Online Education Sweeps Storage

Jim Chiswell Comments
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Have you ever seen pictures of an avalanche? As the snow and rock start to fall, they gain not only momentum and velocity, but also mass. The result is anyone and anything below is swept up in the crescendo.

I’m convinced there is a quiet education avalanche sweeping the business community—and specifically the self-storage industry. I’m talking about online owner and manager education.

Since the inception of the self-storage industry, we’ve mostly relied on magazines and national or state gatherings to share information. Now we have the ability to deliver expert programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Several new ventures debuted in the last year to spark the self-storage education avalanche.

First was the start-up of the Self Storage Education Network (SSEN); second was the initiation of Internet educational programs by Inside Self-Storage (ISS) via the Internet.

Teri Lanza, ISS business development manager, says the ISS website offers a wide variety of e-books—compilations of articles on select topics—and audiocasts, which are audio presentations with accompanying handouts. ISS has also broken ground with a live webinar series featuring self-storage attorney Jeffrey Greenberger and other experts. Lanza hosts the webinars and also writes an informative industry blog on the ISS website.

“The self-storage community is eager for new vehicles of education, though I find there is a difference between operators’ curiosity and their willingness to embrace the innovation,” Lanza says. “The yearning is there, but enthusiasm may take a while to build. Technology plays a key role in the delivery of today’s learning tools, so its use and acceptance is critical.

“Not everyone wants to spend their time—and money—online. However our user base covers a wide spectrum. On one end are the technophobes, on the other are the tech-addicts. Somewhere in between is your average self-storage owner or manager who is ready to try new things.”

Webinars 

Greenberger, SSEN instructor and prominent speaker at ISS Expos and state association meetings, was the first person to conduct live monthly webinars for the industry, in cooperation with ISS and the Illinois Self Storage Association. The webinars have been provided free to anyone willing to devote an hour of their time to the topic presented.

“Operators and managers are often afraid to admit they don’t understand issues such as what to do when a tenant dies or files for bankruptcy,” says Greenberger, reflecting on feedback from his “Legal Learning” webinar series with ISS. “But when operators read that the topic will be addressed online, and they can learn without closing up the shop and sending people to a meeting on the other side of the state, they’re interested in educating their staff on the subject." The idea of inexpensive education with little downtime is a new and exciting option for operators, he adds.

Online Benefits

SSEN, launched in March 2006, provides focused online sessions that appeal to owners, managers and those considering the industry for the first time. Drawing on the experience of leading experts, SSEN offers “pay per view” classes from 15 to 60 minutes with costs starting as low as $10.

Mel Holsinger, president and SSEN cofounder, saw the need and opportunity from personal experience. “We knew a void has existed in owner and manager education forever,” he says. “Managing and personally training hundreds of people at self-storage facilities across the Southwest, I know firsthand the frustration of trying to deliver a single, consistent, training message to all of my team members.

“It was impossible for me to bring them all to a single location and we didn’t have the budgets to have everyone attend state or national conferences. The solution was to bring the experts directly to the participants via the Internet on office or home computers.”

Not only have time and money constraints been a hurdle for operators, often information needed to help motivate a new employee or deal with a pressing issue would be months away on the calendar. Having quality resources available when a need is recognized is a transformational opportunity for owners and managers.

“The amazing thing to me about online education is watching the little light bulb go on over people’s heads when they realize they can update their training almost on demand,” Greenberger says. “People often hesitate to call in an expert when they’re in uncertain waters because they fear the cost. However, when you explain to them that others have already had this problem, and that for little or no fee, they can download a class or seminar that addresses the issue, it’s like taking the weight of the world off their shoulders.”

The learning alternatives are providing the self-storage industry worldwide with a new freedom. “What I enjoy about the new online tools is the freedom they afford,” Lanza says. “You can be anywhere in the world and still interrelate with co-workers as if they were in the next room. You can also set the pace for your learning. For example, if you download a pre-recorded webinar, you have the option to stop when you need to, review a section, or skip over something you already know. It’s a phenomenal way to finesse your professional development.”

Holsinger, who runs a third-party management company, knows that owners are always looking at the bottom line. “I have encouraged all my owners to allocate a budget line amount to manager training. To have the best employees possible, we need to provide them with perspectives and information from a variety of sources. I know that online education will become an affordable solution for most progressive and forward thinking owners in the years ahead,” he says.

Will online education actually transcend face-to-face meetings? Lanza, Greenberger and Holsinger all agree that expos and conferences play a critical role in the future of the selfstorage industry no matter how the online education offerings grow.

“Ours is a very social community, which is what I love about it,” Lanza says. “Self-storage professionals thrive on personal interaction and camaraderie. Online options are emerging as a fantastic complement to tradeshow education—and they may even serve as the ultimate alternative for those who don’t have the budget for travel. But I don’t believe live seminars will ever be completely eclipsed. Just as society is attached to its print newspapers and magazines, students of all fields will always seek out public forums.”

Jeff Greenberger explains, “This concept of online learning will never replace the interaction and education from a state association or national tradeshow, nor does it try to replace it, but for one specific topic at a time, on an as-needed basis, it makes the industry a whole lot smarter.”

Holsinger also agreed: “While many managers will never be able to attend a big national meeting, there are plenty of well-done sessions being conducted by state associations, like my own Arizona Self-storage Association. I think it’s critical owners get together whenever possible to network and interact with each other. I’ve never attended a conference where I don’t come back with new ideas to help our operations. However for owners and managers who can’t get there, online education is the next best thing to being there.”

Did I just hear a faint rumbling? 

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He has served for a number of years as a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board. He is a co-founder of the new Self Storage Education Network, which provides Internet-based manager and owner education. For more information, call 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com

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