Thoughts From the Road

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These days, even when you travel by plane, it’s often necessary to rent a car to reach your final destination. As I’ve traveled over the past 20 years, I’ve used Hertz vehicles. I’ll admit to some frustration with various fees, add-on taxes and other surcharges; but the ability to get on that yellow bus at the terminal and have a car ready and waiting for me without having to stand in line or complete a bunch of paperwork has been a real time-saver.

Hertz has learned some big-time customer-service lessons over the past year or so. For example, it’s rare when its shuttle drivers aren’t willing to help customers put their luggage on and off the bus. But a recent trip to Memphis, Tenn., really redefined the Hertz experience for me. The bus driver, Marvin Martin, was not only helping everyone with their bags, he did so with a big smile on his face, asking questions like: “How was your trip?” “Is this your first trip to Memphis?” “What brings you to our city?”

Once everyone was safely boarded, he used his deep, radio-announcer voice over the P.A. system to do more than recite the usual script. He spoke directly to customers. For example, he thanked one woman, who was a meeting planner, for bringing her conference to Memphis. His positive attitude was infectious. There wasn’t a single person who left that bus without a smile of his own. At the end of our brief journey, he again assisted with our baggage, gave us a warm good-bye, and started the process all over again with customers returning to the airport.

Since I’m a customer-service nut, I couldn’t resist the urge to go into the rental office and talk to the manager. As soon as I told her I wanted to say something about my bus trip, she said, “Oh, you must have been on the Happy Bus with Marvin.” She said she constantly receives positive feedback about this driver.

The experience made me wonder just how many self-storage employees across the country make their customers feel like they’re on the Happy Bus. I’ve met a few. If you’re lucky, maybe you have a Marvin Martin working for you. For me, he has set the standard against which all future Hertz drivers will be measured.

SelfStorageLegal.com

Attorney Jeff Greenberger, who specializes in self-storage and writes a bi-monthly column for this magazine, has launched a new website, www.selfstoragelegal.com. This is a prime example of a dedicated professional reaching out to assist our industry. I have watched Jeff work with facility owners across the country, helping them solve problems and keep their operations running smoothly.

The next time you’re online, take a few minutes to visit the website. Yes, lawyers are just like you and me and need to sell their services, so you won’t get all your legal questions answered for free. But the site will become one of the first places you look for advice when you encounter a legal situation. Congratulations to Jeff on creating an informative, educational resource for owners and managers.

Eminent Domain Continued

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-to-4 ruling in the matter of Kilo vs. City of New London (Conn.) , which may turn out to be one of the biggest land grabs in the nation’s history. Eminent domain, the power of government to confiscate private property, has traditionally been used for public purposes such as roadways and airports. Now it has emerged as the tactic of choice in communities nationwide. Armed with this divided decision, municipalities and agencies have been taking private property for “more desirable” private development.

Consider the actions taken by the City Council of Oakland, Calif., in July. John Revelli, the owner of a 56-year-old, family-owned tire business, was evicted from his property. The council claimed to be facilitating residential and commercial growth by seizing Revelli’s land and other parcels in the area. Ironically, Sears was among the retailers that benefited—with the intention of devoting part of its space to a tire store.

Congress is assembling various pieces of legislation in an attempt to prevent abuse of eminent domain by state and local governments. In addition, community leaders need to stand up for property rights by passing state laws and tightening the reins on the practice unleashed by the Supreme Court. I hope 2006 will be a year when elected officials remember the importance of property rights to the growth and stability of our democracy. I’ll climb down off my soapbox now, but I can’t remain silent in the face of such a looming crisis for real estate owners.

Opening the Door of Education

I’m very proud to be a part of a new educational venture within the industry, the Self Storage Education Network, which will be formally launched at the ISS Expo in Las Vegas, Feb. 28-March 3. Mel Holsinger, president of Professional Self Storage Management, and I are spearheading the effort to provide facility owners and managers a source for 24/7 education via the Internet. Our faculty will include industry veterans as well as experts from across many disciplines. For a sneak peek, visit www.selfstorageeducation.net.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC, which has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry since 1990. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS expos and association meetings. He is also part of a new education initiative: the Self Storage Education Network. For details on online training options, visit www.selfstorageedcuation.net. Mr. Chiswell can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.

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