The single most important marketing tool you have in the storage business is your manager. The problem is, frequently, the wrong people are selected for this job. Understand the concepts in this article, and you’ll make better choices and end up with the right person behind your counter.
As I travel around the country, I go into self-storage facilities to see how people run their storage businesses. The difference in the quality of managers I find is amazing. There are people who are so incompetent, you wouldn’t believe they have the job of running such a lucrative business. There are other places where I am so impressed, I want to hire the person myself.
Here are some basic DOs and DON’Ts for finding the right manager:
Look for someone with sales experience. The job of storage-facility manager is a retail-sales job. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s a unique sales job, but a sales job nonetheless.
That being the case, look for someone who has sold in a retail environment—it is irrelevant what they have sold. One of the better managers I ever saw used to sell shoes at a large department store. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen managers who seemed insulted by being asked to do anything other than babysit a facility. They felt they were doing a great job by just being there when people came in to rent or ask questions. You do not need a caretaker, you need an active participant in your business who has sales in his blood.
Find someone who has owned his own business or has general business experience. These people understand basic business principles and will be able to understand what you need them to do. At a minimum, find someone who has business experience of some kind. Those who don’t will take longer to train.
Fire quickly when you’ve made the wrong choice. I like the old adage, “Hire slowly and fire quickly.” Take the time to find the right person; but if you realize you’ve made the wrong decision, cut your losses. You’re not doing an ill-fitted manager any favors by keeping him around when he isn’t a good match.
Talk to your lawyers about drawing up a temporary employment contract. This kind of a document will allow you 90 days (or thereabouts) for you to let an employee go without any major legal repercussions. You’ll know quickly if you have the wrong person. If you do, make the change immediately.
Pay managers well and give them incentives based on results. I’ve overheard storage owners brag about how little they are paying their managers. This is absurd! Yes, a manager’s salary is one of your larger components of overhead—but a very worthwhile investment. The additional occupancy rates that can be achieved are well worth paying for.
Give your managers a decent base salary and then give them incentives based on the results you want them to achieve. All operators want more profits. This comes from a combination of higher occupancy rates and more sales of ancillary products and services.
Structure your compensation to allow a manager to make as much as 50 percent over his base pay for hitting certain net-profit targets. The key here is net. I wouldn’t give incentives based solely on gross receipts. All this does is encourage sloppy spending. A manager who is not motivated by cash incentives is clearly not the right person. And as an owner, that’s what you want; so make sure you’ve got someone who thinks similarly.
Hire for attitude and intelligence, train for skills. That being said, it is always easier to train someone on the specifics of the storage business than to change his attitude or demeanor. Find someone who is smart and has a coachable nature. You’ll be much better off than with someone with experience and bad habits.
I suggest you visit www.kolbe.com. It contains certain tools that will allow you to determine whether you’ve got the right person for the job. After you narrow your choices to two or three, give them the tests this website provides to see if your gut feelings are accurate. Owners I know who have used this have said it’s one of the most useful tools they have found for hiring employees of all kinds.
Provide your own training. You’ve got to have your system for running a facility. That being the case, you’ve got to have a training system established to make this happen.
Have specific training materials for the storage industry to distribute to people you hire. Over time, you’ll create a procedure manual you can have for any new or part-time employees. A good manager will be anxious to help you create one, because it will make it easier for him when he needs time off.
Hire someone based on storage experience alone. Many managers who have worked at storage facilities in the past have developed bad habits. The fact someone has previous experience in this business should raise a red flag. It is certainly possible to find a good manager who has storage experience, but I have found it to be rare.
The biggest obstacle is getting someone to do things your way rather than the way they’ve done it for the last eight years with someone else. As we all know, the average age of a storage-facility manager is 50 (or older). There are many (but certainly not all) who bristle at the idea of changing the way they have done things in the past.
Micromanage your facility. If you hire the right person, give him the freedom to make decisions. I’ve seen managers who have to call the boss for the pettiest issues. Hire the right person and give him the ability to run your business as if it is his own. After all, that’s why you hired him!
Your manager should have the ability to raise or lower prices. Naturally, he should know when to do it. He should also have the ability to negotiate issues where less than “X” number of dollars is involved. When he first gets started, “X” might be $100. As you get to know him, you can raise that number to whatever amount makes you comfortable.
Assume good paperwork skills make a good manager. I’ve seen managers who have great administrative skills, but are weak managers. Just because someone can keep his files color-coded, doesn’t mean he is the right person to run your facility. I’d prefer to have someone with great sales and business skills who is lousy at paperwork than vice versa.
You’ll find that these two sets of skills seldom occur with equal strength in the same person. You either get someone who is a great salesperson or one who is a great administrator. If you must sacrifice one, opt for the business and sales acumen.
Expect all managers to be motivated by the same things. Having spoken about how important it is to have a manager who is motivated, let me give you this caution. Some managers will be as motivated by other things than cash, such as time off. Understand what it is your manager wants, and structure your arrangement with him so he can earn it.
If your manager really wants more time off, find a part-time person who can fill in for him when he hits the targets you mutually set. It’s really just another form of compensation, since you have to pay those individuals in his absence. Make sure your manager is responsible for training those people and the results they achieve.
In addition to cash, virtually every manager wants to be recognized for his great work. Surprise him with the occasional free dinner or weekend trip to an exotic location. You can’t over-compensate great work.
Hire Mr./Ms. Smiley-Face. I’ve seen a lot of fake managers—you know, the kind who have the plastered-on smile and a perpetual state of positivism. Don’t get me wrong, I want someone who has a good attitude; but I want someone who is real. Just as with politicians, customers can see through someone who is a “poser.” Find an individual who comes off as authentic and believable. He will better resonate with you and your customers.
Getting the right person to run your storage facility can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. I’ve seen facilities that have been turned around with a great manager and others that have been decimated by the wrong one.
The complaint I most often hear is good managers are tough to find in this job market. That’s true. But you need to be willing to pay good people for good work, and be prepared to break stereotypes you’ve learned when hiring the right person. Select the best candidate and you’ll not only make more money, you’ll be able to take that trip to Europe—and not even have to call in once to find out how things are going. Isn’t that worth paying for?
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profitmaximization consultant who helps owners/ operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success— Revealed! as well as the producer of professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail email@example.com.