By Pamela Alton
As we all know, the people you choose to manage your facility will make the difference between a highly successful operation and a mediocre one. Finding that perfect management staff is not always an easy task to accomplish. Where do you find them and what do you do with them once you have them?
To find management, you can place an ad in your local newspaper or trade magazine, or use one of the placement services available today. Getting people to respond may be the easiest aspect of your search--interviewing and matching the right manager to your facility is not so simple. Everyone can be on their best behavior for an hour. That's why it's important to interview your selection of candidates more than once. If they are currently employed at a facility close enough for you to visit, you should consider doing so--providing you get their approval. Most managers seek new employment confidentially and don't want to jeopardize their current position.
When interviewing candidates, consider their individual talents and match the management personality with that of the position you are trying to fill. Traditionally, if you have on-site housing, most full-time resident staff consists of a husband and wife team. And just because you may think the woman is the one behind the desk and the man is the one responsible for the maintenance, does not mean that she will be better at the office work or that he will be a better cleaner. Sometimes she will handle the maintenance, and he is better with the computer. Perhaps he is more outgoing and would be better at outside marketing. Again, look at the talents of each manager and assign the job responsibilities that are best suited to each.
Once you have selected your management staff, you should give them an orientation. this is the time to discuss company policy and procedures, have them sign their letter of employment and apartment lease. If you don't have a clear and concise policy and procedures manual, you need to design or purchase one (or several) and customize it to suit your company philosophy. Go over the manual with the manager. Discuss job duties and responsibilities, chain of command, etc. Make sure you are both on the same page, so to speak.
The next stop is training. If you hire an experienced management staff, your time training may be shorter than with inexperienced staff. If they are novices, you will need to spend a minimum of 10 days training them. Training must consist of telephone techniques, showing units, maintenance of the facility, outside sales and marketing, company forms, computer programs, collections and lien sales, etc.
As the owner or management company, it is imperative that you give your management staff the tools to do their job effectively. Those tools consist of effective training, maintenance supplies to keep the facility clean, an organized office atmosphere and clean, contemporary living quarters. If you would not allow your mother, wife, child or yourself to live in the on-site housing, how can you expect the management staff responsible for your mulitmillion-dollar investment to?
Open communication is another important element of successful staffing. You and your management staff must feel that you can discuss any positive or negative aspect of the job. One of the ways to accomplish this is by having your management staff call in the daily deposits to your office. This will give you the chance to discuss any daily issues, such as marketing programs, maintenance in progress, problem tenants, etc., without making the manager feel he is being "micro-managed," that he doesn't have the authority to make day-to-day, on-site decisions.
Define your expectations. Most people are not mind readers. If you are not happy with their job performance, tell them what you expect. Visit your facility regularly. Conduct audits and inspections. Ask for the manager's input in designing marketing or maintenance programs, annual budgets, rate increases, etc. Give your managers the control needed to actually manage the facility. You hired and trained them--now, let them manage the site. If you don't trust their judgment, then you made the wrong choice in hiring. If so, then do yourself and them a favor: End their employment and allow them to find a position suited for them, and you the right candidate for your facility.
Paying your management staff a competitive wage and designing an attainable bonus program is a must. Regardless of what ABC Storage down the road is paying its management, you should look at the managers' experience, track record, enthusiasm and ability to operate your investment, and pay them accordingly. There is no right or wrong bonus program, and not all bonus programs should be the same for all facilities. Facilities are as individual as people are. What will motivate one manager will not always motivate another.
Take your time to discuss with your managers a bonus structure that will achieve the desired results. You want to write big bonus checks each month because, if you do, you are realizing record incomes at your facility. Don't forget a pat on the back and a compliment for the manager. It doesn't cost a dime, but it's worth a fortune.
You don't have to be a genius or own a crystal ball to have a successful facility. It just takes some basic philosophies. Match your management staff and their talents with the facility. Define clear-cut company policy and procedures, facility manuals, orientation and training. Communicate with your management staff and visit the site on a regular basis. Provide the tools to effectively do the job. Design a competitive wage and attainable bonus program. Reward your manager for a job well done. Provide decent housing (if any). With these few basic, commonsense rules, you and your management staff will reap the rewards of a successful self-storage operation.
Pamela Alton 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.