By Rick Beal
The 5-O. The fuzz. Johnny Law. Whatever you choose to call the men and women in law enforcement, sometimes it seems you call them more than your delinquent self-storage tenants! If you operate a storage facility, it’s important to have a positive relationship with police in which both sides benefit. Here’s why to establish a valuable partnership with your local department and several ways to build it.
Realize the Benefits
In the mid-90s, there was a shift in law-enforcement agencies nationwide and the term “community-oriented policing” was coined. It was an initiative through which police attempted to work with members of the community—as a whole—in a proactive approach to address public concerns. You can probably think of a few examples in your own area, such as officers on bikes, “shop with a cop” or other programs. Services that highlight personal interaction between police officers and citizens are cases of community policing.
Often, agencies assign police officers to specific areas to help champion these causes. They’re designated to a region or neighborhood to improve community relations. These aren’t the officers you see driving in police cars, making traffic-violation stops, directing traffic after a car crash or other duties. The goal for these officers is to interact with the public, and their assignments are often for an extended period.
If you’re in a large city, this can be a big advantage for your self-storage business. These officers often help plan community events. How beneficial would it be to team up with the safety officer in your area to hold a public event at your facility—with a few rental coupons, of course!
If you haven’t already, take the time to become an active part of your community and build relationships with local law enforcement. There may be more advantages than you may think. (On a side note, from my experience, I guarantee they know more about what’s going on around your facility than you would ever want to know.) Now let's get to how you can build these partnerships.
Create a Relationship
It was about 2 a.m. when I got a call on my cell phone. “Rick! Hey, man, I don’t know what’s going on with your gate, but it just seems to be opening and closing.” This was a call I received from a police officer who works in the neighborhood and whom I had gotten to know pretty well. I thanked him, and then asked if he could troubleshoot for me. He agreed, which not only saved me from having to head to the facility in the middle of the night but ensured the property was once again secure.
Think of a customer you really like, one who has been friendly to you. You remember that person, don’t you? You would look out for him, wouldn’t you? Let me give you a little hint: The same feelings can apply with law enforcement.
If you get to know the officers who work in your neighborhood, you’ll realize they’re just people, same as you and me. How can you develop a more positive relationship with them? Send bagels or coffee to their morning briefings as a thank you (not donuts!). Deliver a basket filled with cookies, fruit or muffins to your local precinct one afternoon. If they’re involved with a charitable organization or hosting a community event, find out how you can help. You might even request to participate in a ride-along to get to know the officers better.
Over time, you’ll see your relationship grow. Once they get to know you, they might call you if they see something “off” at your facility. They may start making more rounds by the property for extra security. If they know and like you, and you’ve built that relationship with them, you’ll be surprised by the results!
In general, I’m not a huge fan of discounting. With that said, offering a discount to some professions—law enforcement, military and teachers—is acceptable. At one of our facilities, we offer the local police department a complimentary unit. That one unit has paid dividends. Not only did the department rent another two units from us, so did the city’s art and parks departments. All have been tenants for four years! We’ve also had at least 10 city employees become tenants after they visited units rented by their departments. They were so impressed with our property, they rented units, too.
Many police departments have newsletters or will periodically put together a list of area businesses that offer discounts to law-enforcement employees. Ask if you can add your facility to the list, or reach out to the human-resources department and let them know about special offers for their employees. Word-of-mouth recommendations can go a long way. Don’t be surprised if you see the amount of referrals you receive increase from this activity alone.
Provide a Place for Training
Allowing police, specifically K-9 units, to train at a self-storage facility seems to be a hot-bed issue in our industry. There are many opinions, and I have my own on the subject. If you’re an operator who agrees with it, then open up the gates and release the hounds! This is a great chance for you to make a good contact with your K-9 officers. Let them run your halls or driveways every now and again and see what they can find.
There are also other police groups that would benefit from using your facility at a training ground. Drug-enforcement agencies and SWAT teams are always looking for different venues to expand their training. If you have a multi-level facility with elevators, long hallways or stairs, this might be an option for you, as these are some of the physical parameters they find useful.
If you choose to open your facility for police training, notify your customers with a few signs posted strategically around the premises. Not only does this inform tenants for safety purposes, it lets them know you’re doing your part to be involved with and better your community. Plus, it might scare off a would-be criminal!
To sum it up, get involved. This article has identified only three ways to connect you with your local law-enforcement agencies. Reach out and see what partnerships you can create with the officers in your area. You want them on your side. After all, the people who serve our community are also our customers.
Rick Beal is the district manager and part owner of Cubes Self Storage, an operation in Salt Lake City. He often takes a different approach to typical storage operation including demand, rates, staff involvement and technology. His professional motto is “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.