New York-based developer and manager Storage Deluxe burst onto the Eastern self-storage scene in 1998, quickly establishing itself as a regional leader. Today, the company boasts 21 locations in metro New York, Connecticut and suburban Philadelphia, and plans several more acquisitions this year. With more than a dozen sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, it has become an expert in urban self-storage.
Catering to customers in densely populated, low-income areas presents special challenges. For example, tenants may visit a facility more frequently, pay in cash, and struggle with housing or transportation problems. The experience has led Storage Deluxe to support urban communities in ways that encourage revitalization, hire locally for each facility, and develop strong, personal relationships with tenants. Inside Self-Storage spoke with Chief Operating Officer Nick Coslov about the company’s role as a business leader and being the first to build in areas long abandoned by development.
Why is Storage Deluxe committed to revitalizing
New York boroughs?
First, it’s our way of giving back. Local communities support us with employees and loyal customers, and more than 60 percent of our business comes from referrals. Second, we want to create lifetime value for our customer base. We’re not interested in doing anything to get a quick sale. That’s part of the reason we launched our “Money Back Guarantee” campaign, which we believe to be a first in the industry.
How does the arrival of a Storage Deluxe facility
impact a depressed community?
Many of our facilities are in urban communities where old industries have faded and revitalization efforts are a priority for local government. Part of the initiative involves encouraging new business to come into the neighborhoods. We are proud to be among the first big companies in many areas.
Our 135th Street (Bronx) location is a perfect example. We take old buildings or empty space and turn it into something aesthetic. We also provide a service many people need. On the opening day of a new location, such as the recent one at Wyckoff Avenue in Queens, we always have a rush of new customers who have heard about us and been waiting for us to open. It creates a sense of hope: One company has made the investment and more may follow.
New York’s boroughs encompass a broad spectrum of cultures and languages. How do managers rise to the challenge of meeting customers’ varying needs?
While every area is different and comes with its own rich cultural identity, our customer-service pledge is designed to cater to customers everywhere. New York’s population is diverse, and we embrace that diversity fully. As our mission statement says:
“We celebrate the diversity, ideas and cultures of both our employees and the communities we serve. We respect and enrich the neighborhoods in which we do business. We feel a sense of responsibility to lead the self-storage industry by setting new standards in creativity, innovation and property development.”
Why is it important to hire from the community, and how do you seek out new employees?
We post ads locally and in the major papers, and then carefully screen respondents. We have raised the bar in terms of self-storage customer service. We pay above industry-average salaries and have very low turnover. What we offer is a career rather than a job. Our staff members are from the communities they serve, and it’s easy for them to build relationships with tenants. They’re already familiar with the people and cultures of the neighborhoods. They know many customers on a first-name basis.
Describe your approach to staff training.
Our training program is called “Storage Deluxe University,” with mandatory training modules on everything from our customer-service policy, to building a relationship with the customer and how to consistently maintain a standard of excellence. We knew we wanted to be significantly better than our competition. To achieve that goal, we needed to elevate the standard of not only our buildings and operations, but our customer service.
We looked at businesses we all know and recognize for excellent customer service—Nordstrom, Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, etc.—and borrowed from their business culture. By providing regular refreshers and training new staff in the Storage Deluxe philosophy right from the start, we avoid sluggish employees.
How did Storage Deluxe become a sponsor of Tour de Bronx, a bike ride advocating alternative forms of transportation?
We were approached to become a sponsor by the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. We made a significant financial investment toward the event, which was held in October 2004, and gave out T-shirts. Some of our staff members took part in the bike ride. A lot of people who live and work in the Bronx commute into Manhattan. It was great for the community to see Storage Deluxe support an event that encouraged the reduction of pollution and congestion in their neighborhoods.
What community events are you participating in this year?
Storage Deluxe just launched Money Management Days, a series of financial-empowerment seminars for small businesses and consumers. We came up with the idea because a large number of our customers don’t have credit cards and, in some cases, bank accounts. Many people have a family history of bad credit and debt. We hope to put an end to that cycle by providing the education on money management and debt counseling our communities need.
We partnered with global credit-card companies and a number of local people in the financial sector. The sessions for consumers focused on how to get out of debt, fix bad credit and get a credit card. Classes for small businesses addressed starting a new enterprise, how to get a loan and how to avoid bankruptcy. The events were held at our facilities throughout May and June.
Why is it important for self-storage professionals
to support their communities?
Self-storage is a growing industry with tremendous potential. The onus is on today’s storage businesses to establish a positive industry image. Whole industries can get bad reputations they have to spend all their energy fighting against. Look at the reputation car dealers, mechanics and real estate brokers have. We have a responsibility to be honorable community citizens if we want to avoid a similar fate.
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