While the past two years have been fraught with falling occupancy, rate stagnation, discounting and problem tenants, self-storage operations with solid marketing programs and savvy managers typically outshined their competition. Quality management teams and well-executed marketing plans helped many operators overcome or at least diminish challenges faced during the recession. However, the role of the facility manager—and the way he markets a facility—is evolving at a rapid pace.
Today’s managers handle a myriad of tasks including overseeing curb appeal, handling lien sales, determining rental rates and concessions and, of course tenant relations. They also need to understand and effectively implement print, community and online marketing.
“You must wear a lot of different hats,” says Stephanie Tharpe, a property manager for A Plus Storage in Nashville Tenn. “It’s not just renting units, collecting rent and picking up trash. You have to have superb sales skills, over-the-top customer service, know your competition, set goals, know your product, council and educate your customers, and hit the streets with marketing.”
The Manager’s Shifting Role
Once caretakers who took orders for units and kept them clean, today’s self-storage managers are a key component to every self-storage facility’s success. While they are still selling units, the process has changed greatly. “There’s a tremendous amount of competition for each customer, and the store manager needs the sales skill set to be able to build trust with the customer, understand his needs, and fill the need with one of the available units,” says Noah Springer, director of strategic partnerships for Extra Space Storage.
Managers who don’t engage customers in the sales process will not achieve the desired results. “Information-givers will not cut it,” Springer says. It’s also important managers know how to sell the strengths of their facilities. “The manager must ‘un-commoditize’ his product by selling the features and benefits of the site. It isn’t always just about price,” Springer adds.
Managers should also be able to think outside the box, adds Tharpe. “Top managers need to business network and get involved in their communities. It is not a 9-to-5 position. I’ve collected rent in restaurants and rented units at a football game.”
The Need for Training
Because the manager’s role has advanced, continuing training and education is a critical component to keeping up to date on industry changes and creating a professional and profitable business. “It’s not enough to train a manager how to open and close and do a walk-through,” Tharpe says. “Good managers need to know everyday procedures and why they’re important. When training staff members I try to explain why we do what we do and why it works. Managers who are confident in their capabilities do a fabulous job.”
While owners should always offer and encourage industry education, managers should also take an active role in their training, says Gina Six Kudo, general manager for Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., “Whether it’s in a classroom setting for personal growth, or listening to an industry-related webinar, education helps maintain a sharp mind.”
The best kind of manager training encompasses all aspects of a self-storage manager’s job. “There must be an ongoing training program in all areas of sales, marketing and operational effectiveness,” says Brad North, founder of Advantage Consulting & Management. “It must be comprehensive, measured and improved over time.”