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December 1, 2006

6 Min Read
Five Simple Rules for Staff
Self-storage has evolved from a low-visibility, back-road, industrial-park business to a high-profile, mainstream, upscale industry. The days of hiring a caretaker for your storage facility are long gone, my friends. Todays storage managers need to be computer savvy, customer-service friendly, have great sales and marketing skills, be organized, personable, handle problems and understand a budget.

They also need to value curb appeal and cleanliness, boast the talents of a handyman, monitor outside vendor services and communicate well. And they must be self-motivated, disciplined, show up in uniform, open on time, observe policies and procedures, and run the business your wayall with little supervision.

What they probably dont need to do anymore is get up at 6 a.m. to unlock the gate. If they do, its time to take a good hard look at your operation and bring it into the 21st century. Dont get run over.

Payroll

Does demanding such a rainbow of skills sound ominously like a hike in payroll expenses? Well, maybe an increase is in order. Take a look at what youre paying vs. what you expect from your staff. Does it match up? Is it a decent living for the people depositing money into your bank account every day?

Since payroll is already one of your largest expense line items, make the most of it by ensuring a trained and motivated staff. Consider that if the average 10-by-10 rents for $100 per month and the median tenant stay is 10 months, every new rental is worth about $1,000. If your staff members dont understand the value of a phone call, then no matter how much you pay them, they may be costing you a fortune in lost sales.

Miss closing just one call per week, and that can amount to $52,000! What if sales slip away two or three times weeklyor once or twice daily? This is opportunity lost that can never be recovered. And the phone is just the beginning.

Team Building

To help your employees become team members in your success, follow these five guidelines. While some may cost you a little more on the expense side, the increase in your NOI should offset your investment many times over.

1. Make learning a part of the job. Share what you know about the business at every opportunity. When you take the time to explain why the phone call is so important and what it means to get the rental ($1,000 value), your manager can then drive your business. If you want employees to increase income, give them the tools to learn how. Get them subscriptions to major trade magazines, send them to tradeshows and seminars, sign them up for webinars and online-learning classes.

Make continuing education a required part of the joband ask them to report back on what they learn. Use resources like mystery-shopping services to evaluate their performance and draw on the results to coach them. As thanks for a job well done, get them books on motivation, sales or leadership. Help them grow professionally and personally.

2. Empower your staff. Create synergy with the site staff. Share the operating budget, financials, etc. Show managers how their decisions impact the bottom line. Review the monthly income and expenses, outlining which categories they have some control over. Ask the manager to review those items monthly to look for cost savings or anomalies.

When you share the budget, employees begin to understand how to allocate or save for items they want to buy. Soon, theyll check for money in the budget before asking about new purchases. When they see how much is paid for electricity, theyll be more conscientious about the temperature settings in the climate-control buildings, more mindful of preventative measures, and quicker at spotting abnormal billing items. Once oriented in the dynamics that make your business grow, dont be surprised if they catch things you miss!

Include staff members in what is happening at the site. Let them know if youre changing prices, raising rents or sending visitors such as appraisers, insurance agents and hired contractors. No one likes to be uninformed. It makes people uncomfortable.

Its also important your employees understand your business goals and objectives. Are you trying to sell the facility or grow the number of stores? Tell them about your plans. Theyll find out anyway, and its best to hear it from you. Look for opportunities for them to participate in achieving the facilitys goals.

3. Looking sharp. The appearance of employees can go a long way in the success of your business. They represent you and your image. Looking good makes staff members feel good and gives them confidencea quality tenants and prospects will notice. Get new uniforms when theyre needed, and pay attention to shoes.

Dont forget to help your employees understand your logic: that how they look is as important as how the site looks. Set company guidelines or a dress code for personal appearance. Include contingencies for when maintenance items must be handled. Dont be afraid to compliment managers who are looking good, or discuss your expectations when theyre not.

4. Spend a little, make a lot. Set up a bonus plan to incentivize the staff. Good programs allow employees to make a few extra bucks while theyre generating more revenue for you. Plus, incentives can revitalize a staff stuck in an old routine.

Bonus programs are based on leases, NOI, or any number of other factors. Contests work great, too, because you can mix it up with themed contests and fun prizes. An easy way to increase your merchandise sales is to provide a commission on the total sales each month. Referral contests that include tenants are also effective. Its not always just staff that gets in a rut.

Prizes dont have to be cars or fabulous vacations. A little creativity on your part achieves the desired effect without costing a lot of money. If youre at a loss, ask employees for their ideas. Buy-in from staff is key to a successful program. Consider combining your objectives by awarding tradeshow passes or other educational programs as prizes.

5. Were all adults here. Hire adults, treat them like adults and expect them to act like adults. That means open, honest two-way conversation. Tell your staff what you expect and set a measurable time frame for completion. Then have candid conversations about the results. No drama, no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas or tantrums.

Well-informed, well-trained and confident staff members are your best resource. Shake hands and look them in the eye every time you greet them or say goodbye. If theyre doing a good job, tell them. If not, tell thembut still shake hands and look them in the eye.

Take your staff to lunch or have pizza delivered after a super month or clean audit. Provide feedback that lets your people know you appreciate their work. A sincere pat on the back can go further than money.

Audit the facility regularly, or hire an outside company to do an audit, even and especiallyif you know you have great managers. There is nothing more satisfying to your employees than confirmation theyre doing a great job for youand that you know they know it. Your staff is hugely important to your operation, and you should openly recognize that. How you treat them will influence how they treat your tenants.

There are many ways to keep up in this growing and maturing industry. Your frontline employees can be your best ally, from phone sales to long-term goals. Invest in them for success. 

Linnea Appleby is president of PDQ Management Solutions Inc., based in Sarasota, Fla, providing full-service storage facility management, consulting, new facility start-up services, auditing, management training and more. For more information, call 941.377.3151; visit www.pdqmanagementsolutions.com

Editors Note: In 2007, Ms. Appleby will debut her new quarterly column, Managing for Dollars.

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