Being a self-storage operator can seem overwhelming even on the best days. For many of us, the desire to improve leads us to seek education by attending industry conferences, reading articles and studying business rules. The problem is this quest for knowledge can create or grow frustrations and sometimes make us feel more incompetent than we really are. This journey is almost a rite of passage. It means we care and are trying!
Among the most confusing aspects of daily storage operation is the analytical data at our fingertips. It’s OK. You’re not alone.
Discussions about data use can be compared to a horde of teenage boys gossiping about the birds and the bees. Everyone is talking about it, but nobody really knows how to do it. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so they claim they’re doing it. Well, guess what? You can be the one who’s actually doing it! Let’s review several reports on which I rely to improve my operation. Used effectively, they can benefit your business.
Every self-storage facility needs goals to guide growth. These are a commitment to improve. If you fail to establish company objectives, you’re wasting valuable time and effort. You must know what you’re working toward with respect to retail sales, rentals and reviews. Employees must be given a path to walk, knowing their efforts assist in achieving the overall aims of the business.
That said, goals are meaningless without measurement and follow-through. This is why it’s essential to continually and consistently review your progress using operational performance reports from your facility’s management software.
Customer Market Report
What are the sources of your customers? Every experienced operator needs to know, with relative certainty, from where he gets his tenants. You can’t just take your best guess at this. Decisions related to marketing dollars, staffing, search engine optimization, unit pricing and even business expansion can all stem from understanding your customer pipeline.
To track this, use your management software to record every contact you have with potential customers, whether on the phone, in person or online. This takes time, but as you collect the data, it’ll help you make informed decisions that affect your store. Instead of guessing or being reactive, you’ll be proactive like many of your competitors.
How much better would you be as an operator if you could easily gather customer-acquisition information and examine it on a consistent basis? Take the time to make decisions based on the statistics.
I’ve attended many seminars in which speakers insist that raising rates doesn’t cause customers to move out. While I’ve always agreed, I needed to know for myself. I called technical support for my management software and learned there isn’t an easily accessible report to determine if this is true; however, because I believed understanding the effect of raising rental rates was important, I continued the pursuit. After an arduous process, I discovered a report I could export and modify to finally glean the information I desired.
Now I know how rate increases affect my customers, and I run this report once a month. Figuring out how to generate it, though, will depend on your software. (If we use the same system, I’d be happy to provide instructions.) Our data showed that customers from one store accepted a higher percentage increase than tenants from a different location, something I would never have known if I didn’t analyze the numbers.
Rate variances, such as customer credits and discounts, can be likened to an extended stay with your mother-in-law. Throughout your visit, it’s easy to make concessions here and there for the sake of getting along; but at the end of the month, when you get your credit card bill and see how all the charges add up, you’re the one stuck making the payment.
I’m not a fan of free months, dollar move-ins or mysterious customer-service credits. They rarely have a place; but if they’re going to be used, the practice should be pragmatic and deliberate. At the end of every month, you need to take responsibility for every credit and discount you issue. Run a report to examine these trends in your operation to fully understand what’s being given away. A few waived late fees here and there may seem harmless, but they start to add up, which amplifies their negative impact over time.
Leverage the Data
The key to leveraging all these reports is to consistently review and analyze them. It’s easy to get busy and drop the ball occasionally. It can also be easy to let things slide, miss goals or rely on discounts. However, by using the data, you’ll build a culture of responsibility that consistently propels your business forward.
My motivation comes from wanting advancement in my career and a desire to be a better owner-operator. I can’t accomplish either without knowing how my stores run and understanding how these data sets can assist my decision-making. I strongly encourage you to mine the data that can help your employees and facilities succeed.
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 www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick.