By Jim Chiswell
This represents my final column of this year, and I find myself overwhelmed with so many things I would like to say. However, with this limited space, I've prioritized my list and will touch on just a few.
As we move toward the last 60 days of 2000, it hardly seems possible that a year ago we were getting ready for "The End of the World" as the new millennium approached. In fact, the Y2K "bug" forced businesses across the world to upgrade their technology. The implementation of these new technologies and computer-based systems appears to have provided the states with the competitive advantage in sustaining the longest peace-time economic boom on record.
It has been a very good year for many of us in the self-storage industry. Occupancy rates at most facilities have remained strong. Although there is a weakening ability to increase rental rates because of increased competition, rates still remain at historic highs at most facilities. It seems that as small business people in prosperous times our nature is to become lazy. Yet it is precisely at this time that we need to take a cold, sobering look at our performance during the past year and map out our goals and financial budgets for the year ahead.
If you, as an owner, do not have a formalized year-end evaluation process for your facilities and employees, I urge you to start this year. You must look at all the physical aspects of your facility such as roofs and paving. This review should include not only financial performance, but also an analysis of the subtle changes that may be taking place at your facility along with employee assessments. Has the average length of stay of your customers increased or decreased? Has the number of customers from the various ZIP-code areas you serve changed significantly? Did your average rental rate per square foot meet your expectations?
In terms of your employees, you need to objectively evaluate each person's performance. Everyone needs to have his work validated. Have they increased or decreased their call ratios? Are delinquencies in line with budgets? Have your employees met your expectations as an owner over the past 10 months? Having each employee do a personal evaluation can produce surprising results. Many times people turn out to be harsher critics of themselves than their employers.
Take advantage of the remaining two months to prepare your team for the year ahead. In some cases, owners have conducted their year-end reviews and goal- setting sessions during an overnight retreat.
I was overwhelmed by the interest in the panel discussion we conducted at the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Nashville, Tenn., in August. George McCord of Southeast Storage and Development and Joe Niemczyk of Executive Self Storage joined me in presenting an overview of this niche storage market. George and Joe both shared their personal experiences in developing wine-storage areas within their self-storage facilities.
In preparing for this educational session, I was amazed at the scope and depth of the wine industry. We have added a number of links and some additional wine- storage information on our website, www.selfstorageconsulting.com. If you are considering venturing into this niche market, go slowly and do plenty of research. The message from our Nashville panel was that wine storage can be a new profit center, but is not for everyone and certainly not for most locations.
Take Advantage of the Internet Freebies
Ok, so you paid someone to set up your website and you expected the world to beat a path to your door, right? But your site has not gotten any hits and, subsequently, no rentals. You are beginning to wonder what all this hype about the Internet being the new marketing paradigm (saving us all from the Yellow Pages) was all about.
Now that you have your website, the marketing work has just started. There are a number of steps you need to take to ensure your site is getting attention from the very people you are seeking as customers. In addition to registering your site with the various search engines and setting the meta tags on your pages, you need to take advantage of all the freebies that are available. Your local chamber of commerce (that you, of course, joined, right?) probably has a website accessed by a multitude of individuals and businesses every day. Is your website prominently linked to its site, and its site clearly linked to you?
One of the best opportunities is being offered by this very magazine, which now sponsors a website at www.move-n-storage.com, which provides a national, searchable database of facilities by ZIP code. Make sure you are taking advantage of this site. There are a number of other sites hosting links to self-storage facilities as well. You can go to any of the key search engines, such as www.google.com, www.altavista.com or www.hotbot.com and search under "self-storage." You will be amazed at all the websites you find.
You should also be tracking all of your competitors' websites and comparing their features with those of your own site. You can gain valuable information from examining their sites on a regular basis. This is similar to the examination you should be doing when a new Yellow Pages book comes out.
I can promise you that the Internet and web-based marketing is here to stay. It will be playing an increasing role in how we, as an industry, conduct our business in the future. Please don't turn your back on it now. Embrace it and find a way to focus some resources into keeping pace with its growth.
I'll Be Back...
I am excited that Inside Self-Storage Publisher Troy Bix and Editor Teri Lanza have invited me to return next year with my bi-monthly column. I'll admit there have been times this past year when I just barely met Teri's copy deadline.
I sincerely enjoy having the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with you. It is still energizing for me to hear from owners and managers who read my column and say that something I wrote helped them in making their own business more profitable. I urge you to continue to share your thoughts and ideas with me. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and I look forward to seeing you at the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Las Vegas, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2001.
Jim Chiswell is the president of Williamsville, N.Y.-based Chiswell & Associates. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence 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 and various association meetings. Mr. Chiswell can be reached via e-mail at Jchiswell@adelphia.net; phone (716) 634-2428; www.selfstorageconsulting.com.