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Management Is Key to Marketing

Fred Gleeck Comments

Though the paradigm is changing, most self-storage management teams are hired from other professions, which means they may not possess the marketing experience required to run a successful operation. Many facility owners mistakenly believe the main qualification of a good manager is experience; but a lot of experience can also mean a lot of ingrained bad habits.

Every facility needs managers with a high “Trip to Europe Factor”—that is, the owner should be able to take off to Europe for 10 days and not worry about a thing. Employees must be trustworthy and capable of handling any situation. When choosing staff, consider whether candidates possess the following qualities:

  • Sales/Retail Orientation—A facility manager should have sales training and inclination. This trait is second only to “honest” in the list of important attributes.
  • Customer-Service Orientation—A manager should be highly customer-oriented, as good service will win more repeat and referral business.
  • Open-Mindedness—Some employees are not willing to learn anything new. They do exactly what they have always done and no more. A good manager should be willing to try new things in set time frames.

While each of these characteristics is critical, equally important is how you hire, train and retain employees. You need to hire right and compensate adequately for the demands of the position.

Hiring Right

Many owners struggle with the task of hiring. To hire right, you need to be involved in the process from the beginning to the final decision. First, it’s important to run an ad that defines the position in detail. This will avoid misunderstandings that the job is “easy” and emphasize the need for sales and customer-service skills.

Once qualified resumes are isolated, conduct phone interviews as a “first screening.” Self-storage depends largely on phone skills, and this will help weed out applicants who perform poorly in this area. Finally, bring in remaining candidates for a one-on-one interview. From the personal interviews, narrow the hiring pool to about five candidates.

At this point, the professional services of a company like Kolbe Corp., which has developed proven methods for measuring a person’s problem-solving techniques, can be helpful. Kolbe can help you create the profile of an “ideal” manager. Then candidates can take an online test at that will demonstrate how close each comes to the model. Before getting the results, it’s a good exercise to rank the candidates based on your instincts. You may be surprised at the accuracy of your gut feelings.

You can also consider using a firm that specializes in placing self-storage managers. If you go this route, however, choose a company that stands behind its choices. A reputable agency should be willing to guarantee its placement for at least a year.

The Issue of Compensation

A self-storage manager should be treated as a “partner” in your business, and your system of compensation should be sufficient to create the results you desire. You can’t expect to pay minimum wages and get maximum performance!

The best compensation system is one that puts the owner and manager on the same team. It might include a fair base salary with potential for bonuses. For example, each employee has a minimum sales goal for the month, which earns his base pay. However, he can also earn a percentage of all sales above his goal. This approach creates motivation to exceed the minimum requirement.

Self-storage owners want more money in the bank, and managers should be rewarded for helping them achieve greater profits. Remember, however, that not all managers are inspired by the same things. Offering additional income is a great incentive, but some employees might prefer more vacation time or a paid trip to an industry conference. If you don’t know what motivates your employees, find out. It’s critical to developing your compensation package.

Whatever system of recompense you use, discuss it with your managers and be clear about how it works. Put everything in writing to ensure there’s no confusion regarding the results you desire and consequences for nonperformance.

If you’re just getting started in the storage industry and aren’t sure what to pay your staff, consider asking other operators what they pay their managers. Most will be happy to give you advice, providing you aren’t a direct competitor or trying to steal their employees. Once you determine a “going rate,” offer higher-than-average salaries to attract the best possible candidates. If you plan to offer bonuses based on a percentage of sales, offer a minimum guarantee for the first six to nine months, as business at a new facility may be slow to start.

Every facility will be different depending on a variety of factors, and you’ll need to customize your hiring and compensation strategy to your unique location. But be prepared to pay for results. It’s always worth it!

Fred Gleeck is a consultant who helps self-storage owners and operators during all phases of the business, from the feasibility study to the creation of an ongoing marketing plan. He is also an expert in the field of information and seminar marketing, the author of more than 10 books, an accomplished business coach, and the producer of self-storage training videos. To receive his regular insights via e-mail, send a blank message to For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail; visit

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