Rusty shovels

Don’t Use Rusty Shovels! Ideas to Become a Better Self-Storage Operator

As a self-storage operator, you should always seek new ways to solve problems, improve processes and perform better in your job. Consider these ideas to save time and streamline your work day.

When I was growing up, my family had two shovels in the garage. They were sunbaked, dull and rusted, and would give you a splinter if you even looked at them wrong. For years I thought shovels must be the most expensive tools created, for us to be using such dilapidated ones. This misconception burst sometime during my high school years when I discovered I could purchase one for $15!

Did the old shovels in my garage do the job? Yes. Were they the best tools for the job? Not even close.

When it comes to your self-storage business, you don’t want to use rusty shovels. As a facility operator, I constantly seek new ways to solve problems, improve processes and, essentially, perform better in my role. I’d like to share these few ideas to help you save time and streamline your work day.  

Staff Training

Think of the last coaching/training session you participated in at your self-storage business. Now rate that meeting honestly. Was it an in-depth conversation with the potential to improve both parties? Or was it a slimmed-down version because time was short and you were busy?

The irony is what yields the best gains rarely gets the most effort. Staff training is a serious responsibility, but it often doesn’t get the time and attention it deserves.  Employee development can produce great rewards in the long run, but how much does your company invest in training? The desire to do more may be there, but distance and other responsibilities are often perceived as barriers.

Actually, there’s an easy way for you to share and gain knowledge that doesn’t require hours of classroom training. I’ve recently fallen back in love with the vast information found in podcasts. At your fingertips are the greatest experts in human behavior providing lessons in delegation, leadership, culture, time management, motivation and training. Most recordings are available via smartphone, and it’s relatively easy to make time during the day to listen, whether it’s on the ride to work, or while sweeping the hallways or pulling weeds.

One podcast I recommend is “Coaching for Leaders” by Dave Stachowiak. He has an amazing wealth of knowledge, and he interviews great leaders on a variety of topics. One of his audios helped a friend of mine who was struggling with employee accountability. In the recording, Stachowiak interviewed author Jonathon Raymond, who offered a five-step method for holding people accountable. The method was easy and immediately helped my friend become a more effective leader.

There’s a ton of podcasts available. Look for some on customer service, sales or marketing, and share them with your staff or co-workers. Listen, and then discuss them to see what ideas you can implement to improve your storage business.

Google Tools

Love it or hate it, Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and we have to get used to it. While we’re feeding this gorilla our advertising budget, we might as well take advantage of the tools it offers!

Tired of paying for Microsoft Office every time you buy a new computer? Try Google Docs instead. You’ll have access to Google’s version of Excel, Word and PowerPoint. Inside each program is a dynamic set of add-ons to for a better experience.

Google Docs gives you the ability to collaborate and share documents as a team. For example, if I’m working on a file, I can give permission to another employee to view and edit. The changes are instantaneous, and there’s no need to send the document back and forth via e-mail.

Google Keep is an organization tool that can be visually compared to a computer screen full of sticky notes. It’s a great collaborative tool. For example, if I’m working on a project with a facility manager, I’ll share a note with him to keep track of what’s complete and what still needs to be done. It’s a simple, easy way to keep people, projects and tasks organized in a single place. It can be downloaded as a phone app.

The next great tool is Google Voice. Let’s say you need to contact a delinquent customer and the usual methods aren’t working. You’d like to send him a text, but not from your personal phone number. Google Voice gives you a free number from which to make calls or send texts. You can download the app to your phone or use it under apps in Google Chrome. (If you choose the latter, you’ll find a small phone icon in your bookmarks bar.) Just type in the customer’s number and the message, and then press send.

Truck Rentals

Many self-storage facilities provide free use of the company’s moving truck to tenants who are moving into a unit. Potential customers will often call the office to:

  • Check truck availability
  • Ask questions about using the truck
  • Cancel or change a reservation

If you look at all those calls over the course of a year, how much time was spent on them? How much of a disruption are they to your average work day? One way to alleviate this time-sucking task is to offer online reservations. Of course, customers can still call or stop by in person to make reserve the truck if that’s what they prefer; but now they have options, even after office hours.

To accept online reservations, you’ll need to add a calendar to your website, or link to an outside scheduling website. Most calendar systems can be customized to your needs. You can designate hours, collect required forms, even take a credit card deposit. To reduce no-shows, many systems will even send a text reminder to the customer 24 hours in advance, giving him the option to cancel or reschedule. You can promote your truck-reservation option anywhere you communicate with tenants and prospects.

By adding this type of functionality to your operation, you’re not only saving time and energy, you’re creating a better experience for customers. You’re providing another way for them to interact with you. Though the system is relatively inexpensive to implement, it has the potential to provide a large return.

As you can see, there are more ways to dig holes than by using dull, rusty shovels. Look at the processes you’re using and think of better ways to do things. I dare you to try something new!

Rick Beal is the district manager and part owner of Cubes Self Storage in Salt Lake City. His goal is to help a historically slow-changing industry embrace new, innovative ideas. His professional motto is “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” He can be reached at [email protected]. Connect with him on LinkedIn at

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