A Hitchhiker's Guide to Working in Self-Storage
By Larry Launders
I still consider myself new to this industry. I started in September 2010, trained for two weeks alongside another new manager and the regional manager, and then was set loose upon our tenants! While I had a popular perception of what my responsibilities would be, I was a bit surprised at how much more there was “behind the scenes.”
So I thought I would write about backgrounds and perceptions in this blog. I’ve worked in a couple of areas in which I had a popular perception, and found while there may have been merit to that perception, there was a lot more to the story.
My background is primarily information technology. I’ve had some form of IT job for 22 years. A popular perception of us computer geeks is that we have no social skills, and the customer service aspect quickly becomes suspect.
Well, thankfully, not all of us are that weak at social skills. I am, however, accustomed to dealing with details, very nuts and bolts kind of thinking. Back in my college days, I had several sales jobs, and I was successful after having learned the upside to knowing the difference between features and benefits.
It’s fair to say a popular perception of our industry is of a mostly laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. Ever hear this: “You rent units to people, sit back, and collect the rent money.” At least, that’s primarily the perception I had before I had ever rented a self-storage unit. Even after becoming a tenant in 2009, other than the rare phone call regarding a rent payment not having been made (I shared the unit with a friend), I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the employees at the self-storage facility.
Now, being a manager of a site, I do have tenants whom I’ve never met, or barely even spoken to on the phone. However, I’ve met and come to know far more of my tenants than I ever realistically thought I would. Building that kind of rapport has helped immensely in dealing with the occasional issues that come up, as well as dealing with new tenants.
I found myself borrowing an idea from an industry I’ve never worked in. A few friends of mine are, or have been, waiters. Their collective approach to anybody they serve is to treat them like a guest in their own home. Well, perhaps guests on a more formal level, not exactly “kick your shoes off and raid the fridge” kind of guests.
OK, so I’m not offering them meals, but I am in a very real sense offering them a place to stay, even if it’s only for their possessions. After I make sure we’ve introduced ourselves comes “Sure, what things do you need to store?” That comes across as if a friend just asked me if he could keep some things at my place. “Yeah, I’ve got room for that right over here, let me show you …” and I show them the appropriate unit.
When we go over the contract and reach the section on the late-fee schedule, I often start off with “Not that I have any worries about this, but sometimes things do happen, and I want to make sure we’re both on the same page if you run a little late.” A fine balance of friendliness and professional comportment makes for a good relationship—without being that “friend” that gets taken advantage of.
Larry Launders grew up in Arlington, Texas, where he still resides. Larry has held several professions including IT professional, musician, actor and cake decorator, among other things. He’s been employed as a self-storage manager at Storage Depot since September. Storage Depot has 24 locations in Texas.
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