As a self-storage manager, there are many things you can do to help maintain a secure, safe environment for yourself, co-workers and customers. Of course, your perimeter fencing, alarms, cameras, gates, sirens and lighting are all key components to preventing crime at your property, but there are also simple strategies you can employ. Here’s a summary.
Screen Your Prospects
Site safety begins the very moment you first interact with a customer. Someone who’s looking to use your facility for criminal activity will seek a quiet landscape, not a busy one, so show him your property is in demand. Whether you have one or 10 of any given size unit available, play it coy, and let the customer know you have that one perfect unit for him. Not only is this a great sales technique, it presents your property as full and active.
When talking with a prospect in person, particularly during the tour, discuss the facility’s safety features, such as alarms, cameras, lighting and intercoms. Most people who are planning to rent a unit for nefarious purposes will be scared off once they find out about all the security your site offers. Bad guys are looking for places with few security measures in place and a non-vigilant staff. Let them know that’s not what they’ll find at your property.
Perhaps you participate in a neighborhood-watch program. Let the customer know you ask tenants to report anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right or appears out of place. That’s a bigger security task force than many communities have on their own, and it, too, will deter a would-be criminal.
When showing a unit, never step inside of it. This may seem obvious, but sometimes managers let their guard down. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. Instead, using your best Vanna White imitation, roll up the door and gesture with your hand that the customer should enter and take a look around. Suggest that he visualize the items he’ll be storing and how they’ll fit in the space. Besides keeping you safely outside the unit, this approach gives the customer the opportunity to see the space from a different angle and imagine how he’ll use it.
Just Say ‘No’
There are days when your sixth sense just tells you a potential renter will be a problem. The person concerns you, and you’re not sure why. What do you do? You’ve already showed him the “only available” vacant unit, so how do you get out of this predicament?
Sometimes I just walk into my office, grab a contract, type into our computer and then give the customer a befuddled look. After a bit more theatrics, I apologize and say, “I’m so sorry. Apparently, that unit has already been rented.” Of course, at this point, you need to be ready with a follow-up about how you don’t have anything else availablein that size range or any other. The bottom line is, if this is a scary rental, do you really care if you look like a bumbling idiot to a drug dealer or potential thief? Just be gracious when declining the business.
By using the methods above, you’ve notified every person who tours your property that you have a strong community watching over the facility during access hours. You’ve spoken about your security system, but not too much. (You don’t want someone to learn how to thwart your devices.) You’ve also set yourself up to close a sale. Good job.
Now you need to consider how your property looks and functions after dark. Would you walk your property alone and unarmed? Most of us would respond in the affirmative. Would you let your daughter, wife, mom or grandma do the same? If not, why? Are there areas that are vulnerable due to poor lighting? Are the cameras well-placed? Would an intercom system be welcome on the property? These are items you need to address.
Another simple proactive strategy is to partner with your local police department. Consider offering them a discount to store with you. That way, you’ll have officers regularly visiting your facility. Ask them to patrol it regularly, or invite them to use it for training exercises. Attend the department’s open houses or safety fairs and get to know your local officers. Better yet, sponsor an event! The goodwill goes a long way and makes a more lasting impression than a couple of handshakes.
Let Customers Help
Your facility’s security bells and whistles keep honest people honest more than they actually prevent crime. Enlist your entire customer base in your security efforts. You’ll find tenants will do things like stop others from following them into the property and tell you if garbage is left behind by another tenant. Your property will have hundreds of sets of eyes watching.
This seems so simple, but by planning from the very first customer interaction, you can develop a strong sense of community and care and that’s the best possible crime deterrent. I speak from experience, as I’ve used this methodology on two older properties that had no security whatsoever other than a drive past the office gate. It works, but it takes diligence and consistency.
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. She’s also a moderator for Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 408.782.8883; visit www.cochranestorage.com.