Yes. No. Maybe. For self-storage managers, figuring out whether to join your state association can bring some apprehension. It’s natural to wonder what the personal benefits are and if it’s worth your time and money.
Well, to quote American Express, “Membership has its privileges.” I encourage all storage managers talk to their employer about the potential advantages of joining your local organization and to attend its meetings and events. The key is to figure out why it makes sense for you to be a member, what you can gain from attending a conference, how your company will benefit, and how much it’ll cost.
Before approaching your owner or supervisor, do some research. Most state self-storage associations post an online agenda for their events. Take a look at the lineup of offerings to see what industry experts and topics will be available. Think about your unanswered industry questions. Who’s speaking and what content could enlighten you? Based on the information you gather, figure out what new skillsets you might be able to gain from association-hosted sessions, whether related to management, productivity, legal issues and more.
My husband and I have benefited greatly from our association membership, particularly attending industry conferences. We’ve been resident managers for more than 17 years, but when we first started working in self-storage, we had to learn the ropes by trial and error. We had good customer-service skills, but we needed to learn how to rent units and keep a property well-maintained. More important, we had to learn how to improve and grow the business.
Fortunately, we have an employer and bosses who encourage professional development. They want us to attend our state events, learn and ask questions, and then come back to the business and execute a plan.
There are so many facets to managing a self-storage facility that there’s bound to be something on a conference agenda that’ll provide value. It’s also important to keep up with industry trends and stay competitive within your market.
For example, there was a time when I didn’t know much about social media, but after attending a local conference, I brought home some helpful takeaways. Following the speaker’s advice, we claimed our business listing on Google and started a business page on Facebook. We dug in and learned to leverage our presence on the web. I’m thankful I attended that session! In subsequent years, I’ve become more knowledgeable and learned which types of posts bring our brand the most visibility.
Another seminar I attended changed the way I interact with customers, teaching me how to really listen. Before that session, I didn’t know there were different ways to listen. I remember thinking, “Isn’t it just with your ears? Have I been doing it wrong all this time?” I realized I wasn’t listening to understand. I then learned to focus on what customers were saying without interrupting. Now, when I interact with a prospect, I try to envision what they’re storing and empathize with whatever life change they’re experiencing. Once you can feel a customer’s emotions, you can connect with them as a person, not just a potential sale.
One benefit to being a state-association member is you typically save money on the cost to attend events. In addition to annual conferences, many groups host online education and offer training resources. As lobbying bodies, they can also keep you up to date on important industry trends and state regulations.
For example, the pandemic affected the way most companies do business, and the directives seemed to change daily. It was difficult to keep up with the ever-changing ordinances. In the last year, we’ve had to grapple with whether the office should be open to the public, or whether we could or should auction delinquent units. All self-storage operators have had to gauge their responsibilities to employees and customers.
Being a member of the Florida Self Storage Association helped us navigate this unparalleled time. The association is holding its annual conference this month, and my husband and I will be there!
The Right Kind of Help
Self-storage managers can fall into a rut by doing the same things each day; but when you attend an association event, you’ll undoubtedly hear something new you can apply to your operation. Perhaps you’ll learn a different way to do a familiar task that’ll yield better results. Often, someone in the business has already figured out how to resolve the many of issues you regularly face.
Self-storage associations and their events can be great places to meet new people who can help with a particular situation or simply expand your professional network. I wish you all the best in your endeavors!
Kathleen M Jacobs and her husband, Gary, are resident managers at U-Store Self Storage in Daytona Beach, Fla., which opened in 1975. Kathleen is also an active participant on the Self-Storage Talk online community as member Iamkathleenj. Based in Arlington, Va., U-Store is owned by Richard Sellers and operates nine facilities in Florida, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.