When I was younger, I used to read a comic strip called “The Family Circus,” which revolved around a mother, father and four young children. With that many kids, crazy things were bound to happen: broken dishes, baseballs through windows and muddy dogs running through the house. Every time the parents would investigate an issue, they’d get the standard kid response: “Not me,” “I don’t know” or “Nobody.” Comic creator Bil Keane even drew in little invisible ghosts with these names to represent the guilty parties.
If you’re a self-storage owner, I’m sure you’ve had experiences like these with your staff. As funny as it is to put the blame on a nameless apparition in a comic strip, finger-pointing is alive and well in the workplace. It’s common to hear employees say things like, “I didn’t know we were supposed to xyz,” “Nobody told me to do xyz” or “Whoever did xyz, it wasn’t me.”
To combat this behavior, it’s important to implement specific policies and procedures for your self-storage business and hold staff accountable for them. Put them in writing so they’re clear and accessible. Think of these rules as a book of recipes containing all the ingredients, measurements and instructions necessary to create the perfect operation.
Making a List
To figure out what should go into your policies and procedures manual, grab a pen and paper and build an outline. Start by reviewing all daily tasks, from the moment your manager arrives to the time he leaves at the end of the day. Self-storage has quite a few moving parts, so don’t take anything for granted. Include even obvious items such as turning lights on and off, turning on the computer, and taking out the trash.
The great part about your outline is it can easily be converted into checklists that can be used to guide daily operation. You can use these as the foundation for your manual, elaborating on each item. Checklists help us keep our mental reservoirs full, as we don’t drain them trying to remember rote information. The worst place to store anything is the human mind because we can only remember so much without help.
By the time you’ve finished your outline process, your checklists should be extensive. Following are a some of the things they should include.
- Who are you?
- What’s your company’s story?
- What are your corporate values?
- What’s the chain of command?
- Who’s responsible for specific aspects of the operation?
- How are polices changed?
- What are the rules for using company property?
- What company property is onsite?
- What’s the contact information for local vendors and emergency services?
- What are the daily, weekly and monthly procedures?
- Who orders supplies?
- What software does the property have, and how is it to be used?
- How should the office look?
- What items should be on the office counters?
- What’s the marketing plan, and who’s responsible for developing it?
- Who’s responsible for executing it?
- How should the phone be answered?
- Is there a sales script?
- What’s the procedure to show a unit?
- How often should a manager follow up with a potential customer?
- What’s the limit of your manager’s authority regarding specials, discounts or pricing?
- How is the rental agreement completed?
- What points in the rental agreement should the manager review with the customer?
- How are payments processed?
- What’s the delinquency policy?
- What kind of fees do you implement and when?
- What ancillary items, such as tenant insurance or rental trucks, are managers required to sell?
- What if a customer is considered active military?
- What’s the company’s philosophy on customer service?
- Who should the manager contact if a customer has an issue?
- What are the limits of the manager to handle a customer issue?
- How are refunds, change of address or customer bankruptcies addressed?
- What are the specific delinquency timelines?
- How should delinquent tenants be contacted?
- What’s the procedure to process a unit for auction?
- What’s the procedure to remove a customer from the auction process?
- What’s the vacate policy for customers?
- How should the manager process vacated units?
- What’s the procedure to initiate a customer refund?
- All maintenance tasks should be part of your daily, weekly and monthly procedures.
- How are maintenance issues resolved?
- Who needs to be informed before a vendor is contacted?
- Who has the authority to approve a vendor quote?
- How many quotes are required before a repair or replacement can be approved?
- What kind of security does the property have?
- Where are the cameras and DVR station located?
- How is the security system operated?
- What kind of gate system is installed, and how is it operated?
- What’s the daily security procedure?
- What’s your facility lock system?
- Are the locks colored?
- How are they used for specific procedures?
- What are the procedures for various types of emergencies?
- Where are all the maintenance and utility access points?
- What procedure should be followed if a customer or employee is injured?
- What if the facility is burglarized?
- What procedure should be followed if law enforcement wants to access a tenant’s unit?
- What’s the policy on speaking with attorneys and reporters?
- Who should the facility manager contact if a customer issue escalates?
- What are the procedures during hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, etc.?
- Who makes the final decision to open or close the property?
- What’s the procedure if communication to the property is cut?
- What emergency supplies should be onsite and where are they located?
These are just a few of the items your policies and procedures manual will need to address. Once you’ve built your outline and checklists, add the details. Your final version should go much deeper than this overview.
Remember, your facility-operation team can only be held responsible if they’re properly trained and have the appropriate resources. Granted, not everyone processes instructions or will react to issues in the same way, but you can minimize or eliminate variables by identifying key areas of concern and detailing how they should be handled. Once they’re in black and white, “I Don’t Know,” “Not Me” and “Nobody” will suddenly disappear, making your facility nearly gremlin-free.
Matthew Van Horn is co-founder of 3 Mile Domination Self Storage Services, a full-service operations company specializing in self-storage management, marketing, feasibility studies and consulting. He’s also co-author of “Self Storage Domination.” To speak with him about your self-storage operations, schedule a free 60-minute strategy session at www.3miledomination.com.