Inside Self-Storage Magazine 11/2000: A Top Shop!

A Top Shop!
Measuring results in self-storage

By Jim Chiswell

If you are not measuring results, can you really be certain you and your management team are as successful as you think? I have asked that question of many self-storage owners over the past 16 years. The usual response is they measure their success in unit occupancy or gross income.

In today's competitive environment, these standards of measurement are not enough. You should be constantly examining your operations and seeking out every advantage to enhance your competitive position in the marketplace. This is especially true when it comes to a manager's effectiveness on the telephone. By objectively measuring performance on the phone and during the in-office sales opportunity, you can obtain a more accurate measure of your manager's quality. This can help both of you achieve greater levels of success.

A new company supplying these types of objective measurements for industries such as self-storage is A Top Shop!, owned by Lori Niemczyk. The company, formerly known as Double Check, was instituted in 1992. It is national, not only in its client base, but also in its shopper base.

"I started the company as an alternative to other shopping companies that were in business at the time," says Niemczyk, who describes her company as taking the concept of "mystery shopping" to the next level. "A Top Shop goes one step further than any other company in that it offers mystery-caller, shopping and renting services."

"Mystery calls are a must in every industry. Phone calls are the lifeline for most businesses, especially self-storage," Niemczyk explains. "It costs a self-storage owner an average of $9 to $14 in advertising costs to make the phone ring just once. If the manager on duty doesn't do a sufficient job in selling his product, that money is wasted. Mystery calls are a way of ensuring owners their ad dollars are paying off. These calls are also a way for managers to improve their phone-sales skills. We invite feedback from managers about their evaluations."

According to Niemczyk, the biggest shortcoming that managers convey on the telephone is lack of enthusiasm. "Managers usually try to get out of the phone call by saying, 'It would be best for you to come and take a look,' without even giving the features or benefits that would motivate the caller to make a visit. If the manager is not enthusiastic and motivated, it is reflected in his tone of voice. This is picked up by the potential customer. No one wants to visit a dull person--or place for that matter."

Mystery calls are not the only service offered by A Top Shop. Mystery shoppers will also make a physical visit to a facility, calling the location first, documenting the telephone greeting and getting directions from the manager. The visit must include a tour of the facility, trip to the restroom and validation of the visit by obtaining either literature or a business card from the manager. Mystery renters start out as shoppers, but actually rent a unit. They then visit the facility on a regular basis to check the unit and pay their bill in cash. This is a particularly great service for owners because there are so many items that can be monitored and tracked each month, i.e., cash deposits, delinquent tenants, lien sales, etc.

Niemczyk emphasizes that the intent of the services she provides is not to shed negative light on the manager. "We are not 'out to get' the managers. Our main goal is to make businesses look good and improve their bottom line. We want to ensure that every potential customer is treated with respect and courtesy," she says. And clients consistently claim the benefit of these services.

For example, one New Jersey client could not figure out why his facility was losing so much money. A Top Shop sent its mystery shoppers to the site. One noted on his evaluation form that the office was old and run down. A second shopper confirmed this. As a result, the owner made the commitment to refurbish the entire facility to upgrade its image and professionalism. In less than two months, the facility's occupancy had increased and comments from customers were overwhelmingly positive. "The owner knew something was missing but couldn't put his finger on it until some independent shoppers gave him their opinion," Niemczyk explains.

Another client had a manager who refused to collect late fees. The mystery renter program helped that facility get back on track with its collections. Many clients ultimately discover managers who are unwilling to sell their product. A Top Shop's telephone evaluations have assisted owners in establishing a reward system to motivate managers to perform on the phone and get prospective customers to their facility.

A Top Shop doesn't only provide services for its clients' facilities. Some customers ask to have their competition "mystery shopped." In doing this, clients can find out if the competitor's employees wear uniforms, what size spaces they offer--virtually anything they would like to know. This information, combined with the talent and enthusiasm of their own managers, streamlines the facility's success. "I shop my own competition as well--hence our new name," says Niemczyk. "The bottom line is that every business has room for improvement."

For more information, call (303) 888-0602; visit

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