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Keeping Your Self-Storage Business on Course With Effective Policies and Procedures

One of the most overlooked areas within self-storage operation is the creation and enforcement of facility policies and procedures. Here are suggested items to include and insight to implementation.

Matthew Van Horn

November 21, 2016

6 Min Read
Keeping Your Self-Storage Business on Course With Effective Policies and Procedures

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, back to when you accepted your first job. Most likely you were a teenager or in your early 20s. Whether you were in high school or college, it was the first time someone formally hired you.

You were given a schedule, assigned certain responsibilities, completed tax forms and learned that life was a little more complicated than playing video games or spending time with your friends. You likely came to the quick realization that you had no idea what you were doing in this place of business. The situation was completely foreign. You had limited life experience, and school never prepared you for the workplace.

Eventually, your manager sat you down, handed you a booklet and said, “Read this.” It was a copy of the policies and procedures manual. All of the sudden you had a road map to how your company worked. It provided answers to the “who, what, where, when and how” questions. It also provided something you never had before—a management system.

One of the most overlooked areas within self-storage operation is the creation and enforcement of specific policies and procedures. Too often, facility operators hire a new manager and forget to provide the proper systems for this person to grow and learn. The idea of hiring someone to manage a multi-million dollar real estate investment without giving him a systematic framework in which to function sounds almost absurd, but this happens in our industry every day.

It’s important to remember that policies are your facility standards, and procedures show managers how they can reach those standards. It’s easy to talk about company culture, mission statements and goals. It’s an entirely different challenge to sit down, turn off your smartphone and map out your operational processes. Let’s take a look at how you can develop an effective guide.

What to Cover

Let’s start with policy creation. Policies are nothing more than the rules you outline in regard to how the facility should operate. Following are examples of questions your policies should answer. These are just a few of the topics you’ll want to outline:

  • Who’s entitled to contact your facility manager and request management reports? Is it you, the owner? Is it your investment partner? Is it an appraiser, fire marshal, insurance company, bank or finance company?

  • What rules do you have about using company computers, Internet and e-mail?

  • What’s your dress code?

  • What are your job descriptions?

  • How does the company handle payroll and paid time off?

  • What happens if someone gets sick?

  • Who should be contacted with questions about marketing, customer issues or human resources?

  • How is money handled in regard to deposits, petty cash and refunds?

  • When is the previous day’s deposit taken to the bank?

  • What are your hours of operation?

  • How does an employee contact his direct supervisor and the corporate office?

  • Who should be contacted in the event of an emergency?

  • Does the facility collect rent on the first of the month or the tenant’s anniversary date?

  • Does the facility collect an administration fee or deposit?

  • Where do you keep copies of the lease and rental forms?

  • Does the facility have a unit-inventory list? What about a vendor list?

Create Task Masters

Next, you need to create procedures that support your policies. Facility managers need to know how to execute individual rules. This is typically the biggest weakness in any self-storage operation. Without a set system, most people will create their own way of processing tasks. This “hybrid procedure system” may or may not be correct, and sometimes the procedures implemented may not even be legal. Never leave people to their own devices. You want to make sure the manager’s day is scripted from beginning to end.

Also, consider how your managers are trained. Many self-storage operators use existing facility managers to train and work with new staff. If the facility doesn’t have set procedures, it’s very easy for current employees to pass on incorrect procedures to new ones. The incorrect protocol is then passed on like a virus and works its way through each new hire. Creating strong procedures allows each manager to work within the same system and provides owners with an easier framework through which to review individual performance.

So, what kind of procedures do you need? Consider making checklists, which allows practices to be executed systematically. Start by creating an overall guideline that scripts the day from facility opening to close. For example:

  • Which reports are to be processed at the beginning of the day and how are they filed?

  • What’s the correct way to complete a deposit slip?

  • Once the deposit is taken to the bank, how is the deposit slip filed?

  • How is inventory ordered?

  • What’s the procedure to request petty cash?

  • What’s the procedure to set up and complete an auction?

  • How is an invoice processed?

  • What are the steps to hire a vendor for a maintenance issue?

  • How are time cards processed on a daily basis?

  • What are the steps to complete each day’s maintenance tasks?

  • How are facility walk-throughs completed?

  • What if a vacant unit is found?

  • What’s the sales script for potential customers?

  • What’s the procedure to rent a unit?

  • What specials are allowed to be used?

  • Is there an example of a correctly executed lease?

  • What form does the manager need if a tenant would like to change his address?

  • What’s the procedure to market the facility?

  • How do managers process the end-of-day closing?

Enforcement

Once you’ve taken the time to create and implement policies and procedures, you must enforce them. Again, having systems in place will create a set standard of operation and enable you to evaluate each facility and manager evenly.

It’s hard to enforce something when everyone is interpreting policies and executing procedures differently. The best way to initially enforce a policy is to reinforce the correct procedure through training. A strong program will allow everyone to start within the same system, so always focus on training first.

The other way to ensure enforcement is through discipline. Typically, this involves additional training, a variety of written warnings and, potentially, termination. Your human-resources department will need to create guidelines for this.

Finally, it’s recommended that an attorney review your policies and procedures, especially any relating to human resources, before you implement. As a self-storage owner, you’ll want to make sure your guidelines don’t violate any state or federal laws, regardless of how harmless they may seem.

To maximize your system, you must put in the time. Don’t take short cuts. Implement a strong training program, hire legal counsel and really think about how you want your operation to flow. Self-storage is an amazing business, but your dream facility can turn into a nightmare if you allow your operation to go off course.

Matthew Van Horn is a member of the operations team at Reliant Real Estate Management LLC, a full-service self-storage management company specializing in acquisitions, feasibility studies, management and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. He’s also president of 3 Mile Domination, a full-service self-storage marketing and strategy company. For more information, visit www.storesmart.org and www.3miledomination.com.

About the Author(s)

Matthew Van Horn

Founder, Black Swan Storage Advisors

Matthew Van Horn is the founder of Black Swan Storage Advisors, which specializes in self-storage consulting, feasibility studies, underwriting and investment analysis, site selection, and facility management. To reach him, call 855.720.6030 or email [email protected].

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