A recent trip I made brought into focus a critical problem facing many self-storage owners: the gap that exists between the talents and skills of their managers, assistant managers and part-time employees. I had a full-time manager tell me he did not feel he could trust the abilities of the part-timer who worked for him on the weekends. He felt he had to review every computer entry and bank transaction the employee made. He said, "I know we are losing almost every prospect who calls when she is on duty because she hardly ever rents a unit."
Many owners feel it is unrealistic to expect the same level of professionalism from the assistant and part-time managers as from the full-time manager. This logic is flawed. If you have someone covering your office 20 percent to 25 percent of the time, can you really afford to write off those opportunities? I don't think so. You should expect consistency in your day-to-day operations, no matter who is behind the counter. If you cannot get the part-time talent to do this, you will have to increase your pay levels to attract the right people.
When was the last time you had a candid conversation with your full-time manager about his relationship with and evaluation of the other employees? It is one thing for him to review what happened when he was not in the office, but if the manager feels he needs to trace every transaction, this is a complete waste of resources. If you have not reviewed the performance status of your part-timers with your manager, schedule a meeting as soon as possible. If you are a manager who sincerely feels the assistant manager or part-timers are not measuring up, you have an absolute responsibility to tell your owner and seek a resolution. I know that can be very uncomfortable, but just think of the rewards if you did not have to double-check their work.
My wife, Jackie, and I recently traveled to Tampa, Fla., for a meeting. By the time we arrived at our Marriott, it was late, and we decided to just grab something for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I didn't know it at the time, but we were in for an excellent demonstration of customer service and positive employee attitude.
When our server, Abraham Campbell, first came to our table, I realized we were in for a treat. The Jamaican-born Campbell has worked for Marriott Corp. for more than 17 years. The smile on his face was echoed by the smile in his voice. He made it very clear from the outset that his mission was to provide us an enjoyable dining experience. He was knowledgeable about the menu and able to explain how various dishes were prepared. During our meal, his presence was obvious, but not overbearing.
At the end of our meal, he simply asked: "Will I see you in the morning? We have a wonderful breakfast buffet I am sure you would enjoy." The next morning, we found ourselves back in the hotel dining room to try the buffet. We were not seated at Abraham's station, but as soon as he saw us, he came directly to our table--with that wonderful smile still on his face. He welcomed us and asked if we needed anything. When we got up to leave, he made it his business to come over to wish us a good day. It was clear from watching him we were not the exception but the rule for how he conducted himself.
Our positive experience during both meals was driven by his attitude of service and attention to us as customers. Your actions and attitude are critical to the success of your store. Does your attitude measure up with every customer who calls on the phone or walks into the office? Do you maintain that all-important smile on your face and in your voice with every interaction? You might be surprised just how much your smile can increase your closing ratios.
New York Victory
Chris McGrath, the president of the New York Self Storage Association, recently sent a letter to all association members. The letter detailed the judgment of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which unanimously affirmed a Kings County Trial Court decision in Seaforth V. Public Storage (733 NYS 2nd 228; 2001 NY App LEXIS 11250). "This is yet another affirmation of the validity of ß182 of the lien law in New York," McGrath wrote.
In this case, the customer rented a unit and defaulted on his rent for two months. He then moved without providing a written notice to Public Storage as required in the rental agreement. There were three unsuccessful attempts to contact the customer with a default notice. Public Storage complied with the lien law that requires the publication of two notices in the newspaper.
The appellate court's ruling was straightforward and direct. It stated: "The defendants demonstrated their compliance with the lien law, including its notice requirements, in every respect. In opposition, the plaintiff cited only trivial irregularities in the defendants' paperwork, and failed to raise a triable issue of fact (citations omitted). The plaintiff's remaining contentions are without merit."
Wouldn't you like to hear a court rule this way in your favor? You can if you are following your state's lien law to the letter in conducting your sales. Mr. McGrath, in discussing the result of this case, made another major point: "Having a bad or out-of-date occupancy agreement is putting your business at risk. It is like allowing someone to have a knife at your throat." If you have not had your agreement reviewed in the past two years by an attorney who really knows self- storage, you could be at risk.
I just finished reading a great book by national sales and marketing strategist Thom Winninger, Full Price: Competing on Value in the New Economy. The entire book is devoted to strategies designed to get your customer to pay full price for your product. While not written specifically about our industry, it will help break the mindset that we have to turn to discounting as a marketing technique. You can get the book online, order it at your local bookstore (ISBN 0-7931-3954-6) or visit www.winninger.com.
Jim Chiswell is the president of 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 national and state association meetings. He can be reached via his company's website at www.selfstorageconsulting.com or at the Virginia corporate office at 434.589.4446; write 6 Slice Road, Lake Monticello, VA 22963.