Maintenance and Tools of the Trade

David Fleming Comments
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Complaint from customer that door won't open: money lost in repeat business. Complaint from customer that roof is leaking: lost referrals. Complaint from customer that gate won't open or is stuck: lost money in shortened rental. Having the right tool to take care of the situation in a timely and efficient manner: priceless.

We all know that when it comes to being a well-rounded self-storage manager, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades--a salesman, bookkeeper, janitor and last, but certainly not least, a maintenance man. But you cannot do your job without the proper tools. You cannot take a payment without a ledger book (or these days a computer and management software), or close a sales call without a telephone. Every task you do has tools specifically designed to help you accomplish it. So why do so many owners feel they should leave one of the largest tasks--overall facility maintenance--up to a manager with a minimal amount of tools?

Every storage facility has a list of basic items that are absolutely essential to the job of managing, maintaining and repairing. These would include but are not limited to: brooms, dustpans, rags, gloves, cleaning supplies, light bulbs, bolt cutters, company locks, vacant-unit locks, auction seals, ladders (both step and extension), a ratchet and socket set, wrenches, screwdrivers, vise clamps, saws, tie-down straps, bungee cords, oils, lubricants, a cordless drill (nut drivers, bits and a jig), a workbench, and a golf cart and charger. These are just the basics. Some better-equipped shops include battery chargers, jumper packs or cables, portable floodlights, air tanks, compressors, floor polishers and more.

Then there are replacement components you could buy individually as you need them, but it makes more sense to buy in bulk for a better price and to have them on hand when you need them. These items include locks, latches, springs, door handles, ropes and even entire doors.

For electrical needs, there are light bulbs (fluorescent, incandescent, flood, high-pressure sodium, etc.), replacement switches, timers, sensors, photocells and sockets. The tools needed to install them are wire cutters, wire strippers, wire nuts, pliers, electrical tape and connectors. Plumbing supplies such as a plunger and even a snake for unclogging toilets and downspouts are essential as water is a facility's worst enemy. And don't forget the metal-working aspect of your facility: Replacement wall panels, trim pieces and downspouts, tin snips, a pop-rivet gun (and rivets), self-tapping screws, lap sealant, caulk, roof coating (and brushes), etc., are all par for the course.

Whether you're fixing damage caused by the elements (wind, water, etc.) or your customers (rental truck vs. building), or making modifications to your unit mix by moving walls and creating units, you need the materials and the tools to get the job done. The only thing worse than having a customer come to you with a maintenance issue is not being able to correct it. It's embarrassing when you are trying to correct a problem and you obviously don't have the tools to adequately complete the job--like trying to saw through a lock with a dull blade when bolt cutters would snap right through it.

Keep a Neat Shop

Equally as bad as not having the tool to do the job is having the tool but not being able to find it because your shop is disorganized. When you take into account all the tools and supplies needed to maintain a facility, it is easy to understand how the manager's workshop can quickly become a very crowded place. I understand owners are reluctant to use space that could otherwise be rented for additional revenue. But we also need to keep in mind that we are in a customer-service business. Part of that requires we have the tools and abilities to rectify maintenance situations in a timely and competent fashion.

Instead of digging through a pile of tools on top of each other, or in boxes, or stacked three deep under a workbench, hand tools should be hung neatly on a piece of peg board. The larger tools should be stored on a shelf and be visible without having to dig for them. Even larger tools and supplies, such as ladders and boxes of 8-foot fluorescent bulbs, should be hung on racks or hooks from the wall or ceiling where they are easily accessible. If there is no light or electrical outlet in your shop, you should consider calling a certified electrician and having them installed. This is especially important for resident managers who are willing to complete a task after hours if only they could see to do so.

A neat, clean, organized, well-equipped shop makes a great impression on every prospective customer who has to walk past it on the way to view a unit (I leave ours open during office hours). It lets customers know that whatever issue arises, we are able to handle the situation. It also goes a long way to promoting good will and positive referrals from customers when we are able to address these issues in a timely, efficient and competent manner.

David Fleming and his wife, Tina, are an award-winning management team with Premier Self Storage Inc. of Western New York. Mr. Fleming has more than 10 years of experience in the self-storage industry, having managed facilities in three states. He is currently a corporate trainer and senior site manager overseeing five locations. He and Tina work as full-time resident managers of Premier Self Storage in Amherst, N.Y. To contact the Flemings, call 716.688.8000; fax 716.688.6459; e-mail premierofamherst@aol.com.

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