Training Now and Ever After

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No matter how many years of experience you have in a business, in whatever capacity, the learning process never really ends. As a professional, you should constantly seek to learn new things and keep current on industry trends and developments. Where do you find educational resources for you and your staff? Let’s look at some popular choices that will help you do a better job and increase your bottom line.

On-the-Job Training

Most self-storage managers get their start in the industry by being hired by an owner or management company. Sometimes the parent company has a corporate trainer or a staff person designated to handle training, usually on site. For the most part, a manager’s general duties can be taught in a couple of days, with some follow-up teaching after he has gotten his feet wet.

A typical training session covers the specifics of how the office is run, how to operate the computer system, and how to properly take payments, move customers in and out, collect delinquent rents, etc. Some companies provide a training manual. At the very least, smart owners provide a handbook of policies and procedures to which employees can refer when questions arise.

After the book learning and basic instruction, new employees interact with actual customers under supervision, performing regular job duties such as renting a unit or collecting a payment. After successfully handling several tenants and feeling more comfortable about running the office, they get feedback on their performance. The trainer attempts to address as many potential scenarios as possible before “pushing them out of the nest.” Within a couple days, new hires are left on their own.

In some cases, employees are fortunate enough to work for a company that provides regular training sessions and seminars. This allows them to join other team members in learning new procedures or brushing up on previously learned skills.

Unfortunately, there are many instances in which facility managers receive no training at all. This is typically the case when an entrepreneur decides he wants to get into the storage business without researching the operations side. This is like the blind leading the blind. No one is born into this job. Without proper training, mistakes will be made.

Publications

Some companies subscribe to industry publications such as Inside Self-Storage (ISS) or Mini-Storage Messenger. You can learn lots of new things every month and keep current on industry events and trends by reading as many publications as possible. Some companies even distribute their own newsletters, which contain inside news and highlight a different topic each week, month, quarter, etc. The focus might be telephone sales, landscaping tips, handling bankrupt customers or any number of relevant issues.

Trade Associations

This industry has a national Self Storage Association (SSA) as well as many individual state associations. These organizations can be useful, particularly when it comes to keeping current on legislation.

Associations can be great sources of training and education materials. Many also provide standardized rental agreements, forms and policies/procedures manuals in an effort to establish uniform industry principles. When it comes to legal issues, homogeny can be a real benefit. Consider joining your state association or the SSA and adopting proven standards of training and operation.

Tradeshows and Conventions

The SSA holds national conventions and tradeshows as well as regional meetings. Most state associations also host seminars and tradeshows, some for the entire state and others for specific areas. ISS hosts two annual expos as well, one in Las Vegas each February, and a fall event that generally takes place in the Southeast.

Tradeshows provide an easy way to gather information on facility operation, legal issues, marketing, sales, development, construction, financing, etc. They’re also a great place to update your skills. Both ISS and the SSA offer a Managers’ Workshop at their conventions. This day-long event focuses specifically on the needs and abilities of self-storage staff.

The good thing about industry events is you get a chance to interact with other storage professionals outside an office setting. The only potential drawback is the cost. The price of registration, travel, lodging, etc., can be prohibitive. Total costs can be as little as $200 per employee or as much as several thousand dollars. There’s also the issue of hiring relief staff for the office while others are attending the show.

Vendors

Some suppliers provide general industry information in the form of free seminars, brochures, CDs and online resources. Others provide product-specific training for their own offerings. Take advantage of the expertise your vendors offer, especially when they introduce a new product or service or upgrade an existing one. In most cases, the suppliers with whom you do business are very knowledgeable about self-storage and are happy to share their insights and experience with customers.

Other Industries or Educational Institutions

While a trip to a local McDonald’s may not seem like an educational tool, you can learn a lot by visiting other retail businesses. For example, watch how they handle the mechanics of their jobs, customers, marketing and more. You should copy the tactics of successful companies and learn from their accomplishments.

What about visiting a local university and getting to know some of the business professors? A few years ago, I befriended the head of a local community college and asked him if any of the business classes would be interested in participating in a real-life project. We ultimately devised a plan for students to conduct an evaluation of several self-storage sites, their competition and the overall market.

The class came up with a plan to increase occupancy by applying several different theories. Some worked, some didn’t, but the overall experience was well worth the effort for the students and facility managers. The information gained from that study has been successfully used many times over. I encourage you to contact local colleges and take some classes that may not only be interesting, but may help you understand the business you’re running.

The Internet and Web-Based Education

Currently, the self-storage industry doesn’t offer a lot by way of online education, but this is changing. A new Internet-based education venture will be unveiled at the ISS Expo in Las Vegas, Feb. 28 to March 3. Specifics are not yet available to the public, but announcements regarding this educational forum will be released soon.

The bottom line is you should seek out educational opportunities whenever possible. Continue to improve your skills and knowledge of the self-storage business. You will be rewarded for your efforts in the improved performance of your properties.

Mel Holsinger is the owner and a managing member of Tucson, Ariz.-based Professional Self Storage Management LLC, which specializes in facility management and operations in Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. For more information, call 520.320.9135; e-mail mel@proselfstorage.com; visit www.proselfstorage.com.

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