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Jim Chiswell Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

Second chances. Do-overs. Mulligans. Benefits of the doubt.

These are all hallmarks of businesses and individuals that recognize that people sometimes make mistakes. however, at what point should compassion and understanding stop? You don’t want your business to be taken advantage of or ripped off.

This debate came to mind during a recent conversation with a client. A tenant kept hopping the fence to get into his unit early, and the manager allotted the person second and third chances, to avoid the risk of the facility losing his business. Then it was discovered the tenant was responsible for other problems too.

I’ve always been a second-chance kind of guy, willing to acknowledge my own mistakes over the years and prepared to extend a helping hand to someone needing a fresh start. however, this is a perfect lesson in establishing the criterion of zero tolerance for specific rules and regulations in your operations.

If you don’t allow smoking in your facility, how many times do you warn a customer who is constantly breaking this rule? Or tailgating into the property? Or playing loud music in the unit? Or driving too fast within the complex? Or drinking alcohol on the property?

As a management employee, you have a responsibility to your owner as well as your customers to enforce business rules. If you’re an owner, you need to stand behind your team members when they do confront someone and it blows back at you. While the concept of zero tolerance may seem unduly harsh to some, I feel a line must be drawn in the sand regarding certain operational issues. Those who cross it must suffer the consequences.

I see and hear all too many cases where managers spend 80 percent of their time dealing with 5 percent of their customers. Nothing is more empowering than telling habitual troublemakers they are fired as customers. I urge you to seriously review your rules and policies to determine what falls on your own zero-tolerance list.

Telephone Role Playing

For years, owners have relied on mystery-shopping calls to learn how effective their employees are on the telephone. Unfortunately, screening results are often tools to punish staff members instead of how they should be used—for manager training and even as “bonus” research to reward top performance.

At least one company has implemented a new way to enhance manager-telephone training: role-playing sessions. Tron Jordheim and the team at Phone Smart invite self-storage managers to call the company’s trainers and practice their techniques and pitches. Unlike the traditional mystery-shopping call, the manager gets immediate feedback along with tips and suggestions based upon over 350,000 sales leads handled by the call-center company since its inception. To learn more, e-mail

Getting Off the Grid

One of the most talked-about products at the recent Consumer electronics Show was the Jadoo Power’s standalone, portable fuel cell, something you may consider adding to your site. defines the technology as a device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water and heat as its byproduct. The conversion of fuel to energy occurs via an electrochemical process, not combustion, so the process is clean and two to three times more efficient than fuel burning.

The newest offering from Jadoo Power is the XRT, weighing about 50 pounds. This system will provide 100 watts of continuous power on one cylinder of compressed hydrogen. To be sure, the $7,999 price tag will keep this unit from becoming a household appliance; however it’s potential is undeniably important.

Adding a fuel-cell system to compliment a roof-based photovoltaic system could actually make your self-storage business a “net metering” customer. This allows you to sell back your surplus power to the grid. Thirty-nine states mandate so called net-metering opportunities for customers. even a solar-based, hot-water system can take dollars off your monthly electric bill.

I may be a dreamer at heart, but I consider the chance for our industry to get off the grid a viable business investment that will merit increasing consideration.

Website Exchanges and the Future of Storage

Back in December 2005, I wrote about my daughters’ experiences with The Freecycle Network ( As I explained, Freecycle is a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. The network provides individuals and nonprofits an electronic forum to “recycle” unwanted items. One person’s trash can truly be another’s treasure!

Now the exchange has a new Internet gateway focusing on books, CDs, DVDs and video games. The site, Swaptree (, is a way to swap things you don’t want for stuff you do. Your only cost is shipping. So, if you get stuck with a stack of old books or outdated video games, you may be able to trade away your problems. 

Even more important than the chance to dump items from abandoned units is the fact this type of web service is growing. How will our industry be affected by people’s enhanced ability to donate or swap their property? Unknown. But there is a growing momentum for people to reduce the stuff they’ve been holding onto for that rainy day. This is a trend the industry shouldn’t ignore. 

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates, 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 ( Mr. Chiswell can be reached at 434.589.4446; or visit He will be the keynote speaker for the Washington Self Storage Association’s annual meeting on April 23.

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