As self-storage operators, we all encounter day-to-day problems that can be daunting, but they neednt be. Whether the challenge is with a customer, an employee or a facility-maintenance task, all can be prevented or expertly handled with a bit of forethought.
I always do my best to address things "off season." It's thinking ahead and planting bulbs in the fall that begets glorious beds of blooming flowers at the first hint of spring! The same concept can apply to your self-storage business, employees and customers.
For example, plan ahead for that spring/summer direct-mail piece or ad so you have time to ensure it represents your company, philosophy and product in the best light. This will also provide the added bonus of more time to seek professional designers for a bit of polish on your ideas. Print houses can be quite slow in January and February, so ask if there are any special rates if you run jobs just after the holidays.
Look ahead in your calendar of normal activities, duties or community events. See if you can save money and hassle by purchasing or planning early. For example, buying candy at the big-box store for a holiday event can be costly, and who among us wants to run out of candy? If you think ahead, there are tons of online bulk-candy outlets that will save you a bundle.
As we enter the time of year when folks like to make lists and think about the months ahead, I thought Id share some helpful hints for dealing with the daily, sometimes mundane things that cross our paths in the self-storage industry. Here are 10 pointers to minimize common operational problems.
1. Be Nice to Customers
Customers are your bread and butter, so always treat them nicely even if you have to plaster a smile on your face for that certain one or two who rub you the wrong way. The side effect is that just by wearing a smile, your day may improve and go by more quickly.
2. Admit You Don't Know
Most any problem can be resolved and theres no harm in simply stating, I dont know the answer, but I would be happy to find out and get right back to you. Make sure you truly do get back to the customer immediately or as soon as possible with an answer to the question. Keep in mind that not one of us possesses all the answers and its OK to be human.
3. Identify Staff Motivators
Know what it takes to make motivate your staff to accomplish day-to-day tasks. Some people are aural learners, some are visual, so respond accordingly with any tasks that need to be addressed. One may love a list of chores while another excels when you put a paintbrush in front of him. Another employee may just jump into action at a simple verbal request. Get to know and recognize each employees skill set to help determine how to manage your staff and your property effectively.
4. Keep It Clean
A clean property is a must for a discerning customer base. See trash when youre showing a unit? Then for goodness' sake pick it up! This achieves two things: Your property stays tidy and it shows the prospective tenant you dont like anything marring it. Anyone who sees you doing this wont be prone to leaving trash laying about when youre not looking. Also, excuse yourself to wash your hands before transacting business with a new tenant.
Theres nothing wrong with saying these two words: Im sorrynot to admit guilt but to commiserate. Im sorry that special ended, but Id like to give you this bundle of boxes or a lock as a thank you. Or Im sorry (insert situation) drove you to needing storage, but let me show how easy and painless the experience can be. Im sorry, we dont have that available at the moment, but I would be happy to (insert your own ending here).
6. Mix It Up
Vary employee routines and give each person a fresh perspective on another's position by trading jobs for a day. You might be pleasantly surprised at the ensuing dialogue once people see things in a new light by spending the day doing someone elses job.
7. Open Your Mind
Be open to new ideas. Just because youve always done something one way doesnt mean theres no room for improvement. A good owner should occasionally engage employees and ask things like, Can you think of a better way to accomplish this task? or How would you handle this?
8. Be Pro-Active on Maintenance
As you make your rounds, youll likely see something that should be taken care of eventually, but are you pro-active? If the paving is looking tired and cracked, dont wait because winter is here. Start obtaining bids now and ask for any special winter rates if you commit now to resurfacing after the thaw. Dont wait until everyone else is in panic mode. Take a little time now and avoid stress in the springtime.
9. Try Something New
Do something out of your comfort zone. Whether its customer-, facility- or employee-related, just jump in and do something different.
10. Be Polite
Use the words please and thank you often, as these little words make a huge difference. Always treat others in the same manner as youd like to be treated. A surly waiter or waitress can ruin an expensive dinner, just as your attitude can impact your self-storage customers' experience. If people around you arent happy, start by taking a look in the mirror to see what you can do to affect change.
While this isnt an exhaustive list by any means, its a start. Plan ahead for maintenance items, consider your staff when doling out assignments, and always remember to employ your best customer-service skills. Just following these tips will ensure a better-run facility, a happier staff and loyal customers.
Gina Six Kudo is general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She has more than 16 years of self-storage experience, and a strong customer-service and sales background. Shes also a moderator on selfstoragetalk.com, the self-storage industry's largest online community. For more information, call 408.782.8883; visit www.cochranestorage.com .