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Fighting the 'Cancer' of Poor Management Philosophy in Self-Storage

By Benjamin Burkhart Comments

I hate cancer. My adopted and beloved grandfather, a grandmother and a close friend lost brutal heart-wrenching battles with the disease. I sat and played guitar as my grandfather took his last breaths, having said his last words days before. I think about it a lot. So don’t misread me when I use the word “cancer” to talk about management practices in self-storage. I do not take it lightly, and neither should you. Cancer is the worst.

Managers are the lifeblood of the self-storage businesses. But this industry has a cancer of poor management practices and philosophy. This sickness is our own fault. We don’t value our employees. We don’t train them. We build a pretty picture with lots of time and money, and then put a weak manager behind the desk to handle all the customers. We hope our location, market and pricing will mitigate our lousy management decisions.

We spend millions on land and development. We overspend on security. We buy the best signage. Then we hire a manager for $10 an hour and brag about our awesome business. It’s like building a nice new gym in your house with all the best equipment, and then chain-smoking cigarettes and eating bacon while watching the new ceiling-mounted TV. As developers and owners, are we so caught up on curb appeal that we forget how important employees really are to our bottom line? Is our business acumen really that shallow?

II recently visited the store of a major national self-storage player. When I walked in, the manager was texting on her phone and didn’t even look up at me until I said "hello" and introduced myself. I left thinking, “I could pull someone off the street and train him in five minutes to provide better service than that.”

Although I believe it’s a big mistake, some of the industry's biggest operators can rest on their interchangeable management protocol because they have a huge, productive marketing machine that churns out leads and leases from many states away. Smaller operators, though, cannot afford that complacency. Revenue happens at the point where the manager meets the customer—by phone, e-mail, and especially in person.

How do I know I’m right? Because in almost every established market I observe, the competitor with the best management profile leads in price and occupancy. That’s a fact worth noting if your business is trailing the market leader. So for you, Mr. Owner-Operator, here are a few practical elements you can plug into your management philosophy that might move you up the competitive ladder.

Know Your Target, Teach Your Manager

Have you profiled your average tenant? The management software I use at my store prompts the manager to collect some important data about our customers. It’s mostly demographic and marketing data, but it can be useful. Knowing who we serve and who we miss can help us develop effective, targeted marketing strategies. The data is important and valuable, but the more subjective profile can be just as significant.

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