanksgiving with those at home and work. Have a great holiday.

See You in Vegas, Baby!

I am honored to once again be a presenter at the ISS Las Vegas Expo, Feb. 20-23. Im looking forward to being back at Mandalay Bay not only for the show, but to visit the money I left there this past year. Details on the event are available on the ISS website at www.insideselfstorage.com. Dont forget to take advantage of the early-bird discount registration by a little advanced planning. 

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. He has served for a number of years as a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board. He is also a co-founder of the new Self Storage Education Network, which provides online-based manager and owner education. For more information, call 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com

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