As a self-storage facility manager or owner, you are consistently evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in a given market. Over the last few years, self-storage markets have become more competitive than ever before. Conditions such as a weak real estate market, an excessive supply of self-storage in many areas, and a less than predictable economy have left many managers and owners scratching their heads.
Because of this, the efficient management of your facility has never been more important. Most facility managers and owners have already taken steps to cut back on unnecessary items that weigh on expenses. Perhaps you may make one less trip to the office supply store; maybe you take your employees out to lunch less, or even cut your facility’s lawn yourself. Once you’ve trimmed most of the items you deem to be an excess, what’s left?
Now is the time to creatively manage your facility. In order to that, try focusing on the following:
- Have I hired the right staff for my facility?
- Have I created a marketing plan that is not only creative but economically feasible?
- What if I have multiple facilities in a given area?
To creatively manage your facility, you must have a staff willing and able to do so. One of the most important aspects of running any business, self-storage in particular, is hiring the right manager. Before hiring, do some investigative work. Visit the competition in your market and make notes about what you liked and disliked about the managers operating these stores.
Once you have some candidates, review their resumes and invite them for interviews. Does the candidate give off a good feeling? Is the candidate pleasant? Have a sense of humor? Does the candidate know the market area? Would you personally rent a unit from this person? All of these are intangibles that raise a consumer’s comfort level, and if the consumer is comfortable, he will be more likely to rent from your facility.
Along with intangibles, does the candidate have any skills? As the storage industry evolves, technology becomes a greater part of day-to-day operations. Does the candidate understand how to use a computer? Does he have any problems answering the phone or making delinquency calls? Is he able to handle minor accounting? All of these items are part of the makings of a successful manager and can affect the potential of your investment.
You can train someone to run a computer or clean a vacant unit, but you cannot train intangibles such as personality, sense of humor and attitude. Remember, you are hiring this person to sell your facility, not just sit back and collect payments.
Make a Difference
Once you’ve hired a manager, you can focus on putting your marketing dollars to good use. The idea is to create and implement unique marketing ideas that differentiate you from your competition, but are economically feasible as well.
One of the most important marketing tools you have is the people who already rent from you. Most managers or owners will say, “Well, we already have a referral program.” That may be true, but how well are you cultivating it? Explaining your referral program to customers won’t necessarily have them running into the streets to recruit friends or family.
Referrals come down to how well you take care of your customers. Consider handing out bottles of water during the summer months or cups of coffee and hot chocolate during the winter. This accomplishes two distinct goals. One, you help customers stay hydrated during the summer or warm during the winter—something they won’t soon forget. Second, it gives you an idea of what the tenant may be storing.
Consider sending out welcome and thank you letters to your tenants. During the holidays, offer a special for people who need to store Christmas gifts. Along with the holiday special, designate a unit as a “Santa’s Helper Unit,” complete with a table, wrapping paper, scissors and tape.
If you own a smaller facility located close to a larger, better staffed facility, consider using the smaller facility as a satellite location. The managers of the larger location should be able to integrate the operations of the smaller one into the operations of the larger location. While the integration of two facilities sounds difficult, most self-storage management software contains options to run multiple facility databases. You should also cross train assistant managers so they can manage multiple sites.
Creative management is about being efficient and effective with a facility’s resources. New ideas may be more useful than waiving an administration fee or giving away a free lock to a new customer. Consider focusing on items that can make a direct impact on your facility’s profitability such as hiring, marketing and logistics.
Remember, it only takes one good idea to make a campaign successful. Don’t be afraid to try different things and make adjustments along the way. Sometimes focusing on a few ideas can make the difference between an average year and a successful one.
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, a full-service management company specializing in management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. For more information, call 866.970.EDGE; visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com.