New Thoughts for a New Year

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I want to thank Inside Self-Storage for inviting me back as a columnist for 2005. I am honored to be able to share my “Thoughts From the Road” with you. Since beginning this column several years ago, it has been my goal to share ideas, concepts and the occasional off-beat thought with self-storage owners and managers. It is my hope that I might contribute in some small way to making your bottom line healthier in the year ahead and even provide personal motivation. I also appreciate the feedback I get from readers across the country.

Managers Schlepping Carts?

I want to share a family member’s experience to get facility owners to ask themselves: Are my managers assigned the right tasks? Several years ago, my sister-in-law took a position at a Wal-Mart in upstate New York. She quickly established herself within the store and, before long, became manager of several departments. Her areas started achieving record performance, and she earned store and regional recognition.

She admits the pay wasn’t the greatest, but she had a great group of associates and a satisfactory working environment. Then things began to change. Schedules were cut and overtime became a “four letter” word. She found herself trying to do the same amount of work with fewer and fewer employee hours. Then the final straw was added to the camel’s back: The store manager called a meeting to discuss two new “important” tasks in which all department managers would be required to participate.

The first was “line pushing,” which involves using a portable barcode reader to scan a customer’s purchases in his cart while he waits in the checkout line. The customer then simply hands the printout to the cashier. This, of course, was caused by the store’s refusal to hire more help. The second change was managers would be called on a newly distributed walkie-talkie system to go outside and gather carts from the parking lot. Remember, this was in upstate New York in February!

The message from Wal-Mart’s senior management was this was the level of importance at which they deemed their department heads. The sole focus was on the artificial bottom-line impact of a smaller payroll. Any thoughts of customer service and employee morale never seemed to enter the “bean counter” decision-making process.

I see self-storage owners across the country doing the very same thing with their most valuable resource: their employees. With a lack of a minimum-wage staff to handle facilities’ routine maintenance, I see managers devoting a significant part of their time to repairs and upkeep. Sure, everyone needs to pick up trash blowing around the site, but I would much rather have my senior manager making sales calls or dealing with delinquent tenants than running a leaf blower.

Take an objective look at your management operations and employee responsibilities. Could the addition of a part-time maintenance person improve morale and the bottom-line performance of your store? I believe the answer is “yes.”

Journey to Relaxation

I’ll admit, years ago, I was an Atari “Pong” player, a traveler in the game “Myst” and even a “Doom” warrior. Those of us who have grown up with computer games have watched as they moved from very basic motion to full 3D animation. These days, the most popular titles seem to be oriented to some type of violence, unless you’re a Sims Family addict.

I was recently introduced to a computer game that is a radical departure from anything I have seen in the past. My sister, Judy, has a neuro-biofeedback medical practice in our hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. Working with state-of-the-art software and hardware, she has achieved miraculous results in getting the brain to think in new patterns. She has even trained a number of professional golfers to achieve peak performance using her techniques.

Judy introduced me to “The Journey to Wild Divine.” Using a basic biofeedback system that attaches directly to your computer, the game measures your SCL (skin conductance level) and heart rate. Chapters in the journey introduce you to a number of relaxation “events.” By controlling your breathing and simply relaxing, you accomplish various tasks.

At first, I had a great deal of difficulty because I was trying to force things. As I learned to simply let go and concentrate on calming my thoughts, the tasks got easier. I am amazed by the activities the game’s programmers built into this innovative platform. It may not be for everyone, but if you are genuinely interested in finding a way to be more relaxed, this game may be worth the trip. You can visit the website at www.wilddivine.com.

The Year of the Handshake

I would like to make 2005 the “Year of the Handshake” for the entire self-storage industry. No, I wasn’t able to get some type of proclamation or official government decree. But I know from my travels across the country and discussions with countless managers that we are not shaking people’s hands, even though greeting every prospect and customer with a sincere handshake as they enter and leave our offices will produce improved results, increased retention and higher closing ratios.

How can I make such a claim? While there are plenty of references and recommendations related to the etiquette of shaking hands, there is very little scientific research. Probably the most definitive study was led in 2001 by William Chaplin, a University of Alabama associate professor of psychology. He was assisted in research and authorship by Jeffrey Phillips, Jonathan Brown, Nancy Clanton and Jennifer Stein.

The study indicates that people with firm handshakes are generally more extroverted than are those with limp ones. Firm handshakes also make a better first impression. And it’s not just a guy thing. “We found men had firmer handshakes than women, on average, but we also found women who had firm handshakes tended to be evaluated as positively as men,” said Chaplin. “We thought this finding was interesting because often when women have characteristics that are more similar to men, they tend to elicit a somewhat more negative evaluation, simply because it’s counter to the usual stereotypes.”

Unless you regularly attend church services, there are very few social or business situations that provide opportunity to extend this most personal of gestures. You feel special when you walk into an office or store and the person you are about to talk to gets up out of his chair and extends his hand in greeting. Making personal contact in this manner adds significantly to the salutation, “How can I help you today?” It becomes a bridge, a personal link that subconsciously puts a customer at ease and gives him a sense that the person he just met really wants to help him.

Just like monitoring and tracking phone calls, appointments and leases, consider examining your handshake practices. See what a difference it makes. You may be pleasantly surprised that an activity that costs you nothing can produce such positive results. I look forward to shaking many hands at the ISS Vegas Expo in February.

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 being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS Expos and various national and state association meetings. He introduced LockCheck, an inventory data-collection system, to the self-storage industry. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com or www.lockcheck.com.

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