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Thoughts From the Road

Jim Chiswell Comments
Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

Another year is here and, with its arrival, our expectations run high that we might really accomplish the goals we have set for our businesses and ourselves in the year ahead. OK, so some of our New Year's resolutions will be forgotten in a month or two, but those chiseled in stone are the ones we're really after.

Storage Executives in Print

Two self-storage executives appeared in the pages of two national magazines at the end of 2000. One was industry veteran Dean Jernigan, the president, CEO and founder of Storage USA. The other was a relative newcomer to the business, Mark Hamister of Premier Self Storage.

The November issue of Fast Company--a monthly publication that sets out to chronicle how changing companies create and compete with new business practices (see insights into Dean's personal philosophy as the owner of the Triple-A baseball team, the Memphis Redbirds. The excellent article, written by Geoff Calkins, spotlighted Dean's vision of what the ownership of a sports franchise could mean to a community. No one who knows Dean will be surprised to learn that his sports enterprise has been organized as a not-for-profit foundation under the requirements of Section § 501(c)(3) of the tax code. The foundation contributes every cent the Redbirds earn to Memphis charities. Congratulations to Dean on the article, and on the drive that turned his vision into a reality for the benefit of the people and children of Memphis.

Inc. magazine's October "Snapshot" feature provided a brief insight into the business world of Mark Hamister. Mark, whose Premier Self Storage properties are located in western New York, is likewise involved in sports with a team in the Arena Football League, the Buffalo Destroyers. He is also associated with the National Health Care Affiliates, which operates assisted-living centers.

In the early years of our industry, many people thought of self-storage as a fad development or simply as a "land-banking" play. Those days are long gone. Every national article on leaders such as Jernigan and Hamister enhances the visibility of our industry.

Who Put the Butts Out?

I know that phrase is not as catchy as that of the popular Baha Men's hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?," but it helps to make my point. No matter how properly maintained a self-storage property is, it appears there is no escaping one item: cigarette butts. These non-biodegradable filter ends are everywhere.

Let me go on record by saying I think the government has gone overboard in its efforts to demonize individuals who choose to smoke. Yes, I sit in the nonsmoking section of a restaurant, but I still support the individual's right to his or her own choice.

The one thing I have never been able to understand, however, is the smoker's natural reaction to throw his cigarette butts on the ground or out his car window. My absolute favorite is watching the driver in the car ahead of me dumping his entire ashtray of butts out the window while at a red light. Who does he think is cleaning up all of these little prizes?

I am finding a growing number of facility owners who are putting out the sign "NO SMOKING HERE," not only in the office, but on the entire property. You do have a safety issue to address: The protection of materials stored at our facilities must be a top priority. A no-smoking rule is a tough one to enforce, but it can make a world of difference to all your customers and the appearance of your entire operation. It may be worth your consideration as you draft your project's new "Rules and Regulations" for the year.

Lock Check: Not Just Busy Work

Despite what some employees may think, the requirement of conducting a daily lock check of the entire facility is much more than your boss' idea of how to keep you busy. Checking the status of every unit each day provides some valuable insights into a facility's operation.

First, it helps you stay on top of any unexpected changes. For example, if you notice six rented units in a row without locks, guess what might have happened? Can you say "break-in"? Or what about that last-minute customer from the night before? Perhaps he simply forgot to lock his unit.

Second, the lock check will help to verify your computer records in the office. It has never failed that when we visit a project where the managers are spending the bulk of their time in the office, there is a discrepancy between the lock check and their office records.

Third, yes, it does force managers out onto the property. It is hard to explain why you didn't see the corner of the back building is crushed if you are out every day doing a lock check. I urge you to require a regular lock check at your facility. It can be some of the best management time spent each day.

State Association Summit

This February, the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Las Vegas will break new ground. The tradeshow and magazine staff has designated a special time during the education agenda for attendees to meet with representatives from the various state self-storage associations. I am honored to be serving as the moderator of this new forum.

This special block of time will help newcomers and industry veterans get the most current information from the state level. This information could directly impact their business. The national Self Storage Association has been lending its support to this effort as well. All across America, the movement to set up state associations is growing. I have been an outspoken advocate of this for many years.

I hope everyone who is planning to attend the Expo will make a point to attend this State Association Summit on the night of Wed., Jan. 31. To those of you who do not yet have your tickets, I encourage you to call your travel agent today. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas.

Jim Chiswell is president of Chiswell & Associates. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence, expert testimony 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. He can be reached at 716.634.2428; e-mail

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