A Storage Pro in Action and Other Thoughts From the Road

During a recent meeting in Phoenix, I had a chance to witness firsthand how a self-storage professional handles a crisis. Knowing just how busy everyone at this meeting was, we all had agreed to keep our telephones on so we could deal with important issues. Little did any of us realize at the time how prophetic our decision would be.

About three-quarters through our meeting, a cell phone rang, belonging to Mel Holsinger, president of Professional Self Storage Management in Tucson, Ariz. I could tell from the look on his face that a problem was unfolding. Mel excused himself briefly from the meeting to handle the call. When he returned, he apologized for the interruption, but explained that there was a fire burning at an El Paso, Texas, facility his firm manages. His manager had pulled one customer out of a unit before he was seriously injured.

Hearing his startling news we all agreed to take a break. During the next 30 minutes or so, I watched and listened as the pre-planning and training of his entire team moved into high gear. Yes, the firefighters were still fighting the fire, but Mel and his staff were also working on their own pre-established crisis game plan.

All customer records and computers were secured. The fire at no time threatened the office. A security service had already been contacted to provide round-the-clock surveillance for the facility and particularly the customers units that were impacted.

The facilitys owner was called and brought up to date on the developments. The insurance company was notified. The contact information for those customers who were obviously going to be affected was collected for the eventual calls that would be made to explain the situation.

I could hear Mel reminding his managers that all inquires from the media should be directed to the Tucson home office. I have always maintained that dealing with the media is an area that many emergency plans sometimes overlook. I do not feel that any manager or other employee should talk to news reporters from print, radio or TV. This isnt an ego thing. It is a potential liability and/or image issue. I dont know any managers, despite their qualifications, who should assume those responsibilities. It is up to the owner or, in this case, the management company to address any media inquiries.

In one of the follow-up calls, Mel learned that the managers had gathered the rental agreements and signed insurance addendums for all affected customers. Having dealt with a major fire myself back in my Sovran days, I know what a relief it is to have confirmation that managers had done their jobs by getting all the proper documents signed when the initial rental took place. It also is a great lesson about just how vital it is that all customers know the importance of having insurance coverage for their belongings.

With everything in motion, Mel needed to leave for El Paso to personally oversee the situation. Everyone in the room understood, and we all wished him good luck.

The ability to deal with a crisis is one of the things that some owners might overlook when considering whether to engage a third-party management firm to oversee operation of their facilities. Its difficult to put a price tag on the skill, experience, training and planning that Mels entire company exhibited in dealing with this unfortunate situation. His employees certainly will earn every dollar of the management fee collected for the entire year by not missing a beat during this crisis.

The moral of this story? If you happen to be looking for a third-party management company, make sure to review the firms internal thinking and systems for dealing with a crisis. And, if you happen to be looking in the Southwest, dont overlook Professional Self Storage Management. You can find it, as well as many others, in the ISS Buyers Guide.

What Precautions Are You Taking?

A recent story about a new recommendation by the Florida Bankers Association (FBA) got me thinking. Due to the growing number of bank robberies across the state, the association is recommending a dress-code policy be established for customers.

The newly launched program is known as, "No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses." The campaign features lobby signs asking customers to remove hats, hoods and sunglasses before approaching a teller. According to the FBA, 40 percent of all bank robberies involve some kind of facial disguise: masks, helmets or other head coverings.

The figure that was surprising to me was that of the 361 bank robberies reported in 2007, a total of $2.4 million was stolen. But wait: When you do the math, it works out to an average of approximately $6,648 per robbery.

Many self-storage owners and managers reading this article know they may have much more money on hand near the beginning and ending of a month before they make their bank deposits. Fortunately, the bulk of the funds are normally in checks, and a growing number of customers are taking advantage of credit and debit cards to make their monthly rent payments.

What precautions have you taken to protect your employees and facilitys deposits before they make it to the bank? Do you have a locked cash drawer? Does your office have a safe for holding cash and checks overnight or over a weekend?

Do you have a height-indicator tape near your entrance (like at a 7-11 and other convenience stores)? Do you vary the time of the deposits daily or have you fallen into the trap of predictability? Are office video cameras working and clearly showing people walking into the office that they are on surveillance? Do you have panic alarms in your office?

Nobody can make any business totally safe. Even banks with armed guards face robberies. My point is that many of us have ignored this potential problem for years. As the economy takes a dip, we might see bank and other types of robberies on the rise. Take a few minutes to think through the problem and discuss what steps your facility can take to be prepared.

FBIs Most Wanted List

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently updated its 10 Most Wanted List website. The bureau has also made it a great deal easier to subscribe and instantly receive e-mails from the FBI. Just to stay up-to-date, you may want to subscribe to this free service by going to the following link: http://service.govdelivery.com/service/multi_subscribe.html?code=USFBI. "Be Prepared" should be more than just a Boy Scouts of America motto.

SSTI to Offer Industry Education Designation

We are just a few months away from the official launch of a new Self-Storage Training Institute (SSTI) educational initiative. ISS has been marketing audiocasts and e-books, and conducting webinars for literally thousands of people from across the country and around the world.

While operating the Self Storage Education Network, Mel Holsinger and I had been providing courses on a variety of subjects to both owners and managers online. We have now joined forces with ISS to establish the Qualified Storage Manager (QSM) program. By completing the core curriculum and some electives, the QSM designation can be earned by managers and owners.

"Providing our industry with an affordable and convenient educational alternative to attending big meetings held in distant cities has always been one of our goals," Holsinger explains. "Combining the knowledge that Jim and I gained with the marketing power and industry visibility of Inside Self-Storage was a natural progression for our educational efforts."

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He is a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, a moderator on the Self-Storage Talk (www.selfstoragetalk.com) online community, and a faculty member of the Self-Storage Training Institute. Mr. Chiswell can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com

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