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Treading Into the Unknown: Self-Storage Operators Adapt to New Business Reality

As we all emerge from coronavirus lockdown, we’re greeted with a new way of living and working. Self-storage operators seeking to reopen their offices to customers will need to adapt to keep themselves and their tenants safe.

Last Friday morning, I picked up my car from the mechanic, then decided to run a few errands. As I pulled away from the parking lot, it struck me that something that used to be a “regular” thing is now fraught with danger and brings me so much anxiety. But I needed a few things, so I donned a mask and set out to get in and out of a few businesses as quickly as possible. I practiced social distancing to the best of my ability. And while I wasn’t wearing gloves, I refrained from touching too many things and used a ton of hand sanitizer.

I’m fortunate that I’m able to work from home, so these outings—though brief and happen once a week—are my only contact outside my house. I’ve refrained from family social gatherings, tuned into church online and shop at the grocery store at odd hours as there’s usually fewer patrons. Yet I long for the days—just months ago, really—when I could step out my door and go anywhere and do anything.

As of Wednesday, all states that had imposed stay-at-home orders to help slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) began relaxing restrictions on public spaces and businesses. Americans were once again allowed to visit retail stores, restaurants, zoos, salons, gyms, museums, parks, lakes and beaches. In some areas, this freedom still comes with restrictions. Many places are requiring people to wear masks and, of course, adhere to social distancing. Some restaurants and stores have reduced operating hours and are limiting the number of customers allowed inside.

Deciding to reopen your self-storage office to customers after being given the all-clear won’t be any easy decision. There are many factors to consider, including the health of your staff. If you’re not sure if you should reopen your office, consider this CDC chart that walks you through the decision process. If you deem it’s time to once again receive customers, try to adhere to the following.

Office hours. It’s perfectly acceptable to limit your office hours during these times. Some operators are keeping their doors locked, opening them as needed. You can add a sign outside your office letting customers know that you’re limiting the number of people in the office to one or two at a time. Or you can require anyone who needs to visit the office to make an appointment. It’s vital to communicate with tenants so they know what to expect.

Greetings. It’s going to be awkward to not shake hands with your customers, but it’s critical to avoid it. You can say something like, “I’d love to shake your hand but … coronavirus … you know.” Even though you won’t be extending your hand, it’s still important to stand up, albeit from six feet away, and smile, even when wearing a mask. They’ll see it in your eyes and hear it in your tone!

Rental agreements. If you can, offer a digital agreement. You can even upload one to a tablet and simply hand it over. Once the person has completed it, you can sanitize the tablet. If you’d still like to go over the lease in detail, consider laminating your entire rental agreement (double-sided), then securing it with a large ring. It’ll be easy to keep clean. I’m sure you’ve seen one of these at the doctor’s office when they discuss your privacy rights. Then hand over the tablet for the signature.

Pens. If your rental agreement requires a wet signature, you’ll need a few pens on hand. Rather than having a container of them sitting on the counter, put it on your desk (within reach) and hand one over when it’s needed. Tell your new tenant he can keep the pen. Add your company name and phone number or website for branding.

Other accommodations. There are so many alterations you can make that’ll help with social distancing and still allow you to interact with customers. Consider the layout of your office. Are employee desks at least six feet apart. Consider removing chairs, furniture and beverage bars from the office. You might also erect an acrylic or plexiglass sneeze guard at the counter. There are many variations of this product including adjustable heights, portable options and pass-through openings. These are super-easy to keep clean.

Sanitation! Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face and other items too often, like those pens. If you have a touch keypad, keep sanitizing wipes nearby so you can give them a quick clean after every use. This goes for all common areas frequently touched at your facility—doorknobs, elevator buttons, hand trucks, etc.

Contact-free rentals. Many facilities offered contact-free rentals prior to the pandemic, allowing customers to rent, pay for and move into their storage units without interacting in person with a facility manager. This is type of rental experience is even more appealing to many customers these days. Operators are using technology to accommodate this demand. Learn how in this ISS News Desk.

The opening of America comes as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in many regions. Experts predict we’ll be fighting this pandemic for months, maybe longer. While we’re all eager to get “back to normal,” the reality is there is no normal anymore. We’re living in a very different world than we were at the beginning of the 2020. To acclimate to this new environment, changes are necessary. Some will be short term, but others will be here to stay. The adaptations you make to your self-storage business today will likely stay in place for some time, so make them count.

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