Like a grizzled cowboy unimpressed with greenhorn notions, Executive Self Storage Associates (ESSA) has blazed a trail in management and consulting services, driven by plain old common sense and know-how. President Joe Niemczyk came to the industry 22 years ago with a fresh eye for professionally marketing self-storage. Since ESSA’s incorporation in 1987, details have evolved, but the company philosophy hasn’t changed—and why should it? Experience has proven Niemczyk right: Self-storage handled as a retail product, rather than a real estate investment, yields higher profits.
“We tend to market and advertise the product like a candy bar— each property, every size and every location, is a different product and has to be marketed to a different user,” Niemczyk explains. “We take a close look and really identify our markets carefully.”
The retail approach extends to training as well. ESSA extensively trains managers to serve the self-storage “customer” rather than “tenant.” Rigorous follow-up completes the golden triad of ESSA’s methodology. Niemczyk enlists the services of mystery callers and shoppers on a consistent basis to ensure staff feedback and re-evaluation.
“This is where many other operators fall down on the job,” he says. “Our priority is to manage, train and continually monitor our people so they not only have the tools but the ability to be true professionals at their craft. People will back pedal to old habits if they don’t get any prompting or feedback. Follow-up takes a lot of work, but it certainly makes a difference on the bottom line, without question.”
Can You Hear Me Now?
ESSA begins by streamlining operations and harnessing managementcontrol reporting for smart market decision-making. The company’s unconventional next step, however, isn’t about increasing the number of phone calls to a facility. It’s focused on training on-site personnel to cope with the already existing call base, because, as Bill Clinton might say, “It’s the closing, stupid.”
Using specific training methods, ESSA teaches managers to increase the closing ratio from the industry standard of 28 percent to a far more profitable 40 percent to 60 percent. Many operators are simply unaware of the importance of closing a deal when a prospect calls, according to Niemczyk. “I have people come to me all the time and say, ‘I’m not renting enough units. How much advertising do I have to do?’ I tell them, ‘If your store is getting 100 phone calls a month, you don’t need to spend money on advertising, because the problem lies elsewhere.’ My job is not only to make the owners money, but to tell them where they can save.”
Once telephone training has been completed, ESSA jumps that next hurdle: getting the phone to jingle jangle jingle faster than a pair of rodeo spurs. It’s an assignment that belongs to Niemczyk and his district managers—not the facility managers, who have enough on their plates.
“Their job is to handle the store and the phone call properly, and to take care of customers,” Niemczyk explains. “I will get the phone to ring. Then I can determine whether or not they are doing their job by seeing how many of those calls can be converted into a sale.”
While Niemczyk acknowledges Yellow Pages as the industry’s top advertising tool, he does so grudgingly. “If that’s the only advertising you do, it has to be No. 1,” he says. “A lot of small operators think you throw your ad in the Yellow Pages and that’s all you have to do. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. You have to know your market and know your competitors.”
ESSA typically incorporates fliers and inserts in its advertising plan, as determined by individual location. Niemczyk also focuses on driveby visibility and the value of frequently changing a site’s look so the public doesn’t stop seeing it. Another way ESSA’s team reaches current and prospective customers is by enriching the on-site impression. “We look at all five senses,” Niemczyk says. “What do the offices smell like? What do people touch and what do they have to taste while they are there? Do they hear music? The whole thing is an atmosphere we have staged for that customer to experience when he comes in.”
ESSA began as a result of intense research in the industry indicating a high demand for professional management and consulting services for independent owners of self-storage. About 40,000 facilities nationwide were researched, revealing only 6,000 were managed by professional organizations. Today, ESSA is headquartered in Denver with regional offices in Southern California and Florida. The company oversees operations for 47 facilities in Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington. Niemczyk, former president of National Self Storage in the early ’80s, recently bought out ESSA’s other partners to become sole principal.
“In this industry, reputation is everything. I have many clients who have been with me 10 to 15 years, and they are with me because they are confident everything is going to be accounted for and I care about their business,” Niemczyk says of his personal commitment. “They know I will do anything that is ethical, moral and legal to win on their behalf.”
Niemczyk describes ESSA’s fee structure as one of the most attractive in the industry. Clients are charged a flat fee of $1,500 a month in addition to a 3 percent to 5 percent charge depending on location. An initial set-up fee of $3,500 plus expenses is also assessed, which includes hiring of managers, and implementation of bookkeeping, computer and office organization. A one-year contract is required, and other costs such as mystery shopping also may be charged to the store.
ESSA management services include market research, accounting and financial responsibilities, marketing and advertising, and employee supervision and training. For more information, call 303.703.1290; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.executiveselfstorage.com.