Self-storage expert Jim Chiswell talks about industry rules of thumb, the role of Facebook in a self-storage operation, and the issue of employee rights to privacy when it comes to using the Internet at work.

Jim Chiswell

September 18, 2010

4 Min Read
Chiswell's Thoughts From the Road: Self-Storage Rules of Thumb, Facebooks Reach and Employee Rights to Privacy

Self-storage operators often ask me about rules of thumb for our industry, on the development as well as the management side of the business. They want concrete guiding principles that spell success. But what Ive learned over the years is people can get hung up on these rules when looking at their own deals and facility management teams. They use them as actual benchmarks instead of loose guidelines that have evolved over time. Examples of these rules include:

  • Only pay 66 percent of the average rental rate per square foot for your land.

  • Dont buy land to build on unless there are 20,000 vehicles per day driving past the site.

  • Anticipate basic expenses at 35 percent of revenue.

  • Expect to lease up at 5 percent per month.

There are countless generalities like this that self-storage professionals should really ignore. They should instead focus on the specifics of their own forecasts, projections and standards based on their personal business philosophy, location and target market.

A Stand for Customer Service

When it comes to the day-to-day management of a store, however, theres one rule everyone should consider as golden. Its a simple imperative that can add a strong customer-service component to your organization. Do you stand or just look up every time someone walks into the office? If all you do is look up, its time to get on your feet.

When you stand up to greet a person when he walks into your office, he knows he has 100 percent of your attention. He sees youre prepared to help himtake his payment or sell him a solution to his storage problem. Add to that a friendly handshake, and you complete a welcome series of gestures that will change the dynamics of the conversation and relationship youll have with that customer.

If all you do is look up because your attention is on something else, the customer can get a youre interrupting me feeling. Yes, there are days when you want to hide behind your counter and computer monitor. But honestly, not that people enter a self-storage office on the average day. So get on your feet, extend your hand in welcome, and be ready to see your bottom line improve.


Thats the number of people now using Facebook. I guess it may not be a passing fad after all. Social networking has exploded over the past five years, but none more so than this medium. If you have a facility with 600 units and you want 95 percent occupancy, you only need to attract .0000114 percent of Facebooks membership to your site. Maybe its worth investigating what it takes to set up a Facebook business site.

Consider asking one of your teenagers to be your Facebook consultant. Start by doing a search on the website for self-storage and mini storage. Ive seen a couple of storage facilities with hundreds of friends. See what folks are doing and learn. It may not be the source of all your future leads, but can it really hurt to give it a try?

What Are My Rights of Privacy?

This is a growing question I want to raise with self-storage owners and managers: What are your rights of privacy when using your companys computer for personal e-mails and other Internet needs throughout the day? What do you think they are and what are they really?

Ive always been an advocate for giving employees Internet access in the store office. My advocacy has been tempered by the belief that everyone should be using computer technology to enhance the business. However, the recent compromised integrity of some employees in high-profile positions, such as those in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has created a lose-lose situation for employers and employees. Ive come to the conclusion that employees dont have a presumptive right of privacy when using the companys computers for personal use.

Do you have a clear, written corporate policy regarding the use of your computer systems and networks for personal e-mails and other Web activity? If not, nows a good time to consider the issue. Make sure everyone on your management team is crystal clear about your policy and how serious you are about enforcing those standards.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. He is a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, a moderator on the interactive online community, and an instructor of the Self-Storage Training Institute. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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