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Learning the Matrix Way at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo

With a full slate of education sessions, networking events and exhibitors, the knowledge siphoned from the Inside Self-Storage World Expo can be a little like living through The Matrix. Guest blogger Robert Madsen offers his show strategy and a unique perspective as an attending operator, presenter and a guy trying to collect votes to be sent into outer space.

Teri Lanza

April 18, 2013

6 Min Read
Learning the Matrix Way at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo

A guest installment by Robert Madsen, President, U-Lock Mini Storage Group

Spring is my favorite time of year. Our customers awaken from winter hibernation, March Madness is in full swing, the cherry blossoms are out, and its show time at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Las Vegas! What could be better!

Each year, the event begins with my staff joining together in an Oceans Eleven style planning session. The show is so packed with education tracks, vendors, workshops and networking opportunities that we need strategy and coordination to successfully cover it all. The information flow is surreally similar to the movie The Matrix. You know, the part when they plug directly into your cerebral cortex and just cram the information in, and voila, you now know self-storage kung fu! Thats exactly how I feel at the show.

For example, during day one we spread out to cover the education tracks and opening session. There was something for everyone with the four concurrent tracks covering owners, managers, investors and legal issues. It was the perfect setup for everyone in my group to feed their knowledge on a relevant and specific track, ranging from site feasibility, branding, market share and much more. By noon, 13 different sessions were complete and the party was just getting started. The afternoon was no different, as we picked up great nuggets of information here and there. Some were simple-but-important reminders on sales techniques, while others were headier, like trends in capitalization and interest rates.

As afternoon moved to evening, it was time for the infamous Jim Chiswell and Mel Holsinger Self-Storage Q&A event. As usual, the session was jam packed with self-storage professionals including my fellow peers and moderators from Self-Storage Talk (SST), the industrys largest online community. Each year, Jim and Mel use their collective half-century of knowledge to share their solutions and ideas to help attendees get answers to their burning questions. Discussions cover old and new topics, and the sharing is terrific.

Questions this year ranged from, Should we use Yellow Pages? to What is this social media thing? Anne Ballard (aka The Hat Lady) even stepped in for a great cameo and a prize giveaway of her trademark hats. The learning was great, and the conversation continuous. After the session, I found myself spending another 20 minutes helping an operator further understand social media marketing. Then, on the way out, I discussed succession planning with a first-generation storage owner who is developing a succession plan for his son (Im second generation born and bred). The sharing of information was diverse, open and free. I even got an invite to Dubai to check out a brand new self-storage facility!

Robert Madsen in his spacesuit, campaigning for votes to be sent to the Axe Apollo Space Academy Space Camp.Just when one might think the day was over, it was time to network! My group soldiered on to the Expo Hall for the annual cocktail reception and vendor exhibits. The hall was packed, and this is where things got astronomically more interesting for yours truly. I dawned a spacesuit. Yes, thats right, and the proof is, of course, in the pictures. Because I am Canadian, I am eligible to enter an exclusive Send a Canadian to Space contest through the Axe Apollo Space Academy, which is backed by Buzz Aldrin. If you are so inclined, you can read a little about it here on SST and vote for me here. After all, we are in the space industry, right?!

What better place to secure votes from my fellow American peers and friends? This may have been one of the best ice breakers yet. Fortunately, I was amongst self-storage folks who are generally a little weird and certainly very friendly. Sure, I got the odd look, but I got even more pictures and votes as people came up to ask me what I was doing. I love these shows. We all share a common bond as the worlds collection of self-storage professionals looking for new trends, new business and a better way to operate in the industry we love and enjoy.

And in the city that never sleeps, we did it all over again the next day! This time, I exchanged space gear for a suit and tie as I joined a panel of international operators for Self-Storage Around the World: Business Operation. Represented were Canada, Hong Kong, Panama and Australia. We shared stories that demonstrated our similarities, differences and unique country trends. Who knew online rentals in Australia can be as high as 50 percent? Or that 24-hour access is a great feature but also problematic in the wee hours of the Hong Kong night?

Finally on the last day, my group split up again to cover the shows in-depth workshops. I opted for Legal Learning Live! with Jeffrey Greenberger. This may seem a little strange since U.S. law is not something you mention to a Canadian judge unless you want a good scolding, but the operator stories and pitfalls were priceless and offered invaluable lessons. Moreover, the takeaways and mindset of reasoning left me to ponder quite a lot on my flight home.

Despite my 25-plus years of self-storage experience, I always take away from the ISS Expo a new nugget of information or a trend that I can immediately plug into my operations back home. The same can be said of my staff, who despite looking a little beat toward the end of the show, are literally spinning their wheels with anticipation of putting into practice some great new ideas at their facilities.

Robert Madsen is president of the U-Lock Mini Storage Group and a director of the Canadian Self Storage Association. Born into the industry, he has more than 25 years of professional experience. Robert started in the business with plunger, broom and hammer in hand, progressing to manager and, ultimately, executive. He is also a moderator on Self-Storage Talk, going by the username Madman.

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