As self-storage operators, we’re supporting a lot of vital industries during this coronavirus pandemic, including healthcare professionals, businesses that stock personal protection equipment (PPE) and other important supplies, fire and police departments, nonprofits, plumbers, and electricians. But keeping our doors open means we have to develop new best practices for site sanitation. To keep everyone safe and ensure customers feel comfortable visiting our properties, we have to keep everything clean.
But what exactly does that mean in this new era? Our customers have always expected our facilities to be tidy, but now there’s a heightened expectation regarding things people can’t see. We’re dealing with an invisible enemy, which is different from the dusty bunnies and spiderwebs we regularly chase with our dusters and brooms. Certainly, there’s much more emphasis now on sanitizing commonly touched surfaces like keypads, door handles, credit card machines, moving carts and elevator buttons.
We need to show customers that we’re doing the disinfecting and extra cleaning. They want to see bottles of cleaner, hand sanitizer on the counter, or an employee donned in PPE to assure them we’re taking official recommendations seriously.
Best Practices and Timelines
Ramping up your cleaning efforts is a minimum expectation for operating a self-storage facility during this crisis. If you haven’t already established an enhanced cleaning protocol, below are some measures you should take in addition to your usual daily maintenance routine.
Surfaces that are regularly touched by employees and customers require the most attention. Whenever possible, they should be disinfected after each use. While cleaning wipes might be a convenient solution, they often aren’t the most practical. Instead, a spray disinfectant allows you to dispense a small, appropriate amount each time. We ask our employees to regularly wipe the following:
- The sales counter, including pens, mats, computers, tablets, etc.
- Debit and credit card machines
- Door handles, inside and out
- The washroom, including the door handle, faucet handle, paper-towel dispenser, toilet flusher and seat
- Access keypads
- Elevator buttons
- Moving carts (specifically the handles)
- Any additional surface that receives customer contact
At a minimum, you want to clean all these at the start of the business day, after lunch, at the close of business, after each customer use (when possible), and as necessary throughout the day. You definitely want to increase your efforts during high-traffic times.
Here are a few additional sanitation tips:
- When you need to clean a delicate surface like a keypad touchpad, don’t spray cleaner directly onto the device, which could damage it. Instead, dampen a rag with cleaner and wipe carefully.
- Send regular communication to staff of your expectations and remind them of easy-to-miss cleaning tasks. Commonly touched surfaces outside the office can be easier to forget than those immediately nearby.
- Provide easy access to hand sanitizer or cleaner for customers. This is a great way to give them peace of mind.
The Role of PPE
As we learn more about the transmission of COVID-19, PPE use has greatly expanded. Masks are now commonplace and increasingly required in many public places. Having a supply on hand for employees and even customers has become standard. Gloves are great, too, but unless you’re throwing them away after each use, they aren’t effective.
In our offices, we’ve adopted the use of plexiglass shields. Even though self-storage is a relatively low-volume business when compared with many retailers, these shields are an easy, inexpensive way to create a safety barrier between employees and customers, benefitting both. If you have a customer who refuses to, or can’t, wear a mask, this provides an added level of protection your staff will appreciate.
Products and Supplies
In the beginning, many of us scrambled to ensure we had the cleaning products we needed. With that in mind, we should now be cognizant of the supplies, suppliers and price points we like and make the conscious decision to stock up. That way, if there’s another “rush,” we’ll have our preferred—and most cost-efficient—supplies on hand to navigate the situation.
Luckily, even at the height of cleaning-product shortages, spray cleaner was something self-storage operators already had for normal routines. Many of these cleaners were already identified as being effective in killing other coronaviruses, making them a good option for disinfecting our stores. When in doubt, check the product labels. If you have a regular supplier, it should be able to recommend cleaners sufficient for whole-property disinfection.
Hand hygiene is critical in the fight against germs, bacteria and viruses. Keep these pointers in mind:
- Washing: It’s now commonly known that regular hand soap is effective against the coronavirus when hands are washed for 20 seconds or longer.
- Sanitizing: Any hand sanitizer should be at least 60 percent alcohol. Recently, there’s been a recall on a few brands containing methanol, which is potentially harmful. Be on the lookout for this, especially when it comes to unfamiliar brands.
A quick tip: Local breweries and distilleries can be an unexpected resource for hygiene products, as many have converted some production to making hand sanitizers to support local businesses.
As things seem to change daily and we’re constantly adapting to new recommendations, staff training is always a good idea. Clear guidance and expectations are key, especially as regulatory orders are updated, to ensure we’re compliant.
It isn’t enough to say, “We need to clean more often” or “We should wipe down commonly used surfaces.” That leaves too much to individual interpretation. Rather, give specific examples and guidelines, and ask that staff clean anything they notice needing it during the day. Open communication is key, so consistently discuss new information among locations and employees. Ask questions and be prepared with answers.
Hiring Outside Help
If your facility experiences an active exposure to COVID-19, consider hiring trained professionals to disinfect and clean the site. Even if you’ve had no known exposure, consider hiring an outside firm for monthly or weekly cleaning. This can be a real selling point for your customers. It’ll also reassure your employees that you’re taking an extra step to ensure their safety.
Necessity is the mother of invention. While we’ve all been challenged in 2020, we’ve also found new practices and efficiencies that’ll be with us forever, from streamlining rentals to increasing the number of customers on electronic payments, to using an online customer portal to provide better service. Some cleaning procedures will fall into this category, too. We’re collectively more aware of the people and surfaces around us, and I anticipate that these expectations will stay with us long after this pandemic has subsided.
Garrett Harrington is managing director of communications and training for StorageMart. He directs the company’s communication and training efforts throughout Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He was named a 2019 “Emerging Training Leader” by “Training Magazine,” and StorageMart was recognized by the same publication as one of top 125 global training companies, the first such honor for any self-storage organization. For more information, call 855.385.7876; email [email protected]; visit www.storage-mart.com.