Quality managers are quality people, from all walks of life, who have mastered the skills of managing a selfstorage facility. They are warm, friendly, honest, energetic souls who enjoy working independently and working with the public. They are relationship-builders who are able to work within established guidelines; and they have an entrepreneurial enthusiasm about their self-storage businesses. Some of the characteristics they share and concepts they have learned are presented in the paragraphs below.
Quality managers realize the curb appeal of their facilities is their first opportunity to encourage a potential tenant to walk through the front door. They realize most of their business is from drive-by traffic because it is human nature to want to store one’s possessions as close as possible to one’s home or place of business. Small things like frequently changing reader boards, making sure the landscaping always looks good, and ensuring the facility is well-maintained and clean builds an impression with the public that the store is well-managed and cared for.
A second key to a quality manager’s success is understanding a customer’s motivation as he enters the office. That understanding dictates the manager’s presentation of what he has to offer the customer. Most self-storage tenants are in a state of transition. Something in their lives has changed and created the need for them to put things they value someplace outside their home or business. They come to us searching for a safe, comfortable solution to their problem.
Smiling the moment a customer walks through the door, saying “hello,” and asking how you can help sets the customer at ease. If the manager is sitting down when a customer enters, standing up is a sign of recognition and respect. If the manager is in the middle of something, pausing just long enough to acknowledge the customer makes him feel more comfortable about being there. It indicates he will not be ignored—it’s just going to take a moment before he can be helped. Quality managers greet customers and tenants as though they were anticipated guests of their establishment.
Quality managers also know the importance of a clean, appealing, well-organized office. The office counter is kept neat and holds a welcoming candy dish with quality candy. The area behind the desk looks organized, efficient and businesslike. The managers are nicely dressed and well-groomed. The sales-display area is neatly arranged with clearly marked prices and interestingly arranged products for sale. Everything the customer sees and hears is geared toward the impression that we care about him (and, therefore, his goods), that we are a professional organization. This reassures him his trust will be well-placed.
The successful manager has at his fingertips all of the materials he may need to make the sale, including: 1) brochures or handouts, 2) information on unit sizes, their configurations and capacities, and 3) retail-product prices and information. The contract and any documents that go with it are available, preassembled and ready to go.
A quality manager’s presentation is well-rehearsed, without hesitation or groping for words or materials. Product knowledge and familiarity with all of the benefits of the facility should flow like water from a fountain to our thirsty customer, easily answering questions such as “What is climate control?” and “Why do I need insurance?”
Many customers are completely unfamiliar with self-storage, so the sales process is an educational process as well. The more features the manager mentions, such as ceiling insulation in non-climate-control units and drinking fountains on site, the more knowledgeable the manager becomes in the customer’s eyes. Managers often try to make a sale with the fewest possible words. Quality managers recognize the value of taking the time to give a brief but complete presentation of the facility and its attributes.
Quality managers always show the prospective tenant a unit of the size he intends to rent and trys to ensure the unit is the actual size in need. They have clean units of each size available for show and, if possible, may have a demonstration unit set up with shelving, boxes and other sales items.
The golf cart is clean and in good working order. When units are shown, unit features are demonstrated, such as easy glide doors, locking mechanisms, drive-turnarounds for moving vans, etc. This is an opportunity to mention physical security features such as fencing, security cameras and lighting, as well as how often the manager personally makes rounds on the property, etc. Experienced managers know that, in the customer’s mind, how well the facility is presented and taken care of represents how safe their goods will be.
Actually making the sale is a gentle art well-mastered by quality managers. It is a matter of resolving questions—preferably before they are even raised by the customer—and presenting them a contract to sign. Successful salespeople are prepared to respond to objections. For example, if the customer says he is just shopping for prices, the manager should be prepared to discuss nearby facilities, their rates, and what their own facility offers that is of superior benefit. This is done to assure the customer he will be fairly (or generously) treated.
Professional salespeople never make disparaging remarks about the competition. They also always ask the customer if he needs any boxes, tape or packing materials, and mention selected ancillary products they carry. They are aware of each product’s use and benefits and present them to the customer with confidence.
Over time, quality managers build relationships with their long-term tenants. They know their names on sight, and what units they occupy. Sometimes, tenants seem to think of managers as part of their family— when they come to visit their stuff, they visit the manager, too.
Quality managers are able to adapt to tenants’ needs without letting them unduly impact their own lives or the function of the business. They treat each customer with respect in all day-to-day activities, even the ones who do not necessarily respond in kindness. When it is necessary (and sooner or later there is always a time when it is necessary) a quality manager has the strength and self-respect to stand up to an inappropriately behaving customer and put him in his place to the extent necessary to conduct business in a civil, professional manner.
Relationships with competitors are important as well. Managers need to be aware of other facilities’ attributes, prices, hours and specials; in addition, whenever possible, they should have an amiable relationship with the managers.
There are times when a facility does not have what a customer needs. It is better service to the customer, the community and the industry by sending that customer to a competitor that can serve his needs rather than simply turn him away. Most competitors will return the favor in kind when they have the opportunity to do so. Talking with competitors about events that happen in your mutual trade area helps to keep you abreast of new developments. Alert managers also know and understand federal trade laws about price fixing and collusion and are careful in every conversation with competitors to avoid any potential for wrongdoing.
Overseers of apartment buildings, moving companies, professional office buildings, churches, schools, community organizations and the like are an ongoing source of rentals effective managers cultivate over time. In the minds of trade partners, visits and conversations that create a positive lasting impression about the self-storage facility and manager are an excellent means of generating multiple rentals.
Savvy managers also reward trade partners that bring them business with expressions of appreciation such as theater tickets, boxes of cookies or gifts of nominal value. Repeated contact and relationship-building is the key. Superior managers also keep a wary eye out for opportunities to promote their facility at community events, neighborhood sports programs, etc.
Managers who excel keep abreast of what is happening in their industry. They avail themselves of information and benefits provided by trade associations, magazines, conventions and seminars. They may also participate in local community organizations such as real estate associations and chambers of commerce.
Another characteristic of quality managers is their ability to view their store in a business sense. Managing the income and expenses of a store in a businesslike manner involves the simplest of things, like making sure entries are correct, totals balance and mistakes are quickly corrected (never hidden!), along with more complex issues, such as understanding the basics of contract law, state and federal self-storage laws, and the legal requirements and ramifications of holding auctions. A quality manager exercises “business sense” rather than emotion in dealing with customer issues. Resolution is based on the best potential economic outcome rather than personal feelings regarding tenant behavior.
Maintaining Asset Value
Maintenance of self-storage facilities, for appearance and the long-term value of the property, is usually left almost exclusively in the manager’s hands. Some duties such as landscaping and HVAC maintenance may be contracted out, but it is usually the manager who oversees their work.
This responsibility, plus the manager’s onsite duties, can have a significant impact on the long-term value of the property and property-maintenance costs. Seemingly little things, like not letting grass grow up through the asphalt, can have a significant cost impact down the line in terms of asphalt repairs, just as appropriate temperature control in climate-control buildings affects the life of HVAC equipment. Small repairs left unattended can grow into big repairs over time.Quality managers keep a wary eye out for potential problems and follow up to be sure they are resolved.
All managers have daily real-life experience with competitive rates in their marketplaces and can easily see the benefits of reducing them. Superior managers also have understanding of the other side of the equation: the business principles that push rental rates higher.
Three basic business concepts quality managers should understand are net operating income (NOI), capitalization rates (cap rates) and return on investment (ROI). Understanding these principles helps managers know why the best rental rate is usually a balance that pushes rates as high as the reality of the marketplace will allow.
NOI is total income less all of the operating expenses of the property. Managers improve NOI by giving the fewest possible discounts, collecting the highest possible rents and frugal management of the store’s operating expenses. (Note: Operating expenses do not include mortgage payments or the owner’s income taxes).
Cap rates are often used when a property is for sale or by financial institutions to estimate the value of a business. Different types of industries have different ranges of cap rates based on what properties have sold for in the past. In recent years, self-storage cap rates ranged from about 8 percent to 11 percent, depending on the marketplace and the condition of the property. To calculate the estimated value of a property, the NOI is divided by the cap rate. How a small increase in rents can have a dramatic increase in the value of a property is shown below.
A five percent increase on a $50 unit is only $2.50 per month. For a store that usually makes $40,000 a month, a 5 percent increase translates into a $240,000 difference in the value of the property. Similarly, rentalrate reductions and discounts decrease the value of the property. When managers understand small amounts on a daily basis do make a big difference in the financial worth of the property, it helps them support rate increases and minimize discounts.
An example of return on investment (ROI) would be if you purchased a $100 Certificate of Deposit at the bank that paid 10 percent per annum. In one year, you would receive $110. Your ROI was $10, or 10 percent on your initial investment of $100.
Investors evaluate different types of opportunities to see what is going to give them the best rate of return for their money. They make purchasing decisions based on the expectation they will be able to earn returns on their money similar to the returns of others in the same business.
In the self-storage industry, income is determined primarily by rental rates. To achieve the expected rate of return, rental rates need to be at least equal to other rents in the marketplace. If rates are lower and expenses are the same, less net money is earned and investment returns are lower than anticipated. Superior managers develop the perspective of viewing their store as one of many potential business investments, and strive to make that investment as valuable as possible.
Loyalty and Ethics
Self-storage managers have a pretty unique job. There is great deal of autonomy and responsibility. They are often privy to information about customers’ personal lives other types of business managers would never hear. Respecting each customer’s personal confidences is an integral part of a quality manager’s behavior.
Property owners place their trust in managers to safeguard their investment. That investment may be what they are planning to use to get their children through college, supplement their retirement, or any number of other human endeavors. The self-storage industry is a close competitive community where privileged information could be inadvertently revealed in casual conversation. Quality managers respect the trust placed in them and take care not to reveal professional confidences.
Quality people who have made their way into the self-storage industry come from all walks of life for the unique benefits self-storage offers. They bring a multitude of talents and experience to their work. In the end, those who are the most successful are those who continually strive to become more knowledgeable about their duties and position, and who have mastered the art of treating all they encounter with professionalism, consideration and respect.
Donna May is the president of Bulverde, Texas-based Joshua Management Corp., which provides consulting, employee training and evaluation, and third-party management for self-storage facilities. Joshua Management provides business assistance at all levels, whether a person wants to enter self-storage, invigorate a store’s performance, get advice on troubling issues or leave the industry at the peak of performance and investment gain. For more information, call 830.980.8253 or visit www.joshuamgmt.com.