They are business owners, consultants, company presidents and industry experts. Many of them have been working in self-storage for 10 years or more. While there are many wonderful women of note working in the business, for this special feature, ISS chose a few of these respected women and asked them about the changing face of self-storage, its future and the evolution of the woman’s role in the industry. We hope for future opportunities to highlight other women like them.
Pam Alton, Owner,
Pam Alton has a bachelor’s degree in business from Western Michigan University. She started Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Mini- Management Services with her late husband, Ron. The company has six employees who manage 12 facilities. Mini-Management also does consulting, feasibility studies, audits, training and due diligence and specializes in manager placement.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE SELF-STORAGE BUSINESS?
In the 1980s, my husband, Ron, and I were selling residential real estate in California. When the market took a downturn in the late ’80s, I looked around to see who was still making money. At the time, my mother-in-law worked for Shurgard (Storage Centers Inc.). Ron called me one day and said he found an ad for a lease manager for two days a week for Shurgard. So we took the job and worked there for about two months. Then we were offered the position of resident managers at a Shurgard facility in Santa Barbara.
When we took that property over, it averaged about 70 percent occupancy. Within three weeks, I only had seven vacant units. I started teaching other managers within my organization how to market, answer phones and rent units. Then, one day, a self-storage owner called me and asked if I knew of any managers. I placed a manager with him and took the commission to start Mini-Management.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO WOMEN FACE IN THIS INDUSTRY?
I’ve found people in this industry to be very open and giving in their knowledge and sharing experiences with others. I never did business with anyone I felt didn’t want to do business with me because I am a woman. It may have even given me an advantage in some ways. A lot of owners are construction guys. They are used to having their secretaries answer the phones, make decisions and handle the paperwork and daily operations of their business. So it was pretty natural for them to turn over those types of things to me. In the beginning, there was only a handful of women. We pioneered to open the doors for other women to be accepted.
WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF SELF-STORAGE?
I am seeing a more professional image in the management staff. I don’t see a big move away from on-site housing. That was a big myth. A few people have moved from it, but some have come back to it. Whether on-site or off-site, it’s a professional image and attitude these managers need to have.
HOW CAN MORE WOMEN BUILD A CAREER IN SELF-STORAGE DESPITE IT BEING A TRADITIONALLY MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY?
They need to obtain all the knowledge they can: attend the trade shows, read the magazines, talk to people—put themselves out there, maybe even take a few risks. Take a management contract or offer out of the norm. Learning and keeping your face out there in the forefront is important.
Anne Ballard, President and Co-Founder,
Universal Management Co.,
Executive Director, Georgia Storage Owners Society
Anne Ballard was a consultant for real estate developers when a client who owned several storage facilities asked her to handle his marketing, advertising and management training. Five years later, Anne launched Universal Management Co. in Atlanta. She and business partner, Norma Taylor, own 100 percent of the company. Universal, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October, now has nearly 100 employees and manages 30 facilities. The full-service management company also does feasibility studies, site audits and inspections, monthly consulting, marketing and manager training.
WHAT KINDS OF CHALLENGES HAVE YOU AND YOUR PARTNER, ALSO A WOMAN, FACED IN RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL COMPANY IN A MALE DOMINATED ENVIRONMENT?
We sometimes find you’re faced with people who still, even in this day and age, don’t always consider that a woman might understand the construction process, the permitting, the banking and financial relationship, and the design criteria. We are very involved in all of those things. In developing credibility, you really have to work harder to prove you do know what you’re doing and have a good experience base. Our knowledge base is probably more extensive than that of some of our male counterparts. We tend to have a better knowledge base when it comes to managing the managers and training the owners.
ARE YOU SEEING MORE WOMEN IN MANAGEMENT TRAINING?
Absolutely. I have a lot of friends who own management companies around the United States, and most of them are women. When it comes to the day-to-day operations, women do multitask a little better. We have been pleasantly surprised in the last five years that we do have a lot more men now who are good at the marketing and office process. When we started, the women ran the office, and a men did the site work. Those barriers have definitely been broken down. We have gals that do our site work. We have guys that do office work. We have worked very hard to make it more of an equal-opportunity industry.
WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY?
We’re going to see an improvement in the use of the available technology to ramp up our income. As little as three years ago, if you asked a seminar audience if they were all online, you would see 20 percent of them say they were still running manual operations. If you ask that question of today’s audience, they’re all computerized.
As an industry, we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go, but our industry adapts to technology changes faster than some other retail industries because we have a dual face. Not only are we retail, but we’re also landlord-tenant real estate. Also, our industry is predominately owned by independent operators. It will always be that way. A lot of people forecasted there would be huge consolidations and 50 percent of the operators would go away, but that’s not the case. The very nature of self-storage—in that it is a localized business—is going to keep independent operators at the forefront of our industry.
Diane Cooper, President and CEO,
Diane Cooper received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Baker University. She joined Storage USA in August 2003 and is the former senior vice president for GE Consumer Finance, which is responsible for managing GE’s operation of JC Penney Credit Services. Diane has more than 16 years tenure with GE and is a seasoned executive with extensive marketing and operations experience. Storage USA became a part of GE Real Estate’s family of companies in May 2002 as part of the acquisition of Security Capital. The Memphis, Tenn.-based company owns and manages 541 facilities and has more than 1,700 employees.
GE SEEMS TO HAVE MANY WOMEN IN HIGH POSITIONS. IS IT TOUGH FOR WOMEN TO RISE TO EXECUTIVE LEVELS IN THIS INDUSTRY? WHAT CHALLENGES DO THEY FACE?
I have worked very hard to achieve my success at GE, but I wouldn’t characterize the road it took me to get here as “tough.” GE is a leader in creating a diverse work force. In fact, it was recently named one of the 100 best companies for working mothers by Working Mother magazine. GE’s value statements include a commitment to performance, which includes advancement based on “meritocracy.” Simply stated, this means all employees are given opportunities to grow and advance in the company based on their professional accomplishments. This practice holds true for men and women at GE. My dedication and hard work, coupled with GE’s atmosphere that fosters advancement, made this possible for me. In addition, there are two professional groups that aid women in their advancement at the company, such as our Women’s Network and our Mentoring Program, both of which have been initiated at Storage USA.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN WORKING IN THIS INDUSTRY?
I am still very new to the self-storage industry, so this is a difficult question to answer at this point. I can tell you the reception and energy I have received from employees, key industry contacts and customers all lead me to believe Storage USA and I will be a successful combination.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR STORAGE USA OVER THE NEXT 12 MONTHS?
I have three major goals for Storage USA for the coming months. First, we will continue to refine and execute processes that drive efficiency and speed to boost customer satisfaction and bottom-line results. Specifically, the company is working on improved data systems that will put our National Call Center and properties on a common platform. This centralized data will empower our decision-makers at the local level, and thus provide a better rental experience for our customers.
Next, we will continue to focus on upgrading our portfolio, meaning we will build, acquire and divest properties at the most opportune times with an overall goal of operating the best and most productive company in this industry.
Finally, our third goal is tied to the company’s commitment to its employees. My initial field observations tell me we have a strong team with a high level of dedication to the customer. We will continue to develop these strengths in our employees and reward them with opportunities to grow into new roles within the company.
Nancy Gunning, President,
Chesapeake Resources Inc.,
President-Elect, Self Storage Association
Nancy Gunning left broadcasting in 1988 to join Chesapeake Resources Inc. The Rockville, Md.-based company operates and/or owns 27 facilities in Maryland and Virginia under the trade name Self Storage Plus, and is a partner in eight facilities in New Jersey and New York. Chesapeake has about 80 employees.
WHAT ARE YOUR DUTIES AS PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE SSA?
I am the chairperson for the self-storage counsel. This year, we’re trying to get all 50 states to affiliate with the national association. Last year, we only had 10. At our convention in San Diego in September, we had 19 states affiliate with the national association. My goal is to get all 50 states affiliated by the end of my presidency in April.
ARE MORE WOMEN BUILDING CAREERS IN THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY?
Yes. What I see in my company and the self-storage industry is most of the women are involved in the operations, marketing and management, and most of the men are involved in the construction and development. I see that when I go to conferences, too. But more women are getting involved in the development side.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OBSTACLES WOMEN FACE?
I was fortunate. I didn’t face many obstacles in this business. The owner of my company is an entrepreneur. He gave me free rein. I can’t say that for a lot of women. But there are probably more opportunities in storage for women because storage has changed. It’s going more toward a retail business and women are good at details. We have a good eye for style and design.
WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY?
It’s going to become more professional and more retail-oriented. Overbuilding continues to be a major problem all over. We’re in the Washington metropolitan market and we have overbuilding. Lease-up used to be projected at three years, now it can take four years. Overbuilding has really hurt many owners. They can’t be aggressive when raising rates. There is discounting all over the board.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN LOOKING TO GET INTO THIS INDUSTRY?
Start tomorrow. It’s a great business for women. Most of the women I know in this industry are well-respected. There isn’t a glass ceiling. There are a lot of women owners, and some who own their own management companies. There are a lot of opportunities across the board for women.
Carol Shipley, President,
United Stor-All Management Co.
Carol Shipley began her career in the selfstorage industry 19 years ago when the small development company she worked for built its first self-storage facility. She headed up the management of that first facility as well as a second before joining Storage USA. She left her post as senior vice president nine years later to start her own company with partner Bruce Manley. United Stor-All Management Co., a development and management company based in Mount Airy, Md., celebrated its third anniversary in October. United Stor-All manages and/or owns 30 stores and has nearly 100 employees. Carol also does feasibility studies, consulting, public speaking and training.
YOU’VE BEEN IN THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY FOR MANY YEARS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU’VE SEEN?
There have been tremendous changes. We truly have gone from the mom-and-pop industry to a very sophisticated industry. There have been huge changes in technology, the look and design of our properties, the features and benefits we build into the properties today, and in the way they are operated. They are more professionally run properties. It’s gone from being a realistic business to a retail business to really, today, more of a customer-service-focused business.
ARE YOU SEEING MORE WOMEN IN MANAGEMENT TRAINING?
Definitely. I see a lot more women in the industry overall. Women are a huge part of our customer base. I personally believe more than 90 percent of the decision-makers for the user of our product are female.
WHAT STEREOTYPES HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO BE A SUCCESSFUL WOMAN IN THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY?
You certainly have to know your stuff. You can’t be timid in this business. You have to know what you’re talking about. You have to know your business and you have to stand your ground. I’ve had to go headto- head with developers and contractors and many men in different facets of this business. I’ve had people accuse me of a number of things, such as the only reason I’ve made it as far as I have in this business is because I’m a female. I don’t believe that for one second. The women who are in this business, have become part of this business, have stayed part of this business and are strong in this business aren’t there because they are women; they are there because they know their stuff.
WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE SELF-STORAGE INDUSTRY?
I see continued changes in our industry, mostly from a technology perspective. In the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see some real big technology changes in our operations, in the physical plant, and in the way our customers find us. Certainly, the Internet has become an important aspect of our business, but I foresee in five to 10 years 50 percent or more of our business will come to us from the Internet. The Yellow Pages will cease to exist—or at least cease to be a big factor in our advertising. Most teenagers and college students today don’t even know what the Yellow Pages is or where they would find it. Everything is done on the Internet. Those are our customers of the future. To reach customers, operators and owners are going to have to have a big presence on the Internet.
Ramona Taylor, President,
Space Control Systems Inc.
Ramona Taylor has a degree in computer science. She began her career as a computer programmer before launching her own company in 1984. Headquartered in Nevada City, Calif., Space Control now has 18 employees. The company recently reintroduced a new version of its popular self-storage management software NX.gen, which is Internet-enabled.
COMPUTER SOFTWARE AND SELF-STORAGE ARE BOTH MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRIES. HOW IS IT YOU GOT INVOLVED IN BOTH?
I first started working as a programmer because I enjoyed it. It’s a challenge, like doing a crossword puzzle. I was working for shares of stock for a company that did several different software packages and one of them was for the self-storage industry. So I became the product manager for that package. I would talk to the users about what they wanted in the package and what could enhance it. When the company went bankrupt, I thought the self-storage industry was ripe for a good self-storage software package.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED TO BECOME SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS OWNER?
As a business owner, one of the challenges has been getting and keeping good employees. To that extent, I moved the company two years ago from the San Francisco Bay area to where we are now, Nevada City, because there was too much competition for technical employees. It’s about an hour northeast of San Francisco. It’s been a very successful move. There are talented, good people here and there aren’t a lot of jobs.
WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE FOR SELFSTORAGE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?
As time goes on, people are going to use the Internet more and more for different functions. There are some problems that are going to have to be addressed before we can use the Internet that much, such as the worms and viruses that cause so much lost time. The Internet is becoming so popular with the general public— somebody is going to have to solve these problems. We’re obviously torn on the free-press idea of having the Internet be completely free; I have lost hours of time because some stupid worm got into my computer. You can’t depend on the Internet when those things still happen. We all have software that scans for viruses several times a day, and yet we still get hit now and then.
Randy Tipton, Vice President of Strategic Planning,
Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd.
Randy Tipton began her career in insurance in Syracuse, N.Y., about 30 years ago. Now a certified insurance counselor, she started as a file clerk and learned the industry from the ground up through continuing education, seminars and on-the-job training. Randy worked for several large insurance companies, including Trans-American Insurance and MiniCo Inc., before joining Universal in 1995.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OBSTACLES WOMEN FACE IN THIS INDUSTRY?
In insurance, when I first got into management, there was a point where I was sitting around a boardroom and I was the only female in a pack of 10 or 20 men. I don’t know if I could say there were any obstacles because I made it. Everybody talks about that glass ceiling, but I think I was lucky; and I made it because I worked really hard and was really committed. I never felt there was an obstacle in storage. It is a male-dominated industry, but I’ve always been treated with respect and given the position I deserve and, accordingly, treated others the same way. I’ve never felt being a woman was an obstacle.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS SINCE JOINING UNIVERSAL.
There are many achievements my staff and I have accomplished. The quality of the Universal staff is just phenomenal. The creation of my team gives me such a sense of pride. I find it an achievement that we’ve grown from grassroots of nothing to being a major player in the industry. We’ve had clients who started with us back in 1995 who insure with us every year because they trust us. Our growth has been through referrals and word-of-mouth.
I conduct a seminar at the ISS tradeshows, and a couple hundred people sit in the room to hear about boring insurance. They rely on my expertise and my honesty to guide them on protecting their assets. It used to be there were only five or maybe even 20 people. We have grown to be known as an industry expert. I’m really proud of that.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
One of the exciting things we’re just embarking on is we’re bringing to the storage-insurance marketplace one of the biggest and best—and most financially solvent—insurance companies in the entire insurance industry. American Alternative Insurance Corp. (AAIC) is the new carrier for Universal’s self-storage program. AAIC is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Re-Insurance Corp. and has an A.M. Best Rating of A+XV (Superior).
The insurance industry has just been bombarded with a bunch of serious economic and financial problems, 9/11 being one of them. For years, insurance companies have earned a profit off investment income. The combination of disastrous events and no investment income has put the insurance industry in tremendous turmoil. Rates are going up. Capacity is reduced, and the availability of insurance companies has been severely reduced and sometimes eliminated.
In the midst of all of that, we are moving to an insurance company that is one of the finest in the world. It’s a really big deal, particularly because so many storage owners are doing conduit loans, dealing with large financial institutions, and the requirements on the insurance side are severe. We’ll be one of the few insurance companies that can comply with all of their needs. Bringing AAIC to my clients is something we’re really proud and excited about.