If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a global pandemic, social and political unrest, and a topsy-turvy economic climate can work in concert to vaporize business plans, no matter how well-intentioned and strategic. Following a year unlike any we’ve previously witnessed, how should self-storage businesses approach the new year?
Based on the first two weeks of January, we’re clearly in for a long 2020 hangover, along with new uncertainties related to the efficacy and delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations, market reactions to a new federal administration, the prospects of another round of stimulus-influenced consumer spending and whatever new surprises emerge. For an industry that’s again proven it’s resiliency, I’d say cautious optimism is a reasonable stance to take, whether you’re an operator, developer or investor.
As we begin to look ahead for any sustainable bright spots on the horizon, here are three resolutions that should help weather the early challenges in clear sight and position you for acceleration in anticipation of better days ahead.
1. Stay the Course
Businesses and communities have been through the ringer. The economic ping-pong stemming from on-gain, off-again shutdowns has wreaked havoc on service industries not deemed essential. Self-storage has been extremely fortunate, but the industry’s not above reproach. Lawmakers in California and New York have cast a critical eye at rental increases, late fees and lien sales, so it’s incumbent on operators to continue to be cognizant of why tenants may be late on payments and consider extenuating circumstances from the health crisis when applying late fees and pursuing auctions. Similarly, operators should remain diligent in preventing any automatic or manual rate increases that break price-gouging restrictions. We’ve all come too far to lose focus now.
2. Connect With Your Community
Mental fatigue from the last 10-plus months is prevalent. Despite ongoing shelter-at-home orders and the need for social distancing, businesses can still effectively engage customers and their communities, even if it has to be virtual. Get creative on social media and your business website, including your approach to contact-free services and the online storage-rental experience. Become involved in community organizations that hold Zoom gatherings to continue to network locally. Reach out to existing tenants to continue dialogues and strengthen rapport. Find causes within the communities you serve that ignite your passion as well as your staff’s, and allow you to do good and give back. Business leadership isn’t just internal. Your external outreach, particularly right now, can go a long way toward strengthening your brand identity and customer loyalty.
3. Be Flexible
One reason self-storage performance has remained strong is the willingness of operators to adapt to circumstances. Altering policies and procedures isn’t easy. Investing in ways to enhance the online customer experience and adopt a contact-free rental process, including move-in, will have staying power. If you haven’t yet taken the leap, you’re likely missing out on rentals and stand to lose ground to competitors once we eventually emerge from the health crisis. Adopting a flexible mentality, open to shifting with the tide and evolving to gain a competitive advantage, will serve you well not only in today’s climate but in negotiating the next blind curve that inevitably comes our way.
In what’s likely to be a predictably unpredictable year ahead, I wish you continued health and a prosperous New Year.