As the self-storage industry evolves, effective policies and procedures are as essential to sustained business success as ever—perhaps more so. Not only do they help ensure consistency and efficiency in daily operation, they enhance the customer experience.
To begin the discussion, I’ll share a real-life example that underscores the importance of setting proper standards. Not long ago, I received a call from a self-storage operator who sold a unit at auction, only it was the wrong one. She was in a panic, and when I asked about her company’s lien-sales procedures, she revealed there weren’t any in place. That’s a recipe for disaster and precisely why she found herself in a bind. Without a company policy to reference, she had inadvertently created a problem.
Unfortunately, while you think something like this might never happen at your storage facility, similar issues crop up far too often. With that in mind, let’s examine the key benefits of having well-established rules for your operation, as well as how to create, implement and enforce them.
Why You Need Policies and Procedures
Here are three important areas of business that can be strengthened by implementing and enforcing standards across your organization.
Operational stability and decision-making. Consistency is key for any business. Clearly defined policies and procedures set the foundation for smooth self-storage operation and help employees understand their roles and responsibilities. They provide a roadmap for decision-making, ensuring that staff respond to situations in a uniform, predictable manner. This level of standardization not only makes managing your facility easier, it contributes to a sense of professionalism that customers appreciate.
Employee training and performance. Having detailed policies and procedures allows for more effective onboarding, equipping new hires with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. Guidelines also serve as a reference point for ongoing performance management, making it easier for supervisors to identify areas for improvement and provide constructive feedback.
In addition, well-documented procedures ensure that staff have a clear understanding of the company’s expectations and objectives, fostering a sense of accountability and ownership in their work. Your team is empowered to do their job better because they understand exactly what’s expected of them.
Customer experience. In the self-storage industry, tenant satisfaction is paramount. A positive experience can turn a first-time renter into a loyal, long-term client. Policies and procedures play a crucial role in shaping this experience from the moment a customer walks into the facility to the day they move out. By outlining best practices for customer interactions, you create a consistent, professional experience across all touchpoints. Further, well-defined practices ensure customers receive timely and accurate information, reducing the likelihood of disputes or misunderstandings.
Policy vs. Procedure
To better understand the role of policies and procedures in your self-storage business, it’s important to distinguish between the two. Policies are high-level guidelines that define the overall direction and goals of the company. They provide a framework for decision-making and set the tone for the organization’s culture and values. Company policies often address issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination. These outline the expectations the company has for its employees as well as what staff can expect from the organization in return.
Procedures, on the other hand, are the detailed, step-by-step instructions that outline how employees should carry out specific tasks or processes. These are more granular than policies and focus on the practical aspects of day-to-day operation. Examples include guidelines for conducting facility maintenance or a step-by-step process for handling customer complaints.
To create a comprehensive and effective set of standards, consider the following examples:
- General company policies: Sexual harassment, vacation/paid time off, disciplinary procedures, equal employment rights, how to report employee issues, etc.
- Facility-specific policies: Hours of operation, maintenance needs for particular locations (i.e., snow removal, lawn care, hurricane protocols)
- Operational procedures: How to open and close the office, rent units, accept payments, file paperwork, collect past-due rent, etc.
- Safety and security procedures: How to prevent risk-related issues, what to do in the event of a problem
- Maintenance procedures: Daily/weekly/monthly checklists for site upkeep and repair
- Customer-service guidelines: How to handle delinquencies, disgruntled customers, social media interaction, online reviews, etc.
Company Size Doesn’t Matter
While most of us see the logic in applying policies and procedures to large companies, small, independent self-storage operators may wonder if they really need to worry about such formal structure. Well, you do! Even if you operate a facility by yourself and there’s no management team reporting to the office every day, you need policies and procedures. One could argue that a full-fledged set of company rules may not be necessary, but they can quite literally save your business in the event you’re suddenly absent. Think of it as your “hit by a bus” plan.
A simple set of guidelines that accurately outlines your operation allows someone to come in behind you in the event of an emergency and enables them to keep the business running smoothly for an extended time, if necessary. Customers will remain happily taken care of; rent will continue to be collected efficiently; routine maintenance will be addressed, security maintained and bills paid on time—all because the person in your place doesn’t have to start from scratch.
This also holds true for the legal side of the business. In the same way that policies help employees understand what they can expect from the company and vice versa, legal procedures outline what customers can anticipate from the organization as well as the expectations the business should set for tenants.
Let’s use unit prices as an example. A procedure for rate increases should instruct employees on frequency and amount. If a tenant accuses the company of unfair treatment, staff can fall back on this documentation as proof of consistent and fair action—assuming the guidelines were followed correctly. In this way, detailed processes help employees stay in line with company expectations and support the business against allegations.
Implementation and Compliance
Successfully implementing your self-storage policies and procedures requires clear communication, thorough training and ongoing monitoring. Begin by introducing any new documents to all employees and make sure they understand their relevance and purpose. Provide training to familiarize staff with updates, and address any questions or concerns.
To ensure compliance, establish a system that monitors adherence. This might include regular audits or inspections, as well as soliciting employee feedback to identify any areas that could be enhanced. Encourage a culture of continuous improvement by recognizing and rewarding staff who consistently follow the guidelines and contribute to company success.
How Often Should You Revisit?
To keep your self-storage policies and procedures relevant and effective, it’s important to review and update them regularly. A good rule of thumb is to revisit everything at least annually, or whenever significant changes occur within your business and the industry, including applicable laws and regulations. Factors that might trigger an update include:
- Organizational restructuring or expansion
- New or updated industry standards
- Changes to local, state or federal regulations
- Technological advancements that impact operations
- Feedback from employees or customers
By regularly reviewing and updating your standards, you ensure that they remain accurate, effective and aligned with your company’s goals and objectives. This process also helps identify potential gaps or inefficiencies in your self-storage operation and provides an opportunity to make necessary improvements.
Policies and procedures should be considered living, breathing entities. Your detailed procedures will likely need more frequent updates than your policies, but housing these documents in a format that’s easy to update will help encourage long life and use. With today’s technology, it’s much easier to keep records online, where they’re easily accessible by anyone in your organization. Gone are the days in which printed manuals are necessary, as they can be cumbersome to use as well as expensive to reprint with updates.
Establishing and maintaining well-defined policies and procedures is essential for self-storage success, regardless of how many facilities you operate or number of employees on staff. These guidelines are the lifeblood of your operation. By investing time and effort into developing and maintaining them, you set the stage for a thriving business that delivers exceptional service, fosters employee satisfaction and builds a loyal customer base.
Melissa Huff is the owner of Melissa's Management & Consulting LLC, a management and consulting firm that specializes in serving state self-storage associations. Her experience with state associations and previous role at Affordable Storage Guys has fueled her passion for the self-storage industry. She currently manages the Louisiana and Tennessee Self Storage Associations. To reach her, email [email protected] or connect through LinkedIn.