Manager's Memo

Mel Holsinger Comments
Posted in Articles, Insurance
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When talking to prospective customers and attempting to sell them storage space—along with a sense of security, cleanliness, convenience and value—usually the biggest obstacle to overcome is convincing them their belongings will be safe. This is not just a perception, it’s a reality. When someone moves a lifetime of valuables—their entire history, prized possessions and precious memories—into a unit, we have an obligation to provide them the best possible security we can. However, we are limited by what the property offers in the way of technology.

For example, if you have a manual gate that’s left open all day, it reduces the level of security you offer compared to when it’s locked. If you offer 24-hour access, you’re limiting security as well. On the other hand, if you have a chain-link fence around your property along with individual door alarms, cameras, gate access, guard patrols and complete perimeter concrete walls, you have a higher level of security. Unfortunately, no matter what tools you have to prevent break-ins, criminals can always find ways to commit their crimes.

The Best Policy

So what’s the best way to sell your facility’s security points? Start off by being honest. Assess your situation and make a checklist of positive attributes. For example, let’s say you have an up-to-date, access-control system, cameras in every aisle that transmit to a 48-inch monitor in the office (for viewing by the manager), a wrought-iron fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the property, and you, the manager, live onsite in a second-floor apartment overlooking the facility.

When a prospective customer visits the office, start out with a tour to show him the unit he’ll be renting (making sure you are giving him the best value) and, as you go along, point out the property’s individual security elements. Here’s how the presentation could go:

“Mr. Johnson, as you have noticed, in order to access our facility, you will be given a personal code that allows you to enter the premises. When you input your code, you’ll be on camera. This gives us the date and time you enter, and saves the info on our computer system. When you leave, you must code out, which will again log your activity.

“Once inside, you’ll notice cameras in each aisle. In the office, you’ll see a screen that allows us to monitor each person’s comings and goings at the facility, during working gate hours. While we can’t look at the monitor 24/7, we have a recording device that allows us to review each day’s activity if necessary.

“Have you noticed our strong wrought-iron fence? We really like this feature because it’s difficult to cut or climb over.”

(Notice the word choice was difficult, not impossible!) When returning to the office, point to the second-floor apartment and add, “Mr. Johnson, we live here. Unless we are doing something off site, we are in our apartment, which overlooks the property.” (Notice you didn’t promise to watch his stuff 24/7, but the implied perception of you being there is a plus in his mind.) 

To sum up the key points of the tour, you’ve given the customer the perception that you care. It tells him the facility has made it a priority to keep his belongings as safe as possible using onsite security precautions. You also send the message that you’re paying attention and monitoring the property, and that you will do your best to watch over the facility after hours. Moreover, you haven’t professed any guarantees indicating that—no matter what—his property is safe. Instead, you implied safety.

Added Assurance With Insurance

OK, now that you’ve sold the tenant on the facility, your next mission is to sell him the proper insurance for his stuff. Your sales pitch could sound something like this:

“Mr. Johnson, as you can see, we try to provide as much security as we can; however, we recommend insurance to further protect your belongings. Although we hope nothing happens to the contents in your unit, we don’t insure against harm.

“We wish we were Fort Knox and had a group of our finest military guards on watch around the clock, but obviously we can’t. Thus, it’s a prudent business decision to consider an insurance policy to ensure you are adequately protected. Here’s a brochure on specialty insurance from one of the industry’s leading carriers.”

Depending on what state you live in, you may want to revise this to fit your applicable laws. Tailor it to your specific situation, but make sure the customer leaves knowing it’s his responsibility to insure against theft, not yours!

The Moral

Although we don’t maintain specific care, custody or control of our customer’s belongings, we have a moral obligation to provide the best security we can with the tools available for the self-storage business. Under no circumstances should managers “promise” to keep goods safe; in reality, you can’t guarantee full protection.

Unfortunately, society gives us criminals and drug addicts, who go to any length to get money for their habits, and people who have no morals. They will take advantage of storage facilities that make it easy for them to commit their crimes, just like they will rob an apartment complex, a single-family home, a retail establishment, an office building or any other spot that looks vulnerable.

Plus, if the facility appears secure, the reality is you’ll rent more units. If your facility is not equipped with modern security tools such as cameras, fencing, gate access, individual door alarms, etc., encourage your owner to make an investment to do so. Such technology costs more, but it often enables managers to sell units at a higher price, because customers with valuables will likely pay a higher rate if they perceive your site is tight with security.

We can’t be Fort Knox, but we can strive to be as safe and secure as possible for customers, their stored possessions and the manager’s peace of mind.

Mel Holsinger is president of Professional Self Storage Management, based in Tucson, Ariz., offering facility management, consulting and development services to the self-storage industry. He is also president and cofounder of the Self Storage Education Network, providing online-based manager and owner education (www.selfstorageeducation.net). For more information, call 520.319.2164; visit www.proselfstorage.com.

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