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Inside Self-Storage Magazine 10/2001: Thoughts From the Road

Jim Chiswell Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

Incentives, Recognition and Motivation

By Jim Chiswell

As I work and talk with owners across the country, I am constantly asked: "What type of bonus system should I use for my employees?" It seems one of the most popular is a compensation for every unit rented. Others have recognized that a manager's incentives should be tied directly to the performance of the store compared to the yearly budget. Sharing a percentage of the financial success over the expected budget can be profitable for owners and managers.

I am rarely asked, however, about the big picture: keeping employees motivated in their jobs. Motivation cannot be accomplished by money alone. Yes, I know dollars are important, but research study after research study points to the need for a combination of factors to keep your team at peak performance.

It is important employees feel knowledgeable about the business itself. This can be achieved by having all employees participate in planning the annual budget, as well as the design of future Yellow Pages ads and other sales literature. This means having everyone create the written goals and objectives for the year and then keeping them informed of the progress.

If you give someone the responsibility for carrying out a specific task, he needs to have the authority to act accordingly. Nothing can undercut morale more than a boss who is constantly second-guessing the employee and getting in the middle of things with a "No, let's do it this way" approach. OK, maybe everyone that works for you cannot do something as well as you could, but do you really want to be behind the counter every day? Probably not.

The other critical factor is in recognizing people for the job they are doing. If you are a part of Storage USA, Shurgard or other organization with countless employees, having a "Regional Employee of the Month" is much simpler than if you are a single-store operator. But even with one facility and two or three employees, a recognition program can be created. The recognition could be for the outstanding results from a "mystery shopping" phone call or positive comments from a customer. Many times, just having an owner come into the store to say a simple "thank you" can have a significant impact. Bringing in an unexpected lunch treat or taking over the office so an employee can have the afternoon off will have positive results.

I would also like to encourage owners to think about giving unexpected incentives to their managers, a concept Joe Niemczyk of Executive Self Storage has used for many years to help motivate his troops. A CD player or tickets to a sporting event, when totally unexpected, can produce a lasting memory of appreciation. I know of one owner with several properties who took everyone to dinner one night and just as the meal was ending handed out gift cards that read, "You are as good as gold to me!" Inside each card was a solid gold coin. It was a direct way to give people an unexpected bonus with a unique twist. If you do not have an incentive and recognition program in place, it is never too late to start. There are no rules or restrictions, so use your creativity.

Speaking of recognition, I would like to acknowledge Louise and Leo, managers at Plantation Self Storage in Bluffton, S.C., for being selected as Managers of the Year by Mini-Storage Messenger magazine. I know this team and the award is well-deserved. Congratulations!

Telephone Research

I had an opportunity to see firsthand the telephone-research information being produced by a company called Client Discovery Service in Georgia. (See the "TechTalk" column published in the July issue of Inside Self-Storage or visit for more information.) Its telephone-monitoring devices are picking up some significant weaknesses in our telephone operations. Monthly reports show you, by the hour, when inbound calls are coming in as well as when, and to whom, outbound calls are being made. You may think that simple five- to seven-minute call you make to a friend each day is not telephone abuse--until these calls show up on the report as consuming five to six hours a month.

The reports from Client Discovery are some of the most powerful telephone-research tools I have ever seen. The visual reports pinpoint the actual locations of the phone calls on a map. You can instantly see where your marking efforts are having an impact. The company will even provide a daily fax service to provide you with the telephone numbers of inbound callers whose phone call was never answered. These lists, waiting for the managers on the fax machine when they come into the office in the morning, can generate real customers with a simple courtesy call.

Who could object to receiving the following phone call: "Hello, Mr. Chiswell. This is Alyssa from Silverado Self Storage calling. Our caller-ID telephone database indicated someone from this number called our office yesterday. I am sorry we were not able to take your call. How can I help you?" OK, the real privacy freaks might be taken aback that you had their name and telephone number, but even the most cynical person will be impressed by your follow-up. The individual with a storage need will appreciate the fact you are trying to assist him.

Where Did This Come From?

Thanks to everyone who responded to the burning question from May's Thoughts from the Road column about the origins of two phrases: "dead as a doornail" and "easy as pie." Congratulations to Jimmy Murtaugh of Florida and Kim from South Dakota for being the first two to reply. Jimmy and Kim nailed them both with an online search.

It is apparent to me that because of modern technology, the answers to these sorts of questions are readily available on the Internet. Therefore, I have decided to abandon my idea of including phrases like these in each of my columns. This is a prime example of how you sometimes have to try things out yourself to see if they work for you. Someone else's lack of success with a concept does not necessarily mean it won't work for you or your facility. So don't stop trying new ideas. I know I won't.

Jim Chiswell is the 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 via e-mail at or by calling 716.634.2428. Visit

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