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Amy Campbell

Amy Campbell
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acampbell@vpico.com

The Dirty Little Secret of Self-Storage Salaries

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You may have figured I’m a wee bit soft-hearted. So whenever I hear about a person being used it gets my blood boiling. Such was the case when a manager posted a question on Self-Storage Talk.

In a moment, the sound you hear will be self-storage owners’ jaws dropping all across the country. The manager broached that subject that strikes fear in ownership—salaries. Yes, the dirty little secret in storage is what most people presume and how verisimilar the reality is to the perception.

As a manager, I walk a tightrope each time I write a blog. I want to recognize the exemplary owners who realize the vital nature and extreme importance of a good, née, make that great manager. At the same time, I want to put forth some truly harsh words to other owners.

Before people get upset with me, I’ve worn both hats. I’ve owned a business. I’ve paid someone way too much for the work they did or didn’t do, and others I would have given them the moon on a platinum platter if I could have afforded to. So let’s agree there are good and bad workers and owners alike and move forward.

The manager who wrote the SST post shared that he/she earns about $800 per month. Let’s do some very quick math here. That's $200 per week, for a 40-hour work week, which equals a measly $5 per hour! Five dollars, that’s it. For arguments sake, let’s presume the site the manager runs is a mere $1 million investment. Five dollars per hour versus $1 million. The disparity should be evident just looking at the numbers in black and white.

I don’t know what it’s like in your area, but here we pay $3.42 per gallon of gas, and babysitters make $10-plus and hour. The kid flipping burgers starts at $9 per hour. Are you getting my point?

There are owners who pay less than the federal minimum wage and they feel that should suffice because they provide housing. The provided housing, from a manager’s perspective, can be a huge albatross. An onsite manager is for ownership’s benefit. It’s a feature to lure in customers as they like the human interaction.

Here’s another part of the secret, your employee really does put in more than 40 hours in a week. If our subject owner had to pay a good wage so the person could afford offsite housing instead of onsite, costs would skyrocket. Do I need to point out that each manager I know in this particular type of situation lives in substandard housing to boot?

It’s time for everyone to take a look around and raise the bar. No manager expects to live in a mansion, but every one would like basics such as heat in the winter, running water, and hot water would be an added bonus. Oh, and they’d like real windows not plastic sheeting. Would it be too much to ask if more than one burner worked on the stove? Or as one manager asked his owner: “The apartment roof collapsed two years ago, do you think we could fix it this summer, please?”

Well, why did the heck did the person take the job, you ask. Here’s another part of the dirty little secret illusion. The owners of the ilk I speak of are adept at spouting off things and using spreadsheets and trying to talk over a person’s head. One owner spewed forth a bunch of numbers based on cap rates. Does a manager know or care about a cap rate? Does it have any place in salary negotiations?
What transpires is the mumbo-jumbo and razzmatazz, and everyone is smiling and the new hire thinks, “Hey, I’ve found a nice person to work for.” About six months to a year later, after promised bonuses fail to materialize and the other promised perks never happen, the manager realizes he’s been duped. Duping someone into working for you for less than a livable wage is simply reprehensible in my book.

No one is comfortable discussing their salary with others, and it’s a difficult thing to ask of a peer. The SST forum allows anonymity for people to openly broach a sensitive issue. Bad owners need to realize employees should not be treated as indentured servants. I’m ashamed of us all that this type of activity and substandard housing is allowed to happen in our industry. Remember the Golden Rule? Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

If the roles were suddenly reversed, can you just imagine? Let your minds wander and explore the possibilities of trying to walk in each other’s shoes. Owners, could you pay your basic bills each month on the salary you pay your employees? Everyone needs groceries, medical care or a new $40 pair of shoes once every six months or so. Yes, your manager does purchase shoes that are cheaper than your ties.

Owners, do your managers know all the costs of running the business? If not, why not? They collect all the money so they know what comes in each month, but they may not know what the money has to cover.

Managers, if you had to pay someone, consider what do you do daily and what is the position truly worth if you were the one paying out-of-pocket? Would your requests be really valid if you were the one paying? Are you being reasonable considering your facility economics?

Yes, friends, it’s time to ponder, and share your thoughts with others in our safe, secure, friendly and, at times, a bit controversial Self-Storage Talk forum. The only dirty little secret inside self-storage should be what’s stored in your tenants’ boxes.

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