SELF-STORAGE IS SOMETIMES TREATED LIKE THE RED-HEADED STEPCHILD OF THE BUSINESS WORLD. The public image created by unfortunate past events and circumstances makes a manager's job more challenging. It becomes our responsibility to educate the public and dispel the belief self-storage is not a viable and legitimate business.
The days are gone when a self-storage facility was little more than a barn or metal shed in a field. Properties operating for the long haul are now beautifully designed, many with living quarters for the managers. They are professionally landscaped and operated. They represent a substantial investment of capital and add to the economy of the communities in which they reside.
It comes down to a problem of image. Many people who would not think of dumping trash, defacing buildings or otherwise making some sort of mess at their doctor's or lawyer's office don't seem to have a problem doing those things (and worse) at a storage facility. How many times have we heard, "But it's only a storage place"?
In the past, self-storage has, on occasion, been used to store and manufacture illegal drugs. It has been used as a dumping ground for toxic-waste materials, junk cars and other trash. Theft rings and drug dealers found self-storage a cheap and easy way to ply their trades. These are some of the reasons people have a poor opinion of self-storage. But that was then. This is now. Many of you have heard the expression, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression," so let's see what we can do to create that good first image.
Project Your Image
The first thing you want to do is make sure your site is as clean as it can be. If you have a new property, you have little maintenance, so clean, clean, clean is the key. If your property has been established for several years, you contend with ongoing maintenance such as painting, door repair, concrete repair, blacktop patching, lawn and landscape maintenance and, of course, cleaning. This is an ongoing task, but one that pays off in dividends later. Over the years, I have had many people rent at my facility when they could have saved a few dollars by renting down the street. They rented from me because my facility was much cleaner than my competition.
Your office should be neat and orderly. When a prospective renter walks into your office, it should look well-run and maintained. Your uniform--or whatever clothing you wear--should be neat and clean, as well as your own personal appearance. Last but not least, conduct yourself in a professional way--no off-color jokes, no outbursts of temper, no rude or sarcastic remarks. Be friendly, courteous and helpful. Be professional!
Protect Your Image
Earlier I said, "That was then. This is now." These days, we have more modern equipment to protect our image. We have surveillance cameras, computer-controlled access gates and resident managers. Most facilities require photo I.D. All self-storage facilities should require positive identification. I have found over the years that verifying mailing addresses bolsters security by letting you know within a few days if an address is legitimate. The new computer software available is a very powerful tool in helping to manage your site as well as protect your image.
In addition to using the aforementioned tools, you also want to post the rules of your facility where they can be plainly seen. Make it a point to show renters the postings as you escort them around your site. Show them the security cameras and let them know all activity on the site is being recorded for their safety and the well-being of the site. Hopefully, this will deter anyone who may have had plans to conduct any illegal activities on your site, or encourage him to rent elsewhere.
Regular checks throughout the day to make sure no one has left trash laying around will help ensure other people won't throw trash as well. If someone sees trash, they have a tendency to think it's OK for them to throw theirs also. If you see a tenant breaking the rules of the property, don't be afraid to politely but firmly remind him of his transgression. If you let him get away with it once, he'll make it a habit.
Perpetuate Your Image
Remember, most of the people you rent to have never used self-storage before, so it's your job as a professional property manager to teach them the correct way to use storage and respect you and your property. The more time you take with a new customer in the beginning, the happier he'll be and, hopefully, less likely to vacate.
Provide customers a level of comfort and security by letting them know the site they have chosen to store their belongings is being run by a professional property manager who is proud of his chosen profession. Once they see the positive image you project, they may well become long-term customers. More important, they will recommend family and friends to become customers, too.
Terry and Barbara Walters are resident managers for Premier Self Storage of Cheektowaga, N.Y. They have more than a decade of experience in the self-storage industry and can be reached for questions or comments at 716.893.3900; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.