Changing Perspectives in Self-Storage: Budgets, Education, SEO

Self-storage industry expert Jim Chiswell talks about shifting perspectives in the storage business, setting goals for the year ahead, training facility managers and more.

January 25, 2010

5 Min Read
Changing Perspectives in Self-Storage: Budgets, Education, SEO

As I talk with self-storage owners and managers across the country, I’ve concluded that many of us need to shift our perspectives about our businesses and bottom-line results. To bury your head like an ostrich, unwilling to deal with the new reality, isn’t healthy for you, your facility or anyone else.

While a few storage locations will maintain or return to 90 percent-plus economic occupancy this year, they’ll be the exception and not the rule. We’ve been seeing a growing gap appear between physical occupancy (square footage or unit count) and financial occupancy. There’s no way to close that space while you’re giving away rent and other discount incentives.

As an owner, if you’re budgeting with a 90 percent or higher financial-occupancy goal, you’re setting up yourself and your management team for disappointment. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that by attempting to motivate your managers with unrealistically high goals that you can somehow get them to work harder. In my experience, when everyone from the top down agrees to the budgetary and written goals for the year, you have a real chance at achieving them.

It’s still early enough in the year to consider resetting your budgetary goals. Consider the answer to this question: “What do I really think the new ‘normal’ is for my business?

What’s On Your Education Schedule This Year?

I’m curious what owners and managers are planning for themselves in terms of educational opportunities in the year ahead.  Will you be taking online training sessions or participating in a local Toastmasters International? Will you become an active member of the Self-Storage Talk online community or attend a national or state expo or conference? Perhaps you’ll download a special-interest webinar or podcast?

It might be as simple as starting your own book or magazine-article club where everyone reads the same item and shares thoughts on how its lessons could be applied to your business. The opportunities for education are virtually endless. However, it takes intention coupled with resources (time and a bit of money) to include learning as a goal for the months ahead.

I’ve debated the concept of continuing education with owners for years. Some still believe their employees are “just fine the way they are, thank you!” I couldn’t disagree more. No matter how skilled your people are, there are always new things to learn and different methods to improve your facility’s operation or customer service.

If you haven’t included dollars in this year’s budget for education, it’s not too late to add some into your expense calculations. The money and time devoted to manager training will produce tangible benefits for your business and your staff. 


If you have a website and can’t explain what those three letters mean, you could be losing money.  Take a few minutes and ask your circle of friends or business associates. It won’t take long before you run into someone who not only understands SEO but is using it to benefit their business 24/7/365. Those of you who already know the power this acronym represents ... are you really using it effectively?
My Dad

Those of you who’ve read this column over the years know that I occasionally mention my children, a new grandchild or my wife, Jackie. I now ask your indulgence as I acknowledge my father, Sydney Frederick Chiswell. As I write this column, my family has just learned that he has stage IV lymphoma and only months to live. After his 90 years of life, he still has an upbeat attitude. He said to me, “Hey, I’ve had a good run!”

For the past 10 years, with my sister’s help, my father has been a full-time caregiver for my mom, who suffered a stroke and has been confined to a wheelchair. He has been a model of unconditional love for me and our entire family.

I know in my heart that my father will probably not live to read this piece when it’s published, but I’d still like to pay public tribute to this World War II Navy veteran, amateur radio operator for W2ICZ, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. I remember him cooking me steak and eggs every Saturday morning before my high-school football games. I know I’ve disappointed him with some of my decisions over the years, but he has always stood by my side without judgment, and I never doubted his love for me.  In some of my darkest hours, he has been my light.

I share these thoughts to encourage everyone to look for that light in those around you and thank or hug them a bit more in the days ahead. If I had to put my dad’s approach to life into just one phrase it would be, “Others first, Father, others first.” I love you, Dad, and thanks.
Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC, which provides feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He has served for a number of years on the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, is a moderator on and a faculty member of the Self-Storage Training Institute. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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