Special Operations

Most self-storage operators dont regularly audit their operations. Unfortunately, if youre not reviewing key areas, youre most likely failing to make necessary improvements as well. Without an audit, its difficult to identify and improve functions that lead to increased profits at your facility.

Audits help smooth out inconsistencies occurring within important segments of a business. Through the process, you may find operational staff members are handling certain aspects of their jobs differently.

For example, maybe theyre filling out the customer agreement another way and, in some cases, not getting initials and/or customer signatures in the appropriate places. This little inconsistency could leave the business vulnerable to liability and exposure in legal aspects of operation. It could void a lien procedure without the manager being aware of it. In fact, lack of consistency and discipline in operations can open a Pandoras Box of self-storage woes.

If you dont audit, who oversees the auction process with a second set of eyes? If done consistently, an audit allows an operator to evaluate auction notices, which, if not completed correctly, can be pulled and the process re-started. This check and balance avoids future legal messes by providing managers with critical feedback and training to help prevent mishaps.

Heres another example: Say the manager isnt conducting a thorough security check on a regular basis. Before you know it, he loses control of unit availability, and the computer provides completely different occupancy figures than what really exists.

This happens often in the self-storage industry and can impact the profit potential of any operation. Managers may think theyve rented all of a certain size unit and miss rentals by not knowing whats really available.

Of course, these are just a few examples of what can occur without the proper checks and balances. Were all human and fall short from time to time. The audit helps correct our mistakes and points out areas in need of discipline.

Training

Proper facility review practices can create learning opportunities. If you or employees regularly make certain mistakes, the audit identifies your weaknesses and turns them into opportunities for training. If you own multiple facilities, the process is especially important for smooth operations and identifying weak spots. It will give you hard evidence of what you are doing well and not so well. Once problem areas are identified, its time to improve.

Training can occur at the time of the audit to provide immediate feedback to the manager. It can also occur within a larger venue if the audit has identified the same inconsistency in other stores, or if the mistake is critical enough to discuss among all the operations staff.

This process must be ongoing to create accountability within operations. It pushes your management team to a higher level, as product knowledge is customer service, and will spill over to the renter in a positive way. It will also enrich the job functions of managers as they will become storage experts in the eyes of the customer. It keeps them on the learning curve, minimizing burnout and frustration over the long run. Always remember: Training can turn good managers into great managers.

Evaluation

The facility audit can also be used as a vehicle to help evaluate the progress of your team. Many operators provide annual salary increases to employees based on feelings or subjective criteria. The manager may have done an average job for the first 10 months of the year, but if business increased during the last two months, he may be rewarded for those positive results.

In the above case, senior management rewards the manager based on the most recent experience. But this can also happen in reverse: Perhaps the manager had an excellent 10 months but business dropped off for the last two, during the holidays. Would it be fair to ignore a raise even though sales usually decline during that period?

If you regularly conduct a facility audit and use it as part of the evaluation process, it provides more equitable criteria for deciding on annual salary increases. It makes the process objective.

The operational team usually reacts better to this technique because performance will be directly related to compensation. It also prevents the manager from getting rewarded really well for a poor or adequate result. Most of the time when you reward annually, staff comes to expect increases without a performance review. Over the long run, this can be devastating to the operation. If you use a more objective approach and include the facility audit as a part of the appraisal process, it can take your business to heights you never imagined.

The self-storage industry is in a time of transition and is becoming more sophisticated in the operational aspects of the business. I remember a time when location was everything. In todays competitive environment, the operation is our biggest opportunity for producing greater results.

We all need to step up to the plate and improve the way we run our business with better systems and ways to equip our people. Auditing is a great tool that will lead to consistency, better staff performance and improved operations overall.

Brad North is founder of Advantage Business Consulting, which specializes in facility management, feasibility and operational training for self-storage operators. He has produced two live training videos and workbooks titled Maximizing Your Sales and Marketing Program, designed to help managers improve their sales and marketing efforts. Mr. North is a recognized columnist for Inside Self-Storage, speaks at various self-storage conventions throughout the country, and is nationally known for his ability to improve and maximize the profitability of a self-storage operation through better sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. For more information, call 513.229.0400; visit www.advantagebusinessconsulting.com.

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