By Matthew Van Horn
As I was sitting down to watch the Miami Dolphins football game a few weeks ago I received a phone call from a very good friend of mine. This friend, who rented a unit at a local self-storage facility, knows I work in the industry and wanted to ask a question in reference to access hours.
To preface this story, you should know I live in a small town on the East Coast of Florida, where theres an abundance of self-storage facilities. Like most areas of Florida, competition in the self-storage industry is fierce in my area. We all know access areas vary greatly in our industry, with some facilities open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and others offering 24-hour access. Each facility has its own policy and procedures in regards to this. Even though this is true, I would like to highlight his story. It goes something like this.
Around 5:50 p.m., my friend, lets call him Joe, entered the facility to access his storage unit. While entering the facility manager came out and told him he only had 10 minutes to unload his items. According to the policy of this self-storage facility access hours to units are reserved to office hours only. Joe told the manager he only had a few items but it would take a little longer than 10 minutes to unload them into his unit. The manager proceeded to tell him the gate would close at 6 p.m. and there was nothing she could do. So Joe left with his items and returned home. He then called me to vent and said he would be looking for a new self-storage facility.
To be clear, I started my career in self-storage as a facility manager. I understand the demands, time constraints and mental exhaustion that can occur from managing a self-storage facility. As a facility manager youre typically a bartender without alcohol. You hear about every issue, problem, domestic dispute, jailed family member, etc.
In addition, contrary to popular belief, customers are typically wrong. They either didnt read their rental agreements or tuned you out as the facility policies were explained. In this particular situation my very good friend is very wrong. He obviously didnt read the policies of the facility and thats his fault. Although its his fault, lets look at this from a business prospective.
Great customers are hard to find. Joe pays his bill on time every month. Now take a look at your delinquency list.
Consider facility income and value. How much monthly income and facility value are lost because of this situation? I understand its only one tenant, but that can multiply quickly.
What about word-of-mouth marketing? I received a phone call right away. How many people do you think hell refer to this facility?
You should go the extra mile. I guarantee every customer will remember your facility if you go the extra mile for them.
Unfortunately, perception is reality. What someone thinks of your self-storage facility is exactly what your self-storage facility is perceived to be.
When it comes to customer service, I allow all my facility managers to stay late if the situation involves customer service. In a time when every rental counts, when there are four more competitors in your market than there were three years ago, and when revenue is being pushed down, customer service is the one area where you can make a difference. Sometimes it only takes 15 minutes.
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.