There are still many challenges self-storage operators will face as we move into 2011. A generally slow economy, increased expenses, stressed-out customers, more competition, and an overall negative feeling are just a few of the issues the industry has weathered over the past three years. Along with developers oversupplying certain areas of the country, the pressure on our industry is at an all-time high, and affects your facility in one way or another.
With so many factors working against self-storage operators, how do we combat them? One of the most important tasks of an owner, investor, management company, regional manager/director or facility trainer is making sure the companys most important assetsits employeesare up to date on all aspects of their job. This includes areas such as legislation, technology, management techniques and operational methods.
Legislation is an extremely important topic all self-storage employees should be vigilant in researching. Have the laws regarding late fees or lien sales in your state changed in the last year? Has the sales-tax rate changed? Are you required to collect a sales tax in 2011?
Most states have unique laws regulating late fees, customer access, sales tax and, most important, lien sales. Since each state has its own unique self-storage statutes, the best and most efficient way to keep up with changing legislation is to become a member of your states self-storage association. The associations have the most direct link to a states legislature and will be able to distribute any changes in state laws to you quickly. If your state doesnt have an association, consider working with the national Self Storage Association.
Another way to keep up with legislative changes is to attend legal workshops or seminars. Almost every tradeshow or seminar has at least one session dedicated to changes in legislation. These sessions are invaluable in keeping up to date with the changes that affect our industry. Lastly, consider having an attorney review your rental agreement and procedures on a regular basis.
Over the last five years, technology in the self-storage industry has moved at the speed of light. The Internet has changed how we operate. Gone are the days of looking at a Yellow Pages ad and finding a self-storage facility on a map. Now you just Google the information (as if Google was a verb in our vocabulary all along). Online management software, electronic kiosks, search-engine optimization, online referral services, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google-based bar codes are just some of the items being implemented at self-storage facilities nationwide.
So, how do you keep up with all of these changes? Industry tradeshows are one of the best ways to keep up with technology thats storage-specific. Attend any show, and youll come away with a technological idea or product you didnt even know existed.
Another way to keep up with technology is to do some research online. Theres an endless number of blogs and websites that review everything from software to hardware. In addition, you should read self-storage trade magazines. Each month, youll pick up an idea you can integrate into your operation, often for little or no investment.
One of the best ways to learn about technology is to experiment. If you see an item that interests you, rent or purchase it and learn how to use it. Consider buying a Smartphone, laptop, iPod or iPad. Download a demonstration copy of software that interests you. If this research is overwhelming, consider hiring a consultant to review your operations. Most self-storage management companies and industry consultants are familiar with the technology necessary for the day-to-day operation of a successful self-storage facility.
Improve Management Techniques and Operational Methods
The great thing about management techniques and operational methods is they dont have to be industry-specific. You can pick up ideas by reading small-business magazines such Inc., Entrepreneur and Success. These cover a range of topics including employee motivation, small-business finance and technology. Also, dont be afraid to browse your local book store or online book dealer for the newest management books. Often, great ideas are picked up from somewhere unexpected.
For industry-specific ideas, read self-storage trade magazines, browse storage-related websites, and attend storage-themed conferences. These events offer an invaluable amount of industry information. Consider joining online groups through Facebook or LinkedIn, or follow self-storage themed groups on Twitter.
Finally, never be afraid to seek an experienced self-storage management company or industry consultant. Most have people on staff that will gladly answer any operational question you may have.
As the self-storage industry changes, we must change with it. Legislation, technology, facility management and operational methods are extremely important to the day-to-day operation of every facility. You should share this information with your employees in a complete and timely manner.
Consider subscribing each of your facilities to industry trade magazines, so information is provided to them automatically. Join your local self-storage association, and invite your staff to attend meetings and events. Send managers weekly e-mails containing relevant articles, operational discussions, motivational pieces and links to relevant websites. Consider scheduling regular conference calls to discuss operational and management issues. Send employees to industry seminars and conferences when possible. Most important, implement regularly scheduled training sessions. Nothing can replace working with employees in a one-on-one environment.
Remember, the most important asset of any self-storage facility is the people who manage it. Self-storage managers are some of the hardest working men and women in any industry. The things that come up on a day-to-day basis at some facilities would make a reality TV star blush. Keep your employees up to date and trained with relevant material, and it will make a huge impact on the operational harmony of your facility
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, a full-service management company specializing in management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. Mr. Van Horn is well-known for finding hidden profit centers in self-storage operations. For a complimentary Hidden Profit Discovery Session, send an e-mail to [email protected] . For more information, call 866.970.EDGE or visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com . Follow the company on Twitter at Cuttingedgemgt, and on Facebook at Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management.