Unlike other commercial real estate, self-storage does not require long leases from tenants and, therefore, experiences more turnover. Because of the nature of the business, storage operators and their employees need to excel in the areas of sales and customer service. This involves training and ongoing maintenance of learned practices.
More often than not, the training of new employees in self-storage is left to the person currently running the property, whether it’s the owner, a management company, a manager or a person on the way out. For good or bad, the new staff learns that person’s biases and behavior. Furthermore, training often lacks instruction in sales and service, leaving new team members positioned for failure.
To ensure desired sales results at your facility, analyze your training program. Who handles your training? Have you set realistic goals and objectives for employees? How is performance evaluated and reinforced?
It Begins With a Good Hire
As a general rule, I suggest hiring people who are friendly and personable. These valuable characteristics cannot be taught, and usually the employee can learn the rest. But the position of self-storage manager demands a variety of skills and personality traits, so be diligent in your hiring process. Check references, and conduct background and credit checks as well as drug testing. Your new hire should be:
In the end, you’ll be left with a cream-of-the-crop employee who is completely trainable as well as capable of handling sales and customer-service tasks.
The Training Game
Whoever conducts training for your storage operation should have a written guide to follow and a list of material to cover. Just remember you can’t teach all dogs all tricks.
Training that produces substantial sales results begins by changing behavior and, ultimately, the employee’s attitudes. Unfortunately, most trainers get this backward, attempting to build awareness first and expecting the desired behavior to follow naturally. Such is rarely the case.
Other training programs commit errors on the opposite side of the equation, presuming a change in attitude toward sales will come by simply giving employees a crash course in accounting. But understanding the numbers is only a small portion of the job’s requirements, and it has very little effect on the bottom line when compared to skills. A solid training program must encompass a facility’s entire operating system and all aspects of an employee’s position, not just a single component or task.
Too often, employee training is reactive rather than proactive, focusing on the symptoms of failure rather than the root cause and how to prevent it in the future. If a property is not performing to par, owners rarely investigate before terminating one employee and hiring another. The result? He hires another person with the same weaknesses, i.e., a lack of skills or knowledge. An employee can be a good caretaker and still not posses the sales savvy to increase the facility’s profitability.
Evaluation and Behavior Maintenance
So how does an owner or supervisor get to the heart of the problem? By conducting periodic staff evaluations and reviewing the people, procedures and training that ensure the property’s success. If sales deficiencies are identified, he develops strategies that will address and resolve them.
The best way to improve or maintain learned behavior is to check employees’ skill level on an ongoing basis. One of the most common ways to do this is through mystery shopping, an anonymous means of evaluating how well and consistently personnel follow standards, policies and procedures.
A mystery-shopping service provides self-storage owners with unbiased information on how well their employees handle sales presentations to prospective customers, whether on the phone or in person. Its purpose is to help improve customer service and increase sales. It relieves owners from having to personally critique staff and provides an objective tool for gauging performance, such as an evaluation form with predetermined scoring methods.
Mystery shopping evaluates and monitors sales while providing constructive feedback. A good service provider should be able to tell an owner how well each employee scored as well as provide suggestions on how staff can improve the sales presentation. The shopping reports can be used as a powerful tool to measure current and ongoing performance. When used as the basis for training sessions, they help create accountability within the organization.
If you want (or desperately need) your property to perform better, your employees must improve their sales skills. At the end of the day, what you evaluate is what they will strive to accomplish. What gets measured gets done.
Carol Krendl, owner of SkilCheck Services, specializes in consulting, training, management and mystery shopping. She has been involved with self-storage since 1984, having participated in the management and development of more than 130 properties nationwide and internationally. In addition to writing many industry manuals and articles, she served on Self Storage Association’s national board of directors for nine years and is the vice president of the California Self Storage Association. For more information, call 209.333.4555; visit www.skilcheck.com.