Be Prepared for When the Media Comes Knocking at Your Self-Storage Door
A Guest Installment by Jim Chiswell, Owner, Chiswell & Associates LLC
There was one of those unfortunate situations at a self-storage facility in California a few weeks ago that every self-storage owner and manager dreads. After properly serving a search warrant at the facility as part of a murder investigation, police discovered the body of a man, who had been missing for two years, in a freezer in one of the units. Watching the local news coverage got me thinking about how prepared many of us might be to deal with such a crisis.
For instance, it was unfortunate when the manager told the reporter, “I can’t look at every freezer that comes into the property.” What a crazy thing to say, not to mention making it sound like the entire facility is filled with freezers. The reporter pointed out that it was a “working freezer” so I assume it was powered. So lesson one, unless a customer has made special arrangements to have electricity in his unit and he’s paying for it, I would strongly discourage letting anyone have power in their units.
In the report, the news talking head said she had been told by the manager the person visited the facility every day. Again, why in the world would you say that to anyone, except maybe the police? Please remember this: The news reporters are not your friend. They are not there to cast you and your business in a positive light.
Here’s another thing. I know some owners might disagree with me, but in my Management 101 Book, managers do not talk to the media. It is way over your pay grade. I realize that with a microphone in your face and a guy pointing a camera at you, many people will feel an obligation to say something. That something could be as simple as, “I am not authorized to discuss this situation, but here is the name and contact information for our owner. I am sure he/she would be glad to give you a statement.”
Also remember, just because someone has press credentials, a microphone and a camera it does not give him the right to enter your property. You can and should not allow reporters on your grounds. Of course, the police will want them there to document their crime-fighting skills, but only your customers have right of access.
The other reality is that you should anticipate all your customers will hear or see the story. You need to have everyone at the facility ready to answer their questions. This is not a time to be flippant or come up with some funny reply. I remember when millions of dollars in stolen paintings were discovered at one of the facilities I was managing years ago. It was obviously front page news. I found out because I had not done my job of helping frame a proper response for the site manager, who was telling people, “Our facility is so secure even criminals use it for their storage needs.” Cute, but not what I wanted people to here. I would go with something like, “We are working directly with law enforcement on their investigation.”
Remember, the next time a perfectly pleasant new customer shows up and unloads a freezer into his unit and a few days later you see an extension cord running under the door, you may be the next one on the nightly news. So be prepared to represent yourself and your facility in the best manner possible.
Jim Chiswell is an industry veteran and owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence, mentoring and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He has served for a number of years on the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, is a moderator on the SelfStorageTalk.com interactive online community and is faculty member of the Self-Storage Training Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.selfstorageconsulting.com .
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