By Jim Chiswell
It does not seem possible that two months have gone by since writing my first column in February. It's like signing a 90-day bank-promissory note--time just seems to fly. I've already added to my frequent-flyer account this year, traveling from snow banks to short-sleeved weather in a matter of hours. The diversity of this county never ceases to amaze me.
Thanks to everyone who e-mailed me for a copy of the brief article on lock-checking from the last column. I sure hope it prompted some of you to make sure that the lock-check reports are getting done. I've assembled another group of rather random thoughts to share with you this month as I have been traveling.
Where Are the Brochures?
I "mystery shop" hundreds of facilities each year. Yet, during the past several months I have been seeing a disturbing trend. I have been walking into more and more facilities that have no literature. Some don't even have business cards. I'm not talking just about single-facility operators. I've walked into facilities of some of the largest owners in our industry to find no brochures.
Come on, gang. How can you spend millions of dollars building a self-storage facility and then not spend a few hundred dollars on literature? You can't be spending all your marketing dollars just on Yellow Pages ads, can you? The advent of laser printers and pre-printed papers, along with the quick-printing services available from copy centers, such as Kinkos (my favorite), makes it difficult to come up with a valid excuse.
When's the last time you looked at your brochure to consider changing it? When was the last time you shopped your competitors to see what they are handing out to their prospective customers? If you don't have literature at your facility, I hope you will make it a priority goal in 1999.
Can You Spell . . .
Take heart, all of you spelling-challenged people out there like me. Word is out that the special commemorative pens that were prepared for senators to use in signing the historic Impeachment Oath book read Untied States Senate instead of United States Senate. It should be a great reminder for all of us to make sure to proofread all of our literature and Yellow Pages ad copy before signing off on the final proof.
What Numbers Are You Watching?
A client's comments got me to thinking about which operational numbers the majority of owners look at regularly in managing their properties. Mike Gardner from Boston has told me on more than one occasion that "volume is vanity and margin is sanity." Are you just monitoring your gross rental income or the net bottom line? You may be 100 percent occupied, but have nothing to rent to a new customer. You may be 100 percent occupied, but are leaving a great deal of money on the table because your market area's rents are up 10 percent from last year, and you are still happy with the volume and not the margin. Your volume can actually be down and your margins up if you are watching the right numbers.
Long may She wave!
There seems to be some sentiment in the media these days that being patriotic is not "cool," that putting down America and pointing out its faults is news. I have to tell you that on a recent trip to the South, I saw one of the biggest U.S. flags flying outside of a self-storage facility. It was a great feeling to see Old Glory waving freely in the breeze. Yes, it may also serve as a great method to direct people to your facility, but who said that being proud of our flag shouldn't also benefit your business at the same time? Are we not, as entrepreneurs, living the ideals of this great nation?
Flags of all sizes are available from your local congressman or senator. Yes, you still have to pay for them (unless you are buying those fundraising tickets), but it is fun to frame the congressional letter that certifies that the flag at your facility has flown over the Capital Building and have it on one of the office walls for everyone to view. I would love to see our industry leading a revival of flying the American flag all across the country.
My wife, Jackie, and I recently stayed at a franchised Holiday Inn property in Alabama. As I was checking in, I noticed that the desk clerk had a number of bronze stars on her name badge. When I inquired about them, she quickly explained the company's customer-service-award program and handed me a simple fill-in-the-blank card that explained it. The stars were for outstanding customer service or special dedication to the job. She pointed to several of her stars to explain what situation they represented. She was so proud of each star that she had received, and it showed in her attitude.
What are you doing to provide a vehicle for customers to recognize outstanding service by one of your employees? Yes, I know you might only have one facility. So what? You still can set up a simple program for your two or three employees. There are a number of methods that can be used to establish a recognition program. They don't have to cost a lot of money, and they are people motivators. Many times, recognition for doing a good job is just as important as that regular weekly paycheck. When was the last time that you just said "thank you" to your manager or simply presented all of your employees with a gift certificate for dinner to a local restaurant? Recognition does not cost, and it really pays all kinds of benefits to everyone involved.
Y2K: Ready or Not, Here She Comes
During the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Las Vegas, I chaired a roundtable on the Y2K millennium bug. I prepared a handout that listed several excellent Y2K Web sites that provide a great deal of information for small-business people. If you still need to get started on considering how this computer problem could affect your business and what to do about it, send me an e-mail at JChiswell@adelphia.net, and I will e-mail the same handout to you as a text-only attachment. Do not be caught with your guard down. There is no need to fear, but let's be as knowledgeable as possible about Y2K. Being forewarned is being forearmed. I wonder if there is a marketing opportunity to get people to use self-storage as their emergency-supply location between now and New Year's Eve 1999?
I read a quote recently that really got me thinking, and I wanted to pass it along. I have never heard of this author before, but I found his words very moving. From Nelson Henderson: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
Thank you again for the chance to bring you my thoughts. I hope to hear from you with your ideas and comments that I can pass along in the months ahead.
Jim Chiswell is the president of Chiswell & Associates of Williamsville, N.Y. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence, professional-witness services 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.