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Implementing Policies and Procedures for a Smooth-Running Self-Storage Operation

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When a self-storage business lacks clear policies and procedures, even everyday transactions can be confusing for employees and customers. Get insight to why you need operational standards and how to implement them.

For their facilities to run efficiently, self-storage owners must tailor their operations to ensure a positive, productive experience for employees and customers. They must create guidelines that benefit everyone connected with the business. But it can be difficult, intricate work to establish the policies and procedures that drive day-to-day activities. Learn to implement standardized processes that’ll make excellence the norm and help your operation weather any storm.

Building a Framework

My corner of the self-storage world lies at the intersection of Small Local Business Road and Multi-Property Portfolio Avenue. I’m the operations project manager for a company that oversees 18 San Diego facilities comprising more than 1.5 million rentable square feet. We focus on cultivating an exceptional storage experience with a hometown community feel.

But you don’t just wake up one day, decide what your company culture will be and expect it to manifest. How do you make the leap from concept to practice? You’ll need to build a framework of solid policies and procedures to turn mundane transactions into engaging experiences that’ll keep your operation profitable, even during a global pandemic.

You can think of policies as the do’s and don’ts that dictate how your business is run. They’re generally shaped over time with company values and goals in mind. For example, you may make it a policy to accept all payment types because you value customer convenience. With a policy, there’s generally a lot of room for interpretation; but essentially, when you have a rule based on a principle, that’s a policy.

Procedures, on the other hand, have little to no room for interpretation. They’re the step-by-step instructions for completing any task from start to finish. To continue with our payment example, a procedure might state that you first you check a customer’s ID, then you run the credit card, and finally, you make sure the receipt gets a signature. All required parts of the transaction are outlined including the order in which they must completed.

Bring these two concepts together and you have the how and the why of your self-storage business—your framework. Understanding the why encourages staff to invest in the process and empowers them to problem-solve when necessary. Providing the how gives them the tools to succeed, which protects and grows your asset. These benefits apply to all facets of any organization, from the entry-level employee to leadership. Who wouldn’t want their job to be easier? No one!

Evaluating Your Current Operation

Creating policies and procedures can be daunting, and you shouldn’t instigate change in your self-storage operation for its own sake. Any adjustments you make must be driven by a useful purpose. Start by asking yourself, “Have we established standard procedures for routine tasks? Is our workflow the most efficient it can be? Do we have instructions in place to help guide staff if someone needs to be absent for a period of time?”

You know what they say on airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask first. Even if you’re the facility owner or a supervisor, it’s important to stay connected to that front-of-the-house mindset. You can’t effectively identify opportunities for improvement if you don’t know the current procedures that are in place and the challenges staff face.

Look for areas of the business that could perform better and any gaps where you may be lacking something useful. Identify a goal or a theme to guide your priorities. Perhaps choose one focus at a time, such as improving a single aspect of the customer experience, creating or updating your marketing materials, or finding meaningful ways to recognize excellent staff performance.

Whatever you choose to tackle, make sure you follow these five principles of effective implementation:

  • Measurements for success: Define the specific metrics or outcomes that must be achieved for a particular directive to be considered successful.
  • Customized training tools: The new policy or and procedure must be clearly communicated to all staff, preferably with written or visual instructions for future reference.
  • Onboarding protocols: Roll out the new guideline to all staff simultaneously or phase out to select groups at a time, then reassess for effectiveness. Have contingencies ready in advance to pivot quickly if necessary.
  • Accountability mechanisms: Establish a chain of command to reinforce expectations and encourage peer leadership opportunities where appropriate.
  • Create with updating in mind: Build in mechanisms for updates so you won’t have to start from scratch when changes are needed.

Focusing on Small, Consistent Change

Making the effort to continue this cycle of assessment and improvement sets a tone of high expectation within your self-storage organization. With each meaningful adjustment to your policies and procedures, you’re showing employees and customers you’re willing to invest in their best interests.

Staff will be encouraged to seek opportunities for innovation if they know you’re open to smoothing their friction points. They’ll also come to accept that some change is necessary to grow and become comfortable adapting to anything that comes their way with confidence. Customers will be more understanding through any bumps in the road if they can see a conscious effort to ease the flow of their transactions and may even value your services at a higher rate than a complacent competitor.

These incremental adjustments will add up over time and eventually form the foundation of a positive, productive company culture in which you can be proud. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but you may be surprised at the chain reaction a simple change can create.

For example, you might notice a need for more selective hiring practices to preserve the quality of the work environment you’ve created. The mindset will shift from a “butts in seats” approach to focus more on talent acquisition. Or you may find that your facility managers are less encumbered with constant troubleshooting as you shift away from a reactive state to a more proactive one.

The best part is you’re creating a roadmap for future modernization that’s custom curated for your company’s specific needs. Standardization doesn’t mean you should do what everyone else is doing. It means finding what works best for your business and doing it consistently and well every time.

Committing to Invest

Change is seldom free, and it isn’t easy to put a price tag on excellence. The good news is the single largest cost of implementing strong policies and procedures at your self-storage facility is simply time. It takes time to write out training instructions, create digital forms so your operation can go paperless, and better organize your workflow, but it’s worth it.

Of course, there may be some monetary cost, but I would argue that most (if not all) improvements you make will save or make enough revenue to offset the initial expense. The added value can be vast. Depending on your priorities, you could decrease employee turnover, increase customer satisfaction, and raise the overall value of the property or business. You can eliminate waste and decrease your operational overhead. The possibilities are limitless.

By committing to constant, meaningful reinvestment in company policies in procedures, my organization was not only able to meet the challenges of the pandemic but to thrive during a difficult time. We had the infrastructure in place to meet obstacles head on, pivot on a day’s notice, and communicate expectations for moving forward under new guidelines. Supply chains were well-established, updated technology had already been acquired and could be implemented immediately, and the work never even paused.

To remain idle is to stagnate. Start reinforcing your self-storage business now with strong policies and procedures to prosper regardless of challenges. It all happens one project at a time.

Kaitlin Elenes is the operations project manager for San Diego Self Storage. She got her start in the storage industry in 2016 working in the rental office, then joined the operations team in 2017. Since then, she has coordinated several large-scale projects designed to enhance the physical appearance of the 18-property portfolio, integrate modern technology into daily transactions and provide practical training materials for staff. To reach her, call 858.453.0888, extension 106.

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