By Carol Krendl
Whats the most important sales feature at your facility? If you didnt answer the manager, think again. In the past, self-storage operators would worry about competitors building facilities within 5 miles of their own. Today theyre lucky if there isnt another complex right down the street.
To remain competitive, operators must have highly trained and motivated staff. The days of the retired mom and pop resident managers are over. Training is no longer a luxury reserved for larger companies; its a necessity. To assess your personnel needs, ask yourself:
- Are my managers maximizing profit?
- Are they building value into my stores through their sales techniques?
- Do they know my company policies and goals?
- Are they customer-service-oriented?
If you answered no to any of the above, your organization needs a manager-training program.
The First Giant Step
In assembling a training program, you must first decide what information all managers should be required to have. This calls for an operations manual, which will enable your company to standardize its community. It will also provide your trainer with a text from which to instruct new personnel. An operations manual should cover the following topics:
- Company policies
- Job overview
- Renting space
- Computer/bookkeeping system
- Vacating units
The manual should be written at a seventh- or eight-grade reading level so it is readily comprehensible by all employees. Keep the writing as simple as possible and avoid being nitpicky. The manual should translate into an improved and streamlined business operation.
Discourage unnecessary tasks and paperwork wherever possible, and keep instructions clear and concise.
Choosing a Trainer
The majority of self-storage operators cannot justify the expense of employing a full-time trainer, so they often choose one from existing personnel. When considering candidates, look for people who will be positive role models for staff. Your trainer will present all the goals and objectives of the company to new employees. He should be patient, understanding and socially adept.
Keep in mind that not all people learn by the same teaching methods, so its important that your trainer can present information in various ways and keep students engaged. Both the teacher and the student should take responsibility for whats learned. In an adult learning situation, the employee:
- Is an active participant in the learning process.
- Has experience in the subject and brings that experience into the classroom.
- Has unique needs that must be addressed.
- Evaluates himself.
- Immediately applies new concepts.
Group discussion and experimentation are common teaching methods. The more an employee participates in the training process, the more effective the training will be, and the longer the employee will be retained.
If you decide to hire a third-party trainer, be sure to ask the following questions:
- Have you ever trained self-storage managers?
- How long is your training process?
- What type of follow-up training do you provide?
- Who (or what system) is going to maintain this training?
- Has your training program been professionally evaluated? What were the results?
- How much does the training cost?
- Is the training conducted on or off site?
- What materials will the training include?
- Who is the trainer?
- What experience has the trainer had?
- Can you provide training references?
A reputable training company will be prepared to answer any of the above questions. Before you commit to a program, investigate your options.
Three Stages of Training
1. Job introduction. All new employees should be introduced to the job before theyre required to fill the last managers shoes. The new hire should visit several competitors in the area. This will give him an idea of whats expected in the job, while familiarizing him with the industry.
The trainer should demonstrate computer or bookkeeping systems, sales techniques, and reporting systems while introducing the employee to the companys product. At this point, its important to familiarize, not instruct, the new employee. Once he becomes accustomed to the community, he should be allowed to thoroughly read the operations manual.
2. On-the-job training. If at all possible, the training should be conducted off site. This will ensure the new employee has individualized training before being confronted with a customer. If off-site training is not practical for your company, the trainer should begin the onsite training by using a checklist.
This list should cover every aspect of what the manager should know to complete the job. Be sure to include even small tasks and items, for example, the golf cart, elevator, supplies, keys, re-locks, etc. The trainer should have specific goals and objectives for each day of training. This will ensure he stays on track and provides the best instruction possible.
3. Behavior maintenance. Once the basic job information has been passed on to the new employee, you need to maintain the trained behavior. Maintenance of behavior is a training term that means whatever skills are taught must be reinforced with follow-up sessions or by supervisors who confirm the desired protocol is being followed. Think of it this way: A new car will last longer and run better if the owner makes a habit of checking the oil and tires and has the car tuned up regularly.
Much like a car, employees who are not maintained will eventually experience greater, more expensive problems than those who are. Once a manager has completed the training process, the trainer should review the employees written reports and visit with him regularly for at least a 90-day probationary period. This will allow the manager to demonstrate his improving skills.
Communicating Goals and Objectives
Effective training begins with an introduction to the companys goals and objectives. This sets the tone for the employees job experience. He should understand where the company places importance and how he should act within the manager position.
Obviously, profitability should be one of the companys objectives, and it should be stressed during the training process. Employees should be instructed in the economics of the self-storage industry. Managers will often discount prices, even during periods of high occupancy, assuming the goal of the owner/owner is to be 100 percent occupied. Teaching managers about the finances of the business will increase their understanding of why dollars deposited are more important than unit occupancy.
Managers should also be taught the importance of rent increases. A $1 increase in monthly revenue equates to a $10 increase in facility value. If employees understand this, they are better able to make decisions about discounting and its impact on cash flow.
A successful training process can allow your organization to be more efficient. Employees will be more effective as a result of knowing whats expected by their employer. Whether you use in in-house or third-party trainer, be sure to provide a clearly understandable operations manual, and adhere to the three training stages. Youll create stronger, more knowledgeable employees and a more profitable business.
Carol Krendl is president of SkilCheck Services, a management training and mystery-shopping company based in Lodi, Calif. In her many years in the training business, Krendl has trained more than 200 management couples. For information, visit www.skilcheck.com .