Every day, well-meaning self-storage owners and supervisors hire fresh faces to manage their facilities. In far too many instances, however, those new managers are handed a set of keys to an asset that may be worth millions, yet they have no idea how to effectively manage it. In some cases, their ability to maximize collections, professionally sell space and offer a superior customer-service experience is severely hampered by a lack of quality training.
A large percentage of a self-storage facility's operational problems stem from the lack of clear and effective manager training. Since ours is such a manager-centric business, one of the most important investments an owner or supervisor can make is creating an effective, high-quality program. Heres how you build one.
Create an Operations Manual
The crucial first step in putting together an effective training program is to create an operations manual that clearly defines the policies and procedures by which you expect your self-storage facility to be managed. It should include detailed and concise descriptions for how to:
- Rent space
- Collect money
- Compile paperwork
- Make bank deposits
- Clean and prepare units for rental
- Open and close the office
- Print and submit reports
- Maintain facility safety and security
- Manage delinquent tenants
- Selling merchandise
- Offering tenant insurance
- Renting trucks
With your operations manual in hand, you can systematically explain those aspects of your business that employees must learn to maximize their abilities and manage your storage asset.
Designate a Trainer
Before implementing your training program, you must first identify who will do the training. The manner in which you conduct training will be somewhat determined by the resources at your disposal.
For example, if you have a lot of facilities, you might have one manager whos a designated trainer or maybe even several. You might have new employees spend a certain amount of time with one manager who has a strong sales presentation, another who uses an effective collections system, and a third who spotlessly maintains the property. If you have just one or a few facilities, you might still operate with a designated trainer or opt to train new employees yourself. You might also hire a third-party vendor who specializes in employee training.
The manner in which you teach employees isnt particularly critical. That you establish a method and system is what's important.
Determine Location and Duration
Besides determining who will train new employees, you must contemplate the where and how long of your program. The location is determined by who will be involved. All or part of the training will likely take place at one or more of your facilities, while some might take place in a home-office setting.
Regarding training duration, the most common mistake owners and supervisors make is to rush the process. Your multi-million-dollar investment deserves more than a cursory review of the basics. Its more important to ensure a new manager has the tools for success than it is to plug a personnel hole out of desperation. You should expect to systematically work an employee through a two- to four-week training program.
Build the Program
The next step in creating your new training program is to determine what should be taught, with an understanding that not every customer-service scenario or maintenance issue can possibly be covered in even the most comprehensive program. Your program must, however, include a clear narrative about what managers do, how they do it, and the expectations for performance.
When assembling your curriculum, its important to include the following:
- An understanding of the self-storage business: The managers role in the process, why people store, customer expectations of the experience, etc.
- Job responsibilities: Information about renting space, collecting money, maintaining the property, assisting customers and other duties
- Day-to-day operational steps: Details on opening and closing the office, conducting lock checks, checking the answering machine, turning on the office equipment, preparing bank deposits and checking the integrity of the security system
- The management-software program: How to take payments, rent and vacate space, run reports, sell merchandise, rent trucks, and input sales-lead information
- Effective sales skills: Answering the telephone, industry-specific techniques, handling objections, closing sales, following up on leads and compiling competitive information
- The collections process: Gathering information at the time of the rental, conducting proper follow-up, making collections calls, determining what to say on the phone, documenting efforts and understanding potential rent
- Ancillary products and services: Maximizing sales, mentioning ancillary services with every customer contact, and adding on to the lease process
- A superior customer-service experience: Being proactive instead of reactive, handling upset customers, and understanding a managers parameters
- Marketing efforts: Documenting customer information, turning leads into rentals, using the referral program, and communicating with ownership about whats working and what isnt
- Ownership expectations: Understanding occupancy and income goals, facility maintenance, good curb appeal and expense control
Schedule Follow-Up Meetings
Your manager-training programwhether it takes two weeks, four weeks or some time in betweenshould end with a debrief in which the owner or supervisor meets with the employee to discuss his training experience. Use a checklist to ensure all the training steps were covered. You should be interested in the level at which the new hire comprehended the information. Its your responsibility to ensure he has the skill and confidence to succeed in his new position.
Always incorporate a 30-day follow-up meeting into the program as well. This should include a discussion about how the employee is progressing in his new role, whether additional training is required, and if the company has met the employees expectations in terms of support. Smart operators use these meetings to fine-tune training programs, adjust expectations and ensure employees have the tools they need to succeed.
In reality, your training program should never really end. If the highest paid athletes in the world attend spring training every year, you cannot expect that a self-storage manager is trained once and done. Even your doctor, attorney and car mechanic attend continuing-education programs. Your managers need ongoing training, too.
Continuing education for your managers should include quarterly conference calls or webinars, bi-annual live training sessions, and an annual company meeting. Managers should be encouraged to get involved in industry communities and chat sessions. Your business should subscribe to industry publications and commit to allowing managers to attend local or state association meetings and tradeshows.
Do you want to save a few bucks at your facility or feel like you really need to cut back on expenses? Fine. Buy generic bottles of water or quit leaving bowls of sticky candy on the counter. But dont risk the profitable operation of your self-storage facility by failing to develop and implement an effective training program. It may be the most important investment you ever make.
Bob Copper is partner-in-charge at Self Storage 101, an industry consulting firm that assists facility owner/operators and managers in developing more effective and profitable operational systems. It also aids in conducting performance reviews and providing the necessary tools to perform at higher levels in a competitive industry. For more information, call 866.269.1311; e-mail [email protected], visit www.selfstorage101.com.