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Crisis Management for Self-Storage Owners: Being Prepared When the Unthinkable Happens

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What could possibly go wrong at your self-storage facility? Many things. Don’t be caught off guard if you experience a crisis such as a fire, theft or other event. Follow these steps to minimize the damage and protect your business.

What could possibly go wrong at your self-storage facility? It’s a pretty simple business, right? Actually, anything—and everything—can go wrong. Here are some things that could occur at your facility on any given day:

  • Theft: One of your managers arrives in the morning to find 20 units have been burglarized.
  • Fire: You come back from lunch to find smoke billowing from the end of the building and flames licking the roof.
  • Car accident: A manager is doing a lock check when a driver jumps the curb in front of the office and drives right through the front door, causing thousands of dollars in damage.
  • Slip and fall: A customer walks in the office and does a total wipeout, landing squarely on her back.
  • Water damage: A frantic customer yells at you or one of your managers about the 6 inches of water on the floor in his unit.
  • Domestic dispute: What are the odds the ex-husband and ex-wife with individual storage units are on your property at the same time and get into a brawl? It’s happened.
  • Irate customer: Your system accidentally charged a customer’s debit card 10 times and his automatic payment for his mortgage didn’t clear. Now he has overdraft fees from his bank and a late-payment charge from his mortgage company.
  • Police action: You look up from your desk to see several squad cars, a SWAT vehicle and two firetrucks speeding into your parking lot with sirens blaring.
  • Injury or death on site: Your manager peeks into a vehicle that was parked overnight in an area where there should be no cars and sees a person slumped lifelessly over the steering wheel.
  • Something horrible in a unit: The auction of unit 277 is done and you hear a blood-curdling scream as the new owner of the unit opens a wooden trunk to find something unspeakable.

If I haven’t scared you out of the storage business yet, the next question will be, “How do you prepare for these potential crises?” First, make sure your business insurance coverage will protect you and your employees in every possible event. Your customers should also have insurance to protect their belongings.

Next, have good contact information on file for all the people you’ll have to notify if things go completely haywire. This includes and is not limited to any business partners, employees, customers, emergency responders, insurance agents, recovery services and vendors. It also includes public-relations and social media consultants, if your business uses them.

Knowing What to Say

If you’re the point person for all inquiries, you need to know what to say. You’ll be bombarded with questions from many directions, and you don’t want to say too much or too little. Here are some general guidelines to craft your statement:

  • Explain the situation. Share what you know as briefly as possible without embellishment.
  • Say you’re sorry. Apologize for the situation and the inconvenience it has caused, without saying who caused it. You may not know who’s at fault early in a crisis.
  • Explain what’s being done to mitigate the problem. Discuss what action is being taken now to minimize damage, inconvenience and risk.
  • Explain to those impacted what they should do next. Should they stay off the property? Should they come to the property immediately to check on their units? What’s expected of your employees?
  • Offer updates. Tell your customers who’ll give them status updates, when and in what manner. Keep communicating with the affected people, including your managers, so they know what’s going on.
  • Be straight, honest and brief. You want to tell the story from your point of view before anyone else tells it. In that way, you own the story and get to frame the issue.

The Next Steps

You’ll need to muster some strength to manage the hectic pace of what happens next. You’ll also need to make some big decisions. Do you close the facility? Do you reroute traffic? Do you call for help from contactors and others? Should you send staff home or will they assist you?

One thing that can greatly help you in answering these questions is to prepare yourself and your employees or co-workers before an incident occurs:

  • Talk through possible scenarios and create a plan of action.
  • Role play what you’d say to the press, customers and others who’ve been affected by a crisis on your property.
  • Write out some of the contingency plans you might follow to mitigate a disaster and begin a recovery effort.
  • Make an outline or create a disaster manual so no matter who’s on duty when the inevitable happens, you can all act quickly and appropriately.

Preparation is the key. The more organized you are, the less chaotic your life will be if anything goes amiss at your self-storage site.

It’s also important that you make time to rest and recharge during a crisis. You might be working 20 hour days for a while until things get resolved. The more exhausted you are, the more likely you’ll make mistakes or say the wrong thing to the wrong person. You’ll need to take care of yourself and your staff.

More than likely, something will happen at your facility at some point. Don’t get caught like a deer in headlights. Make preparations. Practice your responses. Use best practices to prevent problems. Get the proper insurance coverage. And then, when that something does happen, get in there and make the best of it.

Tron Jordheim is the chief marketing officer of StorageMart and director of PhoneSmart. He has consulted for many self-storage companies and spoken at industry events in Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to joining StorageMart, he managed one of Culligan’s top U.S. bottled-water franchises. For more information, visit www.phone-smart.net.

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