Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some of the most well-trained and experienced managers in the self-storage business. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from some of the industry’s best training coaches. What’s interesting is how the tools and procedures involved in operating a storage property change over time. For example, think about technology and lien laws. However, one thing remains the same: the basic skills necessary to be a well-rounded, successful facility manager.
Today’s site manager must be able to handle a wide range of duties, from general customer service and facility maintenance, to marketing and generating leads, to closing rentals and collecting rent. In this article, I’m going to discuss the traits that are essential to excel in all aspects of the manager role and successfully operate a self-storage property. Following are the top 10.
In today’s world of self-promotion, it’s critical to seize every opportunity to endorse yourself. Nobody is going to do it for you—you must be your own voice. However, the tone of voice matters, too. Are you pushy? Do you come off as snooty or, as we say in the South, “better than thou”? If you’re not sure, ask some colleagues to assess your approach so you can find out where you rank between confident and aggressive. You can then adjust to that midline accordingly.
Don’t forget how important it is to also have confidence in your business. You should know your facility inside and out, and get to know your community and competitors. Once you’ve built a good level of confidence in your product, you’ll be able to better and more effectively sell it against the competition in your market. You’ll know what differentiates you from the rest, and you’ll define the ways in which you and your facility can better serve customers’ needs.
2. Effective Communication Skills
Managers are the front-line representatives and stewards of a multi-million-dollar business, and they need to act, speak and write as such. Do your writing skills need some polishing, or perhaps your speaking skills need clarity? Do your customers ever say “Huh?” when you’re giving your sales speech? Or worse, do their eyes glaze over, or do they lose interest? Have you ever sent an e-mail that you later cringed upon reading it? Has someone responded and pointed out grammatical and spelling errors? If so, this advice is for you!
Managers should seek and engage in activities and classes that will help them improve their speaking and writing skills. Your facility deserves to be spoken of and written about in a manner that will best showcase what you have to offer, rather than produce any embarrassing moments for you or your owner.
3. Revenue-Management Know-How
When do you raise your current customers’ rental rates? When do you raise your street rates? Do you set your pricing based on what the larger operator down the street is doing? If you’re unsure of these answers, you need to brush up on your revenue-management skills.
While the real estate investment trusts use algorithms and programming to change their rates on the fly, most storage managers rely on the old-fashioned method of competitor research, and supply and demand. If you don’t actively use proximity pricing, perceived discounts and rate-increase letters to manage your gross possible income, you have some homework to do! Reach out to the various self-storage associations and management or consulting groups to learn more about effectively managing revenue.
4. Impeccable Time-Management Skills
Think fast: You’re in the middle of signing a new lease with a customer and the phone rings. At the same moment, a tenant walks in to make a payment. What do you do? If you answer the phone, you may need to rethink your priorities and the message you’re sending to your customers.
When you’re working with a customer and the phone rings, let the answering service or machine pick up. The lease you’re writing is a legal document, and the customer in front of you is the proverbial “one in the hand.” Besides, how important does the new customer feel when you’re distracted by the phone? Definitely not like he’s important to you, that’s for sure! Let the phone ring. You can always get back to the caller later or, better yet, if you have a call-center service, it’ll be served anyway.
If a tenant walks in to make a payment while you’re signing a new rental agreement, go ahead and say “excuse me” to the lease customer and take the payment as quickly as possible. This does two things: It reinforces to the new customer that you consider all tenants valuable and worthy of attention, and it gets the rent-paying customer dealt with and out of the way so you can return to the task.
Let’s try another scenario. You’re on duty alone and need to accomplish the following: place red locks on the units of past-due tenants, process the pile of payments that arrived by mail that morning, and sweep out newly vacated spaces. If you chose to sweep units and apply red locks first, you may need to reconsider your process.
A manager with good time-management skills will know that processing all the payments first will potentially alleviate the need for some of the red locks, reducing time spent on the property. Sweeping vacated units will always be a task that can be deferred until later, unless you’re lucky enough to be full and need the space right away. If that’s the case, then sweep and re-rent the unit as soon as possible!
5. A Great Attitude
Being positive and upbeat can take you much further than simply having skills alone, most of which can be taught anyway. Strive to present yourself in a positive manner. Display that “can-do” attitude to your customers and co-workers. Tenants will appreciate your willingness to do what it takes to make them happy, and your co-workers (and boss) will welcome your disposition to do what it takes to reach success.
6. A Desire to Keep Learning
Today’s self-storage manager needs to continually improve his skill set. This includes speaking and writing, revenue management, time management, and more. These are all skills that not only require learning but continual honing to stay sharp and effective.
Don’t be afraid to continue to learn. There’s always something new and inventive on the horizon in this industry, and the threat of being left behind with antiquated procedures and technology is very real. Stay abreast of the newest innovations and you’ll be less likely to be out of touch or in the cold when the next trend comes to town.
7. Honesty and Candor
Honesty is becoming a rare trait in today’s world. We’re beset on all sides by “he said, she said” scenarios. When you come across an individual who’s not only honest and transparent but straightforward and genuine (especially in a sales situation), you know you’ve found a rare gem. People are attracted to folks who are authentic.
In self-storage, we know people tend to store their belongings with the facility at which they feel comfortable and the manager they feel they can trust. Be that person. Be impeccable with your word and honest with the things you say. I doubt you’ll ever lose a sale because you weren’t smarmy or deceitful.
Being consistent, but not rigid, is an asset to your self-storage facility. Lien laws and all other procedures rely on a certain level of constancy to remain intact. Having one rule for everyone is a great policy when enforcing late fees and the other regulations of your rental agreement. It’s hard for a customer who’s perpetually late in paying rent to argue against a late fee when you apply this rule to everyone. However, flexibility comes into play here, too. If a long-term customer comes upon some trouble and doesn’t pay on time, you may wish to waive his late fee this one time.
9. Sales Skills
When I speak of closing with each customer, I mean it in two different ways. The most obvious way to “close” is by converting walk-ins, phone calls and e-mail/website inquiries to leases. That’s the goal for every manager. Signing leases is our core business. Without the ability to close on leads, you can’t lease units, driving occupancy and income. Customers will inherently choose to store with a facility and manager team with which they feel a certain level of comfort and trust. Being a pushy salesperson will foster neither of those feelings. However, you can use guided discussions, advice and your local market expertise to build those feelings and close 90 percent or more of your leads.
The second way to close with each customer is to end the conversation with his confirmed satisfaction—or as close as you can get—so he feels everything has been handled or will be soon. After each interaction with a customer, check to ensure he’s satisfied with the results of the conversation before hanging up or letting him walk away.
A simple statement such as, “Thank you, Mr. Smith. Is there anything else I can do for you today?” will open the door to the phrase you want to hear, “I’m all set!” Getting the customer to that point demonstrates two very important things. First, it shows you care about getting it right. Second, it expresses that you’ll keep going until you do get it right. This should be your goal—to positively close every conversation by providing superior customer service, not simply signing a lease.
10. A Great Handshake and Warm Smile
These are essential tools that must be included in every self-storage manager’s toolkit. In today’s world of high-tech communications that keep participants hidden behind the shroud of computer screens and mobile devices, it’s a shame that these key elements of deal-making and confidence-building are lost in the tidal wave.
On the bright side, this is your opportunity to shine! Use your handshake to build confidence in your character and business, while inspiring comfort and trust with your warm smile. Using these tools from the golden age of sales and service can help wavering customers feel secure in deciding to do business with you. Plus, you’ll stand out in the sea of key-turners and gate-keepers found behind the desks of your competition.
Being a successful self-storage manager doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s a continual work in progress. Savvy managers know they don’t know everything, and they never will. Successful managers are those who can take what they do know and actively apply it to boost their business. They also seek ways to create those improvements, in their facility and within themselves.
Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group, a provider of self-storage management, education and development services. With more than 16 years of experience in the storage industry, she oversees the branding, design, marketing-program planning and implementation for the company, including all offline and online marketing. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.