By Jim Chiswell
Editor's note: The following is the first of a new bi-monthly column from industry advisor Jim Chiswell. The column, entitled "Thoughts From the Road," will cover a range of topics and opinions concerning the self-storage industry.
When the editors at Inside Self-Storage asked me to write a bi-monthly column for the magazine, I was flattered and honored. Having written numerous industry articles over the years, my first thought was, "I can do this." But as I thought about it more, reality started to sink-in. I realized that my work and travel schedule might not leave me with the time to do a good job. So I decided to decline the offer. When I picked up the phone to call Drew Whitney, editorial director at ISS, I should have known better. Before I realized it, my "I'm sorry, I can't" call had turned into "These are your deadline dates for 1999, Jim. Thanks." Drew always has been a good salesperson.
Now as I approach this first column, I am very glad for the opportunity that Drew and Publisher Troy Bix have given me. During the next year, I hope to accomplish more than not embarrassing them for their choice. I plan to bring you a column of ideas and opinions, and rather than try to stick to a single topic, I'll probably bounce around with insights and suggestions that I gather along the way. So here goes...
A Creative Solution
Don't ever underestimate the power of words. Not long ago, an industry veteran told me he had run into an interesting new phrase while mystery shopping in his market. He had asked a facility manager about the lack of air-conditioned space at her facility. She quickly reassured this potential customer by saying: "You don't need air conditioning here because we have 'positive ventilation' in all of our buildings. The air circulation is important, and we have it." I guess that is what you get when you have those good old roof vents and attic fans working, and a creative answer to a competitive market threat.
I do see more and more facilities, in every climate area, being built with increasing square footage in climate-controlled space. It gives you the opportunity to actually sell against yourself. You can offer the same-sized unit for two different prices. Be careful about what you say or claim about your climate-controlled space. If you are just heating to 45 or 50 degrees or air conditioning to less than 80 degrees, tell the customer. Don't open yourself to a possible lawsuit because the customer interpreted the phrase "climate control" to be mean plus or minus 1 percent of temperature or 5 percent humidity.
More Than Just a Thirst Quencher
I've always received good ideas at industry trade shows and conventions, and that's where I got this hot tip from Joe Niemczyk, president of Executive Self Storage. Joe explained this simple idea: giving total credit to a member of his management team. On a very hot day, this manager loads up a large cooler with ice and plenty of those small bottles of water everybody seems to be drinking these days, and straps it to the back of her golf cart. Her trip through the complex not only offers to the quench thirst of customers, but gives the facility gallons of good will. It also allows another very important benefit: The manager gets to peak inside at the stuff going into or coming out of the customer's units. Just because we don't have care, custody or control over people's property, does not and should not mean that we are not vigilant about what they are bringing to our property.
Please Pick-Up the Phone
Do you have a good portable phone for your manager yet--the kind that can be taken around the entire property and will still ring? Out on the site and still answering the office phone--what a concept! By the way, I think that the excuse that your manager might sneak into their apartment, kick up their feet and still answer the phone is a cop-out. If you've got a manager that is going to do that--guess what? They are already doing that and the phone is just being picked-up by the answering machine instead. Free your manager to get visible on the facility with a good cordless phone. It's worth the investment.
Rented, Overlocked, Vacant
Are you still doing daily or at least weekly lock checks? Yes, I know it can seem like just busy work to your employees, but it is one of the most effective methods to stay on top of a property. It's really difficult to claim that you didn't see that the far corner of the building had been crushed if you walk by it every day doing a lock check, or that there were six rented units in a row without locks. Gee, wonder when that break-in happened? It's the best outdoor activity that a manager can do. Drop me an e-mail message if you don't know what a lock check is, and I'll send you an article.
Your Building Is a What?
A planning and zoning board tip: If you are building a multi-story building that will have a basement, always refer to the project as a two-story building with a basement instead of a three-story structure. It sure helps make the building sound a little smaller to officials and the neighbors.
The better educated your manager is on the phone, in their sales skills and in overall property management, the higher your rents will be. Make manager education a priority in 1999.
Well, the word meter on my software tells me I've got to wrap up. I know that I covered a bunch of things, but I'm hoping that maybe one of these thoughts will help you or get you thinking. I am really open to your comments and suggestions. E-mail is the easiest way to reach me at JChiswell@adelphia.net or at Chiswell & Associates, Ltd., 1260 North Forest Road #A2 Williamsville, NY 14221.
Hope to see you at the ISS Expo in Las Vegas.
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.