Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

I am very glad that the editor for Inside Self-Storage has not imposed any editorial restrictions on this column. It gives me a chance to talk each month about issues that are near and dear to my heart.

What Did You Really Want?

As many of you know, my wife, Jackie, is a part of my company and often travels with me on consulting assignments. During a recent trip, I was reminded of the adage "Be careful what you wish for--you just might get it." Jackie loves the water, and when the opportunity presents itself, we try to have lunch or dinner near the water during our trips. One particularly long day, as we were talking about dinner plans in our hotel room, Jackie reminded me that I had promised her dinner by the water. Since I honestly did not want to go back out in the car again, I simply called room service and started filling the bathtub. You can imagine her surprise when I made good on my promise by sitting in the bathroom, having room service and looking at the tub of water.

OK--so it's a long story to make a simple point: Whether you are an owner trying to explain to your manager what you expect in their performance, or you are a manager trying to get your point across to your owner about some deferred maintenance item, make sure that you both understand exactly what the other is asking for or agreeing to in your discussions. I have seen more misunderstandings happen because two people had a different idea about what "dinner by the water" really meant.

Communication is a difficult skill that only gets better with practice. Please remember the bathtub the next time you think that you have made yourself understood in a conversation. It is far better to err on the side of repeating yourself than to find yourself eating room service in the bathroom.

Would You Use the Bathroom in Your Facility?

When I do a facility management audit, one of the first places that I visit is the facility's restrooms--not because of an overactive bladder, but because it is one of the first checks on the management's customer-service focus. Have you gone into your facility restroom lately? Judging from some that I have seen, I already know the answer.

Is your restroom clean? Do you have toilet paper and hand towels available? Is there a wastepaper basket? Is it empty? Does the restroom smell sweet? Your reaction is the same as that of your customers. And forget the "Out of Service" signs that look like they have been on the restroom door for two or three years. Let's be honest--if you can't keep the one toilet in the entire facility working, what confidence does that give your customer?

If you receive an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) complaint, you'd better have a good reason why you have not done the work. Many older facilities only need to increase the width of the door opening and add railings to meet the ADA standards--not a major expense. Please remember: It is not only handicapped individuals who appreciate the work you will do. Anyone who is at all physically challenged will benefit, and you, too, will reap rewards from increased customer satisfaction.

I know that it can be bothersome to keep a bathroom clean, but if it helps to retain existing customers and attract new ones, what is the true value of this extra effort?

Just How Many Cars a Day Are Coming to Our Facilities?

There are a number of questions I am asked by almost every client that I work with and after almost every speech that I give. Questions such as: How much can I really make? It won't really take me two years to lease up my facility will it? The deal should work because we already own the land right?

Most of these questions have fundamental answers based on industry averages and personal experience. The answer to one question continues to elude the entire industry: Just how many vehicle trips per day does a self-storage facility generate? There have been some roundabout opinions and projections, but I have yet to see a definitive study that answers the question.

I would like to ask for your help to see if, together, we can come up with a specific answer. I am asking both owners and managers to participate in a study with me and Inside Self-Storage. I would like to request, on an anonymous basis, the following information:

  1. Total rentable square footage in your facility.
  2. Number of total units.
  3. Percentage of units rented.
  4. How many customer vehicles come into your facility on a daily or weekly basis.

Please send this information to me via mail at Chiswell & Associates, Ltd., 1260 N. Forest Road #A2, Williamsville, NY 14221; fax (716) 634-2428; e-mail [email protected]. I will compile the information and write a detailed story of the results in an upcoming issue. I would also be willing to share the results of the study with anyone who participates. Simply provide me with a mailing or e-mail address, and I will send you a copy of the results.

Thanks for your help. Together we can go a long way in answering this question for the entire industry. And thank you to everyone who has written or called me about this column. Please know that I am open to suggestions and ideas at all times.

Jim Chiswell is president of Chiswell & Associates of Williamsville, N.Y. 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. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (716) 634-2428.

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