Managing Your Overseas Storage Operation

David Blum Comments
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Having spent the last 12 years in self-storage management, I’ve dealt with most of the common and unusual situations we’ve all faced. Little did I ever expect that I’d apply these principles and experiences in assisting developers around the world. In the past three years, though, I’ve been directly involved with operations in Brazil, Canada, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Romania and Trinidad. In addition, I have had inquiries from Africa, China, Egypt, Spain and Venezuela. All of these operations want to emulate the professional experiences most self-storage operators enjoy in the United States today.

I have had the fortunate situation where my clients are U.S.-based with some connection to the country in which they want to develop. This helps me bridge the language gap, as I do not speak any foreign languages. Therefore, in non-English-speaking countries, all my dealings are usually interpreted by the client. Though unable to converse, I have trained my ear to follow conversations, and even surprise myself by how much I eventually begin to understand. Whether it’s construction, development or operations-related, we all seem to talk in a common way.

Breaking New Ground

My very first assignment, which I am still involved with today, was in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I had the additional good fortune to work directly with a young gentleman who I actually had employed as an assistant manager in the United States. When he got stuck in Brazil, I put him in contact with the client, and he has been my "point" person ever since. He not only speaks perfect English, he has the added benefit of being familiar with the self-storage business.

In addition to creating a third- or fourth-generation storage facility project, I had the good fortune to integrate "American-style" operations with someone familiar with the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of the Brazilian culture. As a result of these many months of working intimately with this project, I have adapted similar principles to opportunities around the world.

In many locations, self-storage is not as commonly or as widely known as it is in the Australia, the United States, or even some of the European countries where more facilities exist. When we started in Brazil, there were only 12 facilities estimated in the whole country. Today, there are 18 with several more planned. One of our first challenges was to locate a strong manager who understood self-storage. Fortunately, during our due diligence, we found a wonderful employee unhappy with her position with one of our competitors. The next challenge was to find a trainable assistant.

In this situation, we were not just looking for a typical assistant. Because of the aggressive expansion plans, we needed to find our next manager and the one who would become the manager after that. Not each situation is like this. Our plans in Italy require just one manager and one assistant, at least for now. The next facility may be a 30- to 40-minute drive and will require identifying more local talent. Plus, due to European labor laws, we may be better served with two part-time assistants rather than one full time.

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