When I first entered the self-storage business more than 20 years ago, you couldn’t find a facility that didn’t retain the services of a resident-management couple. The two were usually retired, and their small salary was a supplemental to a retirement income. The wife stayed in the office and took care of the leasing and paperwork, and the husband did all the outside maintenance, cleaning and yard work. They were happy to have a residence that cost them nothing or close to it. The fundamental security component was a tall fence surrounding the property with access-controlled gates or, at the very least, a gate that locked at night.
Boy, have times changed!
As I survey the current self-storage landscape, we see fewer facilities with resident managers. Are they a thing of the past? Well, maybe. Times certainly have changed, and there may not be a need for a resident manager any longer. Many issues need to be considered before deciding whether to employ on-site management.
This is the bottom line consideration when developing a self-storage project. Building an apartment costs approximately $75 to $100 per square foot. If you eliminate the need for a residence, you could realize construction savings of up to $100,000. Plus, insurance costs can be lowered along with the cost of utilities of someone living on the property.
The security industry has come a long way two decades. I’m amazed at the innovations I see at every convention. The introduction of digital cameras, DVRs, door alarms and controlled-gate access has heightened the impression of security to the customer. One gate system incorporates an after-hours keypad button connecting patrons to the on-call manager or answering service. The perception that a couple is onsite watching the tenant’s possessions is no longer required. We have entered a new era where people are accustomed to seeing and living with technology that provides safety and security.
On-Site Management: Pros and Cons
I employ management couples as well as individual managers working as a team. Both scenarios have pros and cons. However, I will admit it’s getting harder to find qualified management couples who wish to work together and live onsite. Couples who work together also present unique problems. They will need the same day off, so a relief manager must be employed. Couples will vacation together. If one is hospitalized, both are understandably absent. And unfortunately, embezzlement becomes an easier proposition when a couple lives onsite.
On the “pro” side, the presence of resident managers can become a persuasive seller because clients feel their stuff is being personally watched. Also, couples usually have learned to work and live together, hence they have fewer disagreements with the owner or management company. Most of our management couples are loyal and more concerned about the welfare of the business because they live onsite.
Hiring individuals also has its advantages and drawbacks. By omitting the cost of apartment construction, you can pay an off-site manager a higher salary. This may attract an applicant with a little more experience and motivation. Schedules become more flexible by hiring separate managers who’ll live offsite. Relief managers usually aren’t a necessity and vacations can be scheduled separately without interfering with operations. Accountability may be augmented with two individuals who aren’t married or living together.
On the downside, compatibility may be difficult. I’ve experienced more problems with individual managers getting along—finding that great personality fit is no easy task. At the start, you must determine how commissions and duties are divided so no one feels mistreated. My experience has been individual managers move freely from one company to another since they aren’t losing their home when they relocate.
Are resident managers a thing of the past? The industry seems to be evolving in that direction. However, enough facilities with apartments have been built over the years to keep management couples living onsite for years to come.
In the end, there is one undeniable truth. The best built facility, with or without an apartment, doesn’t lease itself. The quality of the manager is what makes the difference!
Ann Parham is the president and founder of Joshua Management Corporation, a member of the Parham Group, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. She began her career in self-storage with Mike Parham more than two decades ago as co-owner of NDS Construction. Joshua Management provides comprehensive customer service to the self-storage industry offering site management, employee training, financial reports, accounting, feasibility studies, brokerage and marketing. For more information, call 210.477.1222; visit www.joshuamgmt.com.