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Insights From a First-Time Self-Storage Developer: Establishing Your Operational Framework

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By Timarie Kilsheimer Thompson

My husband and I have just opened our brand-new self-storage facility, Delaware Beach Storage Center (DBSC) in Lewes, Del. Over the past year, “Inside Self-Storage” has published articles in which I describe our decision to develop this new 675-unit property and, later, how we designed and implemented our marketing strategy for a facility in lease-up. As construction on our project neared completion, we then turned our attention toward the operational framework that had to be in place before we could open our doors.

To many, building and operating a self-storage facility appears to be an easy and lucrative way to own your own business. Although the operation will become less intensive on a day-to-day basis once the units are leased, the initial foray is elaborate. It’s essential to establish a working foundation on which to run the site. Will you think of everything and get all the details correct? Probably not, especially if you’re new to the industry. Can you do your best to create a comprehensive to-do list using industry resources? You bet!

The first step in tackling what might initially seem an insurmountable task is to build a spreadsheet containing all key action items. Nothing is too small—order name tags, anyone?—or too big. Understand that many of these are ongoing as a part of a project timeline. Having all of these tasks in one place, with each job “owner” and a target completion date, will be invaluable so nothing falls through the cracks.

Once you’ve assembled the list, group items into components—some are fundamental, others more tactical. Many key sections are fairly obvious, but not necessarily easy or quick to address. Most of the marketing tasks (website, marketing strategy, etc.) were addressed in my last article. Below are some other areas for discussion.

Operations Manual

Creating an operational framework for a new self-storage facility, including the company's policies, best practices and procedures, sets out the way you do business. It’ll generally outline guiding principles on employment, employee conduct, customer interaction, safety, facility maintenance and security. Additionally, it will include detailed information on day-to-day operation such as:

  • Opening and closing procedures
  • Daily reports and tasks
  • Customer service including sales and service philosophy
  • Lead fielding, follow-up and closing
  • Telephone and in-office etiquette
  • Handling customer issues or disgruntled customers
  • Tenant insurance
  • Retail sales
  • Making reservations
  • Taking payments
  • Vacating a unit
  • Collections
  • Lien sales

The sum of these components, in the form of an operational handbook, will establish and develop a company ethos and culture. If you need assistance in this area, there are industry veterans who’ve written manuals for you. You can use them as is or as a starting point to customize policies and procedures for your store. Either way, it may be a good (and fairly modest) investment if you’re time-constrained.

Legal

Maneuvering within the legal arena is tough enough for a layperson. Add the complexity of industry-specific issues and constantly changing laws and you have challenges with potentially significant business and monetary ramifications. Establishing a solid legal base (addendums, leases, waivers, etc.) for your new operation is critical. You must make sure your lease is iron-clad, reflects your business rules, and adheres to your state and local laws.

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