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Amy Campbell

Amy Campbell
Editor
acampbell@vpico.com

Building Self-Storage Success From the Inside Out Stems From Leadership

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By Tony Jones

No matter how you shake it, 2010 has been a difficult year for just about every industry, including self-storage. Tough times typically require tough decisions, but investing in the intangible can sometimes be among the most difficult things to do. For example, while most business owners have looked at ways to cut costs (including labor) to help offset revenue shortages, few businesses continue to maintain their internal cultures and morale without compromise.

It’s depressing to cut back hours, lay off workers and force employees to make concessions and sacrifices for the sake and survival of a business. It also may be unproductive and damaging. In some cases, these types of moves may actually undercut the profitability and productivity they are designed to preserve or protect.

I recently attended the Western Carwash Association’s 29th annual convention, and one of the educational sessions touched on the important role business leadership plays in building success from the inside out. The presenter, Mary Flynn from the Disney Institute, discussed how a company’s underlying culture defines the life of a business and outlined how effective leaders shape and strengthen winning employee relations to fuel company success.

Among those traits are the ability to lead by example, teach, coach and counsel. Effective business leaders also display their passion and personality, infuse positive energy and bestow rewards and recognition. All of these can be difficult to do when logic says to keep tightening the business’ belt and one’s instinct is to withdraw as unpopular decisions mount and become tougher to enforce.

Flynn’s presentation included a story about how Walt Disney gave each of his animators a generous dinner allowance during a late work night only to shut off all but a solitary light shortly after they left for their break. When the animators returned, Disney stood in that spotlight and told his workers they were going to launch an animated feature film. For the next three hours, he proceeded to tell the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, acting out each character and voice to help the animators visualize what they would be creating.

The year was 1934 and America was deep in the midst of the Great Depression. Disney’s ambition, passion, pragmatism and resourcefulness were all on display that night. His animators were inspired and produced a masterpiece. Although the film cost a fortune in the three years it was in production, it raked in even more at the box office and took Disney to new heights.

Talk about risk-reward propositions. I’m not suggesting you forego difficult cuts or foolhardily throw money at every whim. However, be pragmatic in your cuts (Disney stayed in the studio with that solitary light while his workers ate on his dime) and don’t lose sight of the significant role your internal resources play in your company’s success.

Create and maintain a dynamic company culture. Invest in your workers as you do your external customers. Preserve company morale and lead with passion and focus. Valued employees who are openly praised and rewarded for their hard work will carry your torch and strive to protect your business.

Tony Jones is an editor with Virgo Publishing LLC, Inside Self-Storage’s parent company.

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