Baby-Sitters Or Part Of Your Management Team?
By Pamela Alton
A typical self-storage facility is open seven days a week and staffed with full-time on-site management that works five days a week, with a team or person to work on the other two days of the week. This team (or person) is generally titled "relief staff," and one of its primary duties is to relieve the full-time managers, so that they can have time off to relax, rejuvenate and attend to personal business.
There are usually three trains of thought when it comes to relief-staff employees:
- They are there to act as baby-- sitters--to keep the status quo while the full-time manager is away.
- They are hired as the full-time managers' personal "slaves" to do all the cleaning, filing, or work the managers don't want to do.
- They are thought of as a very integral part of your management "team."
From a professional standpoint, it is preferable to think of the relief staff as part of the management team. They are responsible for handling all operations for two out of seven days a week and, as such, should be given the same level of training, attention and motivation as the full-time staff.
Let's examine who relief-staff employees typically are, where you find them, the training they should receive and why, and steps to make them a part of your team.
Defining Relief Staff
Generally, relief staff don't reside on-site, but in the general location of your facility, owning a home or renting an apartment. At larger self-storage sites, members of the relief staff might be named "assistants," and may reside in an on-site apartment along with the senior management staff. Although they may work five days a week, three of those days might entail assisting the senior staff on the busiest days of the week. In addition, they may work alone for two days, allowing the senior staff time off.
The relief manager could be an older retired or semi-retired couple or person, a college student, or someone who is just looking for a part-time position to supplement his regular income. Retired couples often make for the best relief managers: They are generally more reliable, flexible as far as work schedules, and are often available to work a temporary full-time schedule in case of an emergency or during vacation time. Typically, too, they tend to stay longer with the company.
Hiring Relief Staff
When looking for relief people, begin searching in your own local community. In a large metropolitan area, don't waste your advertising dollars running an ad in a newspaper that goes to millions of people. It is too costly and covers too broad of an area. Instead, advertising space in a small, community newspaper that may only publish once or twice a week is much more cost-effective. It's less expensive and will likely create a greater return.
Contact the on-site managers at local retirement communities--the 55-plus apartment complexes and mobile-home parks--and ask if they know anyone looking for a part-time position. Ask if you can post an ad in the community hall, recreation area or laundry room.
Call your local churches or synagogues and see if they know of one of their congregation who is looking for part-time work. If you are in a college town, call the college; they usually have a job line, free of charge, where you can post the job opening. Post a "help wanted" sign on the inside of your entry gate, so current tenants exiting your facility can see it. Maybe even place a sign in your office window and ask your current tenants if they know of anyone looking for work.
Be prepared with job applications for the prospective employees to fill out, along with reference check sheets, I-9 and W-4 forms, and a relief-manager's job description of duties.
Your on-site manager should conduct the initial interviews with job applicants, as well as check references of the prospective candidates. Once the field has been narrowed down, then the owner and full-time management staff should discuss each candidate's application and come to an agreement as to which one best suits the management team.
When choosing the person or persons to hire as your relief staff, your full-time management staff should be consulted as to which candidate will best suit the team's needs. Relief managers should not be considered as the owner's "spies" at the facility, nor should the on-site manager feel threatened that the relief manager is out to take his job. They must work together as a team to obtain the results needed to make a facility successful and profitable.
Generally your relief staff will be paid an hourly wage vs. your full-time staff who could receive a base salary plus bonus, benefits and perhaps an on-site apartment. Relief staff may or may not earn a bonus or receive benefits such as medical insurance, retirement plans or so on. The hourly wage should be comparable to what your job market pays for similar types of part-time work, i.e., convenience store, retail shops, reception work, janitorial duties, etc.
Training of Relief Staff
As stated earlier in this article, the relief staff should be considered an integral part of the management team and, therefore, should be trained in a similar manner as the full-time staff. Training should always cover the basics: telephone techniques, facility tours, showing of units, marketing, collections, maintenance, lien sales, customer-service skills and daily, weekly and month-end closings.
Skeptics of such a rigorous training program are likely to wonder, "Why train the relief staff so extensively when they are only there two days a week?" Because, for instance, most tenants do not rent a unit on the same day that they shopped through the Yellow Pages and collected rental quotes. Instead, they come in a few days later and rent space. If the relief staff is not properly trained in telephone techniques, then they will not be able to lure the customers to the site over the next three or four days; hence, rentals will likely drop during the managers' regularly scheduled days. If you pay a per-lease rental bonus, then the full-time manager will not receive as many rentals, yet, the relief manager will get the benefit of renting space because the full-time manager used the telephone effectively. Try tracking your telephone calls, walk-ins and rentals over a month's period and see which days receive the most rentals; you could see a pattern that reflects this concept.
Collection calls and maintenance checks should be conducted on a daily basis, and the relief manager should be trained for both. In addition, should the month's end coincide with a relief manager's scheduled work day, he will need to know how to conduct the month-end reports. And, of course, the relief staff should be well trained in all areas of customer service.
One of the most compelling reasons to properly train your relief staff is that you will always be assured that you have a well-trained staff to take over a new facility should you build one, fill in if a manager quits without giving notice, or fill in during a manager's vacation or emergency leave of absence. You will always have staff available if you take the time to properly train your relief staff.
Making Them Part of Your Team
In order to make your management staff a successful part of your organization, you should take the time to select proper management, give them the tools and training to do their jobs effectively, set attainable goals, reward them for a job well done, give them support and make them part of your management team. By building a quality management team, you are giving individual members of your organization greater control over their lives; they will participate in solving problems and learn from each other as well as from you or your supervisors.
Being part of your team provides opportunities to satisfy many of their higher level needs for self-esteem and acceptance. Don't forget to ask for the relief manager's input. Just because he typically works at your site only two days a week doesn't mean he doesn't have ideas on how to run things more effectively, have new marketing ideas or other skills and talents that you can expand upon.
Making a solid team between your full-time staff and the relief staff will surely increase the facility's income, relieve you of staffing headaches and make a rewarding work environment for everyone.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management, one of the industry's largest nationwide manager placement services. Mini-Management also offers policy and procedures manuals, sales and marketing training manuals, inspections and audits, consulting, telephone shopping and training seminars. For more information on the services offered by Mini-Management, call (800) 646-4648.