Youve planned this day for years: the grand opening of your new self-storage facility. Youve purchased software to track tenants and income, read through countless industry manuals and, with general knowledge of business operations, feel ready to dive in. It cant be that hard to manage a self-storage site, right? Or is it?
Self-storage is often mistakenly likened to running other real estate income-producing investments such as apartment complexes, office buildings or commercial properties, but this is a unique industry. Your general business experience will be useful, as a beginning point.
Aside from lien-sale laws, which govern how a late fee is charged and the process of tenant foreclosure, few rules exist in running a self-storage. Marketing, rental rates, office organization, hours of operation and how the site is managed is all up to the owner.
After sinking huge capital into your new site, youll want to focus on your next biggest investmentand the most important one youll ever maketraining employees. If youve spent years planning and thousands of dollars in developing a business, youll only watch it all go down the drain if you dont include training in your business plan.
The person behind the counter can make or break your investment. Employees must be properly trained to run the facility on a day-to-day basis. As owner, you should also be aware of self-storage operations, even if youve hired experienced site management or have engaged a third-party management company. Without it, you risk failure orat the very leastlost income.
A good first step is to create or acquire four manuals for instructional purposes, and keep them on hand for future reference:
On-Site Manager Responsibilities
Managers need to be competent in the following administrative areas. Make sure they are trained appropriately and that all points are covered in your operations manual.
Starting the day: Reading daily reports, scheduling tasks for the day Receiving payment: Policy for cash, check or credit card payments Leasing units and new move-ins: Completing forms, setting up tenant files, entering information into the computer system and selling items such as locks and boxes Commercial tenants: Setting up accounts; providing authorization to enter the facility Deliveries: Will you accept commercial deliveries and keep a key to the unit (with proper release of liability)?
Transfers: Is there an administrative fee? Is a new rental agreement required?
Move-outs: How are move-outs processed? Are they pro-rated?
Abandoned property move-outs: What happens when someone leaves junk in a unit and removes his lock?
Traffic count: How do you track calls, walk-ins? Do you also track how people heard about your site?
Daily close: Do you make daily deposits? What reports are printed?
Weekly close: What reports are generated on a weekly basis for you and accounting staff?
Month-end close: What monthly reports are needed? Does your software automatically close the month and reset totals, or is it done manually?
Daily inspections: What is a managers typical routine for daily inspections?
Customer service: How are tenants addressed? How do you handle rate increases, tenant requests, objections to late fees?
General responsibilities: What other daily duties, such as file maintenance, are necessary?
Break-in/burglary: What are necessary steps in the event of a suspected break-in?
Delinquency collections: What are the procedures for collection calls?
Delinquent accounts: How do you track them?
Lien sales and inventory: Whats the process, according to your states lien law?
Auctions: How do you inventory and auction a unit? What happens after the sale?
Boat and RV liens: How does the process differ from regular self-storage liens?
Opposition to lien sales: Does your state have opposition to lien laws, which stop the sale of a unit? If so, how do your proceed?
Bankruptcy: What happens when someone files for bankruptcy? In addition, managers must undertake a number of tasks outside the office.
Enumerate the procedures for:
Dont forget to have sufficient facility forms for site managers, who should understand when, how and why each one is used. Beyond rental agreement and insurance addendums, your file of forms should include:
Employees need to know how to turn in time cards, what holidays the site is closed, vacation or sick days allowances and what to expect from employee reviews. Every company policy should be discussed in a manual that is provided to the employee as well as shelved in the office at all times for future reference.
During employee orientation, cover at least the following points verbally:
Sales and marketing training should also be covered with new employees and periodically with existing staff. Role-playing telephone calls is one technique to keep sales skills sharp. Several companies also offer mystery shopping, which should be used periodically to keep your site managers on their toes. Remember: Sales means more than just answering phones and quoting rental rates.
Create and keep a sales and marketing manual at your facility. Also handy is a competitive marketing file with info about competitor sites, their Yellow Pages ads, fliers, rate sheets and locator maps. It helps managers become more knowledgeable storage consultants, which in itself may attract tenants. For example, if prospects calling for prices talk to a manager who quotes rates for your units as well as facilities locally, they may be attracted to your facility by superior customer service.
Marketing sales training should include:
Telephone sales: Sample conversations, sales presentations, completion of sales sheets. Note: A telephone cheat sheet keeps managers focused.
Features and benefits: A prepared list reminds managers of all points to be shared with inquirers.
Capturing callers: Who is more important: the incoming caller, person at the counter or the existing tenant waiting to pay rent?
Showing and renting units: Work on customer greetings, procedures for facility tours, and how to close the deal. Role playing works well.
Marketing: Best ways and places to advertise, referral programs, follow-up, attracting commercial business, shopping the competition.
Do you need training if you hire an experienced site manager or a management company? Not necessarilyif youre comfortable turning over your investment to others and trusting them 100 percent. Still, its in your best interest to know at least the basics about your facilitys operations.
A management or consulting/training company can educate you and staff in a number of areas:
Finding, hiring, training managers: Where do you find experienced employees? What training should they have? What forms do you need?
Compensation and bonus programs: What are typical manager wages? How do you design a bonus program?
Managing managers: How do you oversee managers?
Performance standards: How do you evaluate managers job performances?
Budgets and reports: What reports are needed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? How do you decipher these reports into meaningful information?
Site visits: How often should you visit your facility and what do you need to accomplish while there?
Audits and inspections: How often are they conducted? Whats the difference between the two? How can you prevent manager thefts?
Even if you hire experienced management staff, its a good idea to periodically conduct refresher training courses. If you have several facilities, consider hiring a trainer to present seminars for your whole management staff. In addition, send your site managers to one of the many local associations training courses or to a national convention to attend seminars. Finally, be sure to subscribe to the national magazines to keep everyone informed about the industry.
Some large storage operators put managers through a 30-day training program. McDonalds educates its employees for weeks on how to offer good customer service, operate the cash register and make French fries and burgers. Self-storage owners should be just as conscientious training the people who will manage their multimillion-dollar investment. It will be worth every penny.
Pamela Alton-Truitt is the owner of Mini-Management, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini-Management also offers full-service and operations-only facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call 800.646.4648.