By Kay Miller Temple
When it comes to four-legged companions, the truism “you can choose your friends, but not your family” requires modification. Pets are often chosen as friends and then become like family, playing a key role in a person's day-to-day life—sometimes even at work. Not only do self-storage operators have love and respect for their own pets, many use their business acumen and community presence to assist other animals in need.
Self-storage is a very people-focused enterprise, and self-storage managers who live with a pet on site or bring one to work may find their pet's friendliness and warmth can be a real boon for the business. When Geraldine Goldberg, owner of Arcata Bay Self-Storage in Arcata, Calif., was working on her facility website, the designer asked how people identify her. She couldn't say what people remember about her, but they always remember her dog, Poppy. "Well, that's your brand," the designer said.
Since then, Poppy and Goldberg appear together in all facility advertising. The mixed-breed rescue dog is golden in color and likely part Golden Retriever and even some Border Collie, Goldberg says, because she has a "working dog mentality." She even has her own job description for when she's on the storage property: Always be on the leash except when playing ball in the fenced back lot. Only bark at the bad guys. And remember police officers and letter carriers are friends.
Goldberg is aware that her "brand" may deter some customers, and that's perfectly OK with her. "People know right off the bat there's a dog here, and if they don't like dogs, they are not going to rent from me, and that's just fine," she says. "And if they like dogs, which I find most people around here do, they want to rent from me."
Consider the Breed
While many pet breeds are ideal for long days at a self-storage facility and will interact favorably with tenants, there are some types that might not be simpatico. When his manager, Lynne, came to work at Kram-It Self Storage in Grove City, Ohio, facility owner Zac Zeune had no problem allowing her to bring her beagle, Nemo, to the office. Although friendly, Nemo doesn't often venture from the office, preferring to stay nestled in his bed under the desk. "For customers who like dogs and knows he's there, well, Nemo will come out," Zeune says. "Especially if he thinks he hears food."
If an employee's pet is permitted in the office, operators should consider the breed's temperament, Zeune says. Beagles are typically calm—something Zeune's own pet, a Jack Russell Terrier, is not. "As we like to say, he's just not 'work quality,'" says Zeune.
But Brandi Ulrey, president of Safe Stor Storage Centers of Salem, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash., has no qualms about bringing her Jack Russell to work every day. Manfred, aka Manny, is a 4-year-old rescue dog with dwarfism. His small size hasn’t stopped him from being the joy of the facility.
"Sometimes he can be a bit ‘bouncy’ for little kids, so we keep him in my office in the back," Ulrey says. "But he is definitely a people dog and, more specifically, a mama's boy."
Coco, a three-year-old Papillon, fits her breed’s description of playful and affectionate, says Richard Markle, resident manager for Alluvial Mini-Storage in Fresno, Calif. Papillons are named after the French word for butterfly, which describes the shape of the hair covering their ears. Coco has been greeting the facility's customers since the tender age of six months. "She loves people," Markle says. "But she's trained to not run around the counter unless we release her."
No matter the characteristics for which a breed is known, some pets will break from the mold and display other traits. Jim Stromberg, owner of M C Mini Storage in Houston, Minn., says his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Snickers, is anything but a lap dog. "In England, Cavaliers were used to keep rich women’s laps warm during buggy rides," Stromberg says.
Instead, Snickers functions as kind of a canine hearing aid. Stromberg suffers from an acute hearing loss in his right ear. Now he appreciates how Snickers' body language alerts him to sounds he no longer hears well, like a customer's arrival.
"When someone drives into the storage facility, he acts like a pointer," Stromberg says. "When he stares in a certain direction, I can look up and see who's coming in."
Dogs aren’t the only pets you find on site. Erika Amaro, manager at Brooklyn Park Mini-Storage in Brooklyn Park, Minn., keeps her cat, Harley, with her at work. Customers comment on Harley's mild manner—well, those who have actually seen her. "Harley just disappears when customers arrive and stays away for usually an hour," Amaro says. "That leaves little room for anyone who would complain about the unprofessionalism of having a pet a work."
Researchers have found that even brief interactions with pets can help a person decrease stress and experience an improved sense of well-being. Lisa Bakken, owner of A-Rite Place Self Storage in Colorado Springs, Colo., agrees. She recognizes that her managers may be animal lovers who find comfort in bringing their pet to work,.
"Since we are dog lovers, we understand how other people feel," she says. "Without one, the house isn't really a home; and we want our managers to be happy here and have things they love, like their dog."
Bakken admits she’s considered liability issues, but employee happiness is a priority. She believes having a small dog on site is fine, though she's temporarily set aside the "small dog" rule for her own pooch, an Irish Wolfhound named Ozzie, while she fills in and awaits the arrival of some new managers. "If we lived here all the time, we would not have Ozzie here, as it isn't fair to him," she says.
Ozzie, who is used to plenty of running room and grass, is tolerating the concrete and being fenced in. His good looks and large size make him a popular “photo op,” so many customers request photos of him to post on their Facebook pages, Bakken says.
Pets owned by tenants may also be common visitors to storage facilities, but an operator must have policies in place. For example, some stipulate that pets must remain in vehicles when on site. Others have no problem with pets so long as they're leashed and well-behaved.
Bakken clarified her policy for one curious tenant. "I asked him to imagine all 350 tenants bringing their dog with them and letting them run around while they are otherwise occupied in the storage unit,” she says. “My point was made.”
Goldberg is "firm and also friendly" about her policy that pets are welcome as long as they remain in the tenant's vehicle. "I simply remind them that Poppy works here," she says of instances when tenants question her pup's leashed presence.
Security and Insurance Issues
Some self-storage businesses use of guard dogs for security, but any facility owner who’s considering this should first contact his insurance company, advises Dan Sommer, vice president of marketing and communications for MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC, a provider of specialty insurance products for the self-storage industry. The insurance provider should be apprised of the dog’s breed and training and where it will be kept during business hours.
Fences, gates, lights, unit alarms and closed-circuit monitoring for security are preferred methods of security over guard dogs, says Kay Schaefer, senior underwriter for Deans & Homer, an insurance company with more than 35 years of experience in the self-storage industry. Both Sommer and Schaefer agree it’s good practice to inform your insurance company if you plan to have a pet on your property full-time.
Assisting Animal Charities
While some storage operators are bringing their furry friends to work, others are working to support local animal organizations. Jeff and Peg Wilkinson, managers at Airport Self Storage in Salem, Ore., help to sponsor a dog-licensing amnesty program, which is now in its fourth year. Connected with Marion County Dog Services, the program offers two means of assistance: forgiving late fees and license violations, and providing reduced-cost vaccinations.
"We are also dog lovers, so it fell right into place as a community-action program," Jeff Wilkinson says. "Our community looks forward to it, and our neighbors with dogs need and appreciate it." The sponsorship also brings in prospective tenants, he says.
Joseph Sidawi, owner of Joshua Self Storage Solutions in Joshua, Texas, says his volunteer work led to a series of pet-centric community service. It started when the local Meals on Wheels (MOW) program needed someone to help deliver food for the inaugural Ani-Meals on Wheels. An experienced volunteer and animal lover, Sidawi was all in.
MOW provides homebound elderly and disabled people with home-delivered meals, daily personal contact, and support for individuals and their families. The pet-food service is free to MOW clients and provides provisions for cats, dogs, birds and fish. Joshua Self Storage employees deliver meals on the first Monday of each month.
The Ani-Meals program has been part of the organization’s local services since 2009 and expands to new communities each year. Joshua is the eighth town to receive the service in Johnson and Ellis counties. The organization has partnered with Joshua Animal Control, which stores the pet food at its facility and assists with pet-food donations.
"Getting to see the people with their pets—they are so grateful and thankful to have that food for them," Sidawi says. "More important, they also have more food for themselves."
Noting the community impact of Ani-Meals, Sidawi looked around and saw a need in other places, such as the local animal shelter. He asked tenants who were moving out of their units to donate anything they didn't want for a charity auction. With a local auctioneer volunteering his services and help from a supply business in a nearby town, Sidawi turned some of the auction proceeds into a trunk-load of canned pet food and rawhide bones for the shelter.
Sidawi likes to support non-kill animal shelters that usually depend on private funding and says it's easy to find many ways to help your community. "Always be vigilant and you can find things every single day to help out.”
In February, friendly self-storage rivals in Washington squared off to see which team could bring in the most food donations for Kitsap Humane Society (KHS). Reliable Storage Bainbridge and Reliable Storage Poulsbo battled Bainbridge Self Storage, Bainbridge North Storage and Pacific Storage in Poulsbo in the fundraiser. The food drive ultimately garnered about 2,000 pounds of pet food, according to Janice Danielson, manager of Bainbridge Self Storage.
In addition to facility operators, self-storage vendors also participate in animal-oriented charity efforts. The employees at Michaels Wilder, a marketing and talent-management services company, support several animals-in-need organizations, lending financial and volunteer assistance to events like the Fore Paws! Golf Tournament and Bikers for Boxers Poker Run. The company even created this 2014 calendar featuring employees with their pets.
Though animal-loving self-storage owners, managers, tenants and business associates may not recognize the name Anatole France, a French writer who died in 1924, his quote may resonate with all of them as they care for their own pets and look after animals in need: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Kay Miller Temple is a physician and recent graduate from the master’s program at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. To reach her, e-mail [email protected]