A 'Shock and Awe' Campaign

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The coalition forces won a decisive victory because they had great leadership. The campaign plan was communicated to everyone. It was bold, innovative and broke some old rules. But most important, everyone knew the part they needed to play.he war in Iraq has touched everyone in the world, directly or indirectly. Many of us sat riveted to our television sets watching embedded reporters feed us live pictures as our sons and daughters carried out one of the boldest, best integrated military campaigns in the history of warfare.

Those of us with stores in military communities watched our occupancy levels jump as deploying forces left in record numbers, leaving us to protect their belongings. The majority of us, however, have seen our inbound customer-inquiry calls drop, along with our occupancies. In my travels across the country and countless conversations with owners and managers, the universal sentiment I'm hearing is we are experiencing a soft market. If your rentals are up compared to last year and you got a 6 percent to 8 percent spring rate increase across the board, be ready for more competition.

Just like the coalition forces, smart bombs and cruise missiles played a major part in the Iraq campaign. Similarly, in self-storage, Yellow Pages ads, coupons and direct-mail play a role in our battle for market share. But in the final analysis, it took "boots on the ground" to win the Iraq war in such a decisive fashion. So it will be in this industry. It's time for our own "Shock and Awe" campaign, including the use of WMD: weapons of marketing dominance.

Our managers, assistant managers and part-timers are the secret. Their telephone skills and positive customer-service attitude will determine who wins and who continues to lose ground in the months ahead. As an owner, you must ask yourself, "Have I given them all the tools they need to succeed?" Better yet, have you even asked them what they need?

The coalition forces won a decisive victory because they had great leadership. The campaign plan was communicated to everyone. It was bold, innovative and broke some old rules. But most important, everyone knew the part they needed to play.

Have you created a similar campaign in your self-storage business? Do all of your employees fully understand what you expect to achieve this year? As we pass the mid-point of the year, it is not too late to get everyone together to assess the first half of this year's campaign and evaluate, as one team, the flexible strategies necessary to achieve your goals in the next six months.

It is time to shock and awe those potential customers--not with discounted prices, but superior skills and attitude. If there has ever been a time in the brief history of our industry when excellence in day-to-day operations will separate the winners from the losers, it is now. Which line will you be in when they are handing out victory ribbons at the end of December? Your entire team's actions will decide.

Overtime Clarification by U.S. Labor Department

By the time you read this column, the U.S. Labor Department will be finishing its official comment period on sweeping new federal regulations governing employer requirements for paying overtime. The proposed changes outlined in March's rule-making process represented the first update in salary levels in the wage-and-hour rules in the past 28 years. For example, the last revision to the job-description categories in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act was 54 years ago.

In a press release from late March, Tammy McCutchen, administrator for the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Administration, called the revisions "moderate and measured." "Easy, clear rules mean employees will understand when they're entitled to overtime; employers will know what their obligations are," she said.

The release went on to say, Other proposed changes include revising job duties required to qualify for the exemption to better correspond to 21st-century workplace realities. The old regulations, written in 1949, mention job classifications that no longer exist, such as key-punch operators, straw bosses, leg men and gang leaders. Clarifying which job duties qualify for overtime pay will help workers and employers easily determine overtime entitlement for millions of workers whose status is currently unclear.

In the new proposal regulations, any worker earning less than $22,100 a year would automatically be entitled to overtime pay, regardless of whether he is paid hourly or earns an annual salary. This same worker would be exempt from this overtime-payment requirement if he manages more than two employees and has authority to hire and fire, or if he has advanced training--a technical degree, works in a specialized field, or works in the operations, finance and auditing areas of a company. An employer could also simply increase the base pay above the $22,100 annual level to remove the employee from the mandatory overtime category.

I wanted to bring this issue and these pending regulations to the attention of owners and mangers as well as all store employees. Could it change how you are being paid? Maybe. Could it mean every self-storage owner in America will need to rethink his management structure and employee work hours? Possibly. Is it worth everyone's attention? Definitely.

While the U.S. Labor Department feels it is making a quantum leap with these proposed changes, I feel it will take several years to fully understand the direct impact they may have on the entire self-storage industry.

Motivation and Inspiration for the Taking

Everyone can use a supply of motivation and inspiration from time to time. I would like to recommend one of the best sources I have found over the years: the writings of Og Mandino. Mandino, a widely read inspirational and self-help author, has written 18 books that have touched the lives of an estimated 10 million readers around the world.

Books such as The Greatest Salesman in the World, The Greatest Secret in the World, The Choice or The Return of the Ragpicker all have lessons to teach. I must admit, The Spellbinder's Gift has special meaning for me. I have found Mandino's writings to contain subtle nudging and meaningful encouragements, not finger-pointing. You can pick up one of these books 6 months or even years later and get a completely new insight you missed or did not fully understand from your first reading. Many of these stories can be read in a single night, yet have a profound way on how you view the morning.

In his introduction to The University of Success, Mandino writes: Forget yesterday and last month and last year, with their gloomy diary of failures and disappointments. All that is in the past. This is the day you were beginning to believe would never arrive and yet it is here! This is the day you begin to turn your life around. This is the day you commence learning the greatest secrets of success from experts and, more important, how to use what you learn to make a better world for yourself and those you love.

Now 79, Mandino lives with his wife, Bette, in New Hampshire. Anyone looking for a wellspring of words for personal motivation and inspiration need look no further than the pages of his works. You can also gain some insights from his website at www.ogmandino.com.

The Passing of Ron Alton

I cannot finish this column without a brief word on the death of Ron Alton. Those who knew and worked with Ron and considered him a friend have lost a unique person. He was a hardworking man who was constantly urging those around him to realize their full potential as he pushed himself toward that same goal. Our thoughts and prayers are with Pam and her family, including everyone at Mini-Management Services.

Ron, you will be missed. May God be constantly at your side.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. 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 has introduced the new LockCheck inventory data-collection system to the self-storage industry at www.lockcheck.com. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.

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