If there’s one thing I’ve surmised from the dizzying events of the last few days, it’s that almost no one will go unscathed by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s not to say we’re all going to contract this novel virus or need to fear for our lives. There’s plenty to suggest that we will get on top of this quickly and that those who do fall ill will mostly suffer mild to moderate symptoms. The non-illness ripple effect from COVID-19 is also widespread, impacting the normal flow of business, education, entertainment, financial markets, sports and on and on. The emotional and economic fallout from what is now a national emergency is bitter collateral, but it’s important to keep the big picture in perspective.
Though we are in a time of uncertainty and upheaval, a declared global pandemic and national emergency should mobilize all of us toward a common purpose of slowing the spread of this virus. We are effectively all in a collective mode of crisis management. Social distancing has quickly become part of our lexicon, and its practice has a history of proven effectiveness—even when it results in hardship. In the last 48 hours, my daughter’s senior year in college has been suddenly turned upside down and her 12-year synchronized swimming career has been brought to an abrupt, grinding halt with little chance for appropriate closure and no opportunity to vie for a national collegiate title this spring. Worse, a dear friend is blocked from visiting his mother who’s dying in hospice inside an extended-care facility.
These and many other unfortunate realities are byproducts of precautionary safety measures. Businesses have to make difficult decisions for the betterment and safety of their employees and the well-being of their customers. Some choices could severely impact finances and the flow of commerce. Whether or not the extenuating ramifications of the coronavirus collectively tip us into economic recession remains to be seen, but the fight to preserve the health and welfare of colleagues, customers, neighbors, friends and family remains paramount.
The coronavirus outbreak is another reminder for self-storage operators to have a crisis-management plan in place. Though this virus is much different than more common natural disasters, the policies and procedures you use to guide your response to incidents of crime, fire, earthquakes and weather-related episodes will serve you well now. In addition, there are a number of simple precautions you can take to clean and disinfect the management office and common areas at your facility. Be sure to frequently disinfect cart handles, elevator buttons, keypads, doorknobs, office equipment and any other items that colleagues and customers access. For additional tips, Kris Fetter recently wrote a helpful blog on reducing the spread of germs and minimizing the impact of flu season. For help with workplace safety and other operational issues, the U.S. Department of Labor also has launched a page dedicated to coronavirus resources.
Though self-storage operations are considered low volume in terms of customer foot traffic, this is also an optimal time to consider areas of the business that reduce interaction. If you don’t already have a modern website that allows customers to rent a unit online, a self-serve kiosk or a call center to handle inquiries and customer issues—particularly if the facility manager is out sick for an extended period—these might be options to move up your priority list. Though they may not be as quickly implemented, smart locks, remote monitoring, mobile access and other automated tools can also ease the burden of face-to-face interactions and be reassuring to prospective customers and tenants during active social distancing. It’s pretty much a lock that any competing fully automated, unmanned facilities will play up these property features in their marketing outreach.
The crisis is also an opportunity for self-storage operators to be visible in their communities, offering solutions to those impacted by circumstances. At the top of the list easily could be students who are displaced for the spring. Several universities, including my daughter’s, have asked students not to return to campus following spring break, as they shift learning online. Students who have been forced to move out of dorms without an easy place to store belongings can certainly use assistance. Special rates or temporary giveaways aren’t uncommon in the industry during times of crisis. Now’s a good time to mobilize community outreach with special promotions.
How quickly we’re all able to return to normalcy remains to be seen. There is stress in uncertainty, and we likely haven’t seen the worst of this crisis. Taking precautions for yourself and your customers, being pragmatic in your decision-making, remaining as calm as possible, and keeping your eye on the big picture are all ways to combat the unknown, deal with frustrations and adapt to changing conditions. Be safe out there.