Rules and laws provide the framework in which people make decisions and take action. In the context of self-storage, policies and procedures provide the guidelines for how a facility should be managed and certain situations handled. They provide the direction employees need to understand the owner’s business philosophy, be effective in their positions, and ensure consistency in operation.
Self-storage policies and procedures can be general or extremely detailed. The important thing is that they provide sufficient guidance so staff can function with the degree of independence the owner desires. It’s essential for employees to have a clear understanding of the owner’s expectations so they can work to meet them. Guidelines simply provide a framework for their behavior.
Once established, policies and procedures should be put in written form. After all, if you can’t articulate your business philosophy, how can you expect employees to follow it? Keep in mind, however, that while it’s important to put guidelines in writing, it’s more critical to make sure they are followed correctly and consistently. There’s no point in a having a manual that collects dust in the bottom drawer.
What’s the Difference?
A policy is the “what,” and the procedure is the “how.” Not all policies have an accompanying procedure. For example, a policy that states, “All new tenants must supply one form of government-issued identification,” is sufficiently straightforward. A corresponding procedure is probably not necessary. However, consider this policy: “The task of overlocking and removing overlocks when payment is received is to be done daily.” This rule needs a procedure that tells the manager how to identify past-due tenants, what time of day to handle the task, which locks should be used, and so forth.
A facility’s policies must reflect the owner’s goals for the store and what he feels is most important for the business. Some operators want 100 percent occupancy at all times. To achieve this, they might keep rental rates lower than those of their competition. Other operators want to generate the most possible income, regardless of occupancy. To do so, they might regularly increase rents.
What Should They Cover?
Policies and procedures can address large issues of operation, such as the collection of rent, as well as minute details, like a schedule for door maintenance. It all depends on how much guidance the owner wishes to provide. Some of the items that should be covered include:
- What is the mission statement for the store?
- What are the duties and responsibilities of each staff member?
- What is considered appropriate attire for staff?
- What is the confidentiality policy?
- To which target groups is the facility marketed?
- What marketing methods are used and how often?
- What is the manager’s level of responsibility?
- What authority does the manager have to offer discounts and specials?
- What authority does the manager have to commit to marketing-related expenditures?
- What features set the facility apart from competitors and how should they be promoted?
- How should the phone be answered, e.g., is there a “script” that should be used?
- How should prospective tenants be “sold” on the phone and in person?
- What paperwork needs to be completed for each new tenant?
- How are reservations made?
- How are changes to tenant information handled?
- For what reasons can a manager refuse to rent a space to a customer?
- Who decides the rent amounts to be charged?
- How often are rental rates reviewed and by whom?
- Who can change rents for “street” rates and current tenants?
- When should increases occur and in what amounts?
- What is the policy on sharing rate information with competitors?
- Can prospective or existing tenants be offered “free” rent? Under what circumstances?
- At what point, if any, is higher level approval needed?
- What documentation is required?
- What forms of payment are accepted?
- What information is needed to accept a check?
- Are credit-card payments accepted over the phone?
- Is automatic credit-card billing available?
- Are partial payments allowed? Under what circumstances and requirements?
- When are payments credited to accounts?
- How frequently are bank deposits made and by whom?
- What paperwork is required, and where should it be sent?
- Who is responsible if money is missing from a deposit?
Vacates and Refunds
- What is the store’s refund policy and procedure?
- What paperwork is required to vacate a tenant?
- What kind of notice does a tenant need to provide?
- What if the tenant vacates and does not notify the facility?
- What is the state’s lien law for tenants in default?
- What is the store’s policy on late fees?
- When are delinquent tenants’ locks cut, by whom, and with what witnesses and documentation?
- Who makes sure the store has followed all procedures required by state law before auction?
- Is auction the only avenue used to collect delinquent rent, or does the manager have authority to make “deals” with past-due tenants?
Housekeeping and Maintenance
- What are the staff’s responsibilities for general housekeeping?
- When is maintenance and upkeep to be done?
- What kind of work is to be handled by employees and what is contracted to outside vendors? Who makes the decision?
- Are there preferred vendors to be used? Who are they?
- What is the manager’s authority for emergency maintenance?
- What should be done if there is a break-in at the facility?
- What should be done if someone is injured on the property?
- What should be done if there is damage to a building?
- How should police or other officials request information or access?
- How is inclement weather handled?
- How are media contacts dealt with and by whom?
Policies and procedures could cover many other issues. But without written guidelines, there’s no guarantee the facility will be run consistently and in the best interest of its owners. Spending the time and effort to define goals for your business and create policies and procedures to achieve them will result in a better and, hopefully, more profitable operation.
Tom Berlin is vice president of operations for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Pogoda Management Co. (PMC), where he oversees the day-to-day operation of the 32 self-storage facilities the company owns and manages in Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Having joined the company in 1996, Mr. Berlin is also deeply involved in the design and construction of all new Pogoda properties. Prior to his position with PMC, he was a facilities manager for Modern Engineering, an international engineering-services company, where he was responsible for the design and construction of more than 1 million square feet of office and industrial property and the management of more than 1.5 million square feet of space. He is a frequent speaker at self-storage conferences and a regular contributor to industry trade publications. For more information, call 800.326.3199.