ISS Blog

Debating Dishonesty: A Self-Storage Manager's Perspective

Blogger Gina Six Kudo saw red after reading an e-newsletter suggesting self-storage owners should be more aware of employee theft around the holidays. While she admits there are bad apples in every industry, she challenges the manager stereotype.

Last Thursday evening, I received an e-newsletter from Self Storage 101 that, quite honestly, got my blood boiling a bit. The focus of the e-newsletter was theft by managers in the self-storage industry. It was titled, “Just in Time for the Holidays! How to Steal.”

Granted this industry vendor does feasibility studies and audits, but consider this: owners alone are not the recipients of their e-mail blasts. I am a well-treated manager, and I treat the property as if it was my personal investment. It is, after all, up to me to run things correctly and make sure our the owners’ property is safe, and never puts us them in the position of being sued for any reason.  

This subject, in my opinion, is so tired and, honestly, a bit of a sore spot with me. It’s fear-based marketing, and not necessarily the best tactic to take, but I’m sure it’s highly effective to the right audience.

Over the years I have witnessed the thief-type managers land position after position after losing a job because the owner didn’t take the time or effort to build a case and prosecute. He even might give a job reference. “Oh yes, they worked for me from X date to X date. They went above and beyond what I expected. Uh, they wanted to relocate and things didn’t work out as they planned, that’s why they’re looking for work now. Too bad I already hired replacements.”

The owner may have been too embarrassed to prosecute, therefore, the thieves were free to seek employment elsewhere and do the same to the next unsuspecting owner.

Any honest manager out there will tell you, sure, they’ve been approached about taking cash for a discount or cash to allow people to live in units. I have responded to the few “under the table” requests by turning the tables and asking, “Do you really think $100 cash for a couple of months instead of you paying $245 a month is worth me risking my job? You’ve got to be kidding!”

The games played are as various as there are people in the world. But I have to ask, is any small amount of money worth risking a job or personal reputation over? Not to mention prosecution. The majority of managers in our industry would answer with a loud resounding “NO!” But because of a few bad apples, the myth that all managers are thieves continues to run rampant in our industry.

We all need to stop and ask ourselves what would prompt someone to resort to stealing? Could it be the poor management team living in a condemned single-wide mobile home on site with boards for windows and no heat who bust their buns for a $7 per hour, combined salary? Yes, it happened. I personally witnessed it, a sweet, older couple being completely taken advantage of. But here’s the clincher, they didn't steal. Instead they networked and found someone who appreciated their value and hired them away. I could easily give you a half dozen more examples of mistreatment if not for space restrictions.

Owners: In your area, even though housing and utilities may come with the job, ask yourselves this question, "Am I paying enough for my staff to pay their auto insurance and gas, medical costs and groceries?" Take a look at your own personal financial spreadsheet and ask if you could make ends meet in your area on what you pay if you forced to downsize your own budget and walk in your manager’s shoes. If the honest answer is no, then maybe it's time to rethink your pay scale, and realize you’re asking these people to manage and protect a multi-million dollar investment on your behalf.

Do you pay a “bonus” for so many rentals in a month? If so, then aren’t you setting yourself up for someone to “cook the books” and hold off processing vacates until the next month to meet the bonus level?

Responding to the suggestion that managers are cutting locks for auction and cherry-picking high-value items to resale for personal gain, my question to self-storage owners would be, “Why are you not using a professional auction service to alleviate this potential type of theft?” A professional auctioneer’s percentage is a small price to pay for the level of distance between you, the buyers and the lien party’s goods.

Obviously, there are bad apples in every industry and we need look no further than the headlines of the last year for validation. However, when it comes to theft, there are two sides and two responsible parties, and it’s up to all of us to self-police our industry.

I’m sure my opinion will garner reaction from both sides of the debate. I encourage you to log into the industry’s leading forum, SelfStorageTalk.com, and let’s debate it. We can all learn from each other, and together we can come up with solutions to prevent other owners from falling prey to the same situation.

I mean no disrespect to the author of the e-newsletter. He’s promoting his services and it worked. He got press out of his missive, and maybe some owners out there should hire him ASAP... for all of our sakes. 

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