Self-storage owners who provide their staff with clearly defined policies and procedures reap the benefits in many ways. When your business practices are understood and consistently applied, it sets the expectation for staff and tenants.
Good policies and procedures maximize efficiency and productivity at your storage business and ensure that each facility is operated in the same manner. While there are always some items that are open to interpretation, consistency helps staff and tenants feel they’re treated fairly. One of the best ways to ensure your business is operated in accordance with your expectations is to provide a written policies and procedures manual outlining your standards and rules.
As the business owner, you’re the one who has put your money, reputation, livelihood and more on the line for the success of the venture. Storage is not a difficult business, but there are a lot of pieces that make up the total operation. Key practices such as phone etiquette, cash handling, required documentation, delinquent-tenant processes and auction procedures should all be included in your manual.
In addition to a good manual, checklists can help you reiterate important items so they’re not overlooked. This should include tasks managers conduct on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. For example, you can provide a “move-in” checklist that outlines the steps for new rentals. Another worksheet can cover maintenance items, like cleaning unit doors, keeping the office tidy and other property upkeep.
Procedures for handling emergencies and other unexpected incidents are critical to keep your business out of the litigation hot seat. In an emergency there’s no time to read the manual, so managers need to know what to do and how to carry out tasks in a timely manner. If you haven’t trained them on what to do in the event of a fire, robbery, tenant injury, property damage, suspicious activity or serious weather event, you’re vulnerable.
Bring everyone in for an impromptu lunch and run through “what-if” scenarios. This and a written policy regarding potential incidents will go a long way toward keeping your staff and business safe. Knowing they understand how you expect these unforeseen events to be handled will help provide peace of mind for you.
Some incidents need to be reported to third parties such as insurance companies within a certain timeframe or they won’t be covered. Employees needs to be clear on what needs to happen, in what order, how quickly and who needs to be notified when an incident occurs. You need to know immediately if something has happened that could bring a potential insurance claim against your business. You should also have procedures in place for handling the media and safety personnel such as police and the fire department.
Include the Non-Negotiables
Your policies and procedures should outline specific items staff has no authority to change. For example, this might include company forms, the facility rental agreement, or letters that have been provided for their use and should never be altered for any reason. Many of these documents contain required legal language. Changing any part of the rental agreement, for example, puts you, your business and staff jobs in jeopardy. Letters written and sent by well-intended but misguided managers have ended in lawsuits.
Items like uniform standards, signage, marketing materials, brochures and business cards also shouldn’t be left for the staff to “enhance.” These have been developed to display your facility’s brand. If you do allow managers to create marketing materials, approve them prior to use. Also, limit the amount of time managers spend on these promotions, as their time should be spent on activities that support the highest possible level of productivity. You want your managers renting units and keeping the place clean, not spending all day creating marketing materials.
Improve Job Performance
Policies and procedures also help your managers feel good about their job performance. Don’t we all get a sense of satisfaction from a job well done? Isn’t it nice to go home at the end of the day and know everything was handled professionally and competently? Good procedures let good managers excel. They want to play by the rules and be acknowledged for it. When staff is confident and comfortable with the job, it translates to trust and peace of mind for your tenants.
Bad procedures or no procedures can cause stress, anxiety, job insecurity and more. When an employee doesn’t understand what’s expected or how to do the job, it can be demotivating and often leads to turnover. How can you do a good job when you don’t know the rules? People who feel empowered and confident about their position tend to remain in it longer, thus reducing the time and costs associated with hiring and training someone new.
Good policies also help weed out non-performers by making disciplinary actions clear cut and easier to administer. During the new-hire process, managers should be given the policies and procedures manual. They should be required to read it and sign an acknowledgement indicating they’ve done so and agree to follow its contents. This eliminates the “I didn’t know” response to an infraction. If it’s in the manual, which they’ve acknowledged they’ve read, then they did know. There’s no argument. Appropriate action can be taken.
On the flip side, if you let them get away with the infraction without action of some sort, you’re undermining your own operation. When staff sees you don’t value your own rules, they’ll also begin to feel that way. If you see some slippage in dress code, tardiness or cleanliness, address it immediately. It’s a top-down attitude.
It’s just good business to have a solid policies and procedures manual in place and require all staff to read and adhere to it. It sets the standards and expectations of your business and helps safeguard your investment. If you don’t have a written manual, you can purchase one from a number of sources in the self-storage industry and customize it to make it your own.
Keep things on track with checklists and ongoing training. Some policies are black and white, like no jeans, no smoking, when to overlock a late payer, etc. Others may require interpretation or on a case-by-case basis, such as partial-payment policy or refunds. Train your staff on the reasons for each policy. They’re more likely follow the rules when they understand the rationale behind them. Set the expectation, and if it goes a little off track, use it as a training opportunity to get it back where it should be.
Linnea Appleby is the owner of Lime Tree Management, a self-storage management and consulting firm based in Sarasota, Fla. To contact her, call 941.350.7859; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.limetreemanagement.com.