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February 1, 1999

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Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

I am very gladthat the editor for Inside Self-Storage has not imposed any editorial restrictionson this column. It gives me a chance to talk each month about issues that are near anddear to my heart.

What Did You Really Want?

As many of you know, my wife, Jackie, is a part of my company and often travels with meon consulting assignments. During a recent trip, I was reminded of the adage "Becareful what you wish for--you just might get it." Jackie loves the water, and whenthe opportunity presents itself, we try to have lunch or dinner near the water during ourtrips. One particularly long day, as we were talking about dinner plans in our hotel room,Jackie reminded me that I had promised her dinner by the water. Since I honestly did notwant to go back out in the car again, I simply called room service and started filling thebathtub. You can imagine her surprise when I made good on my promise by sitting in thebathroom, having room service and looking at the tub of water.

OK--so it's a long story to make a simple point: Whether you are an owner trying toexplain to your manager what you expect in their performance, or you are a manager tryingto get your point across to your owner about some deferred maintenance item, make surethat you both understand exactly what the other is asking for or agreeing to in yourdiscussions. I have seen more misunderstandings happen because two people had a differentidea about what "dinner by the water" really meant.

Communication is a difficult skill that only gets better with practice. Please rememberthe bathtub the next time you think that you have made yourself understood in aconversation. It is far better to err on the side of repeating yourself than to findyourself eating room service in the bathroom.

Would You Use the Bathroom in Your Facility?

When I do a facility management audit, one of the first places that I visit is thefacility's restrooms--not because of an overactive bladder, but because it is one of thefirst checks on the management's customer-service focus. Have you gone into your facilityrestroom lately? Judging from some that I have seen, I already know the answer.

Is your restroom clean? Do you have toilet paper and hand towels available? Is there awastepaper basket? Is it empty? Does the restroom smell sweet? Your reaction is the sameas that of your customers. And forget the "Out of Service" signs that look likethey have been on the restroom door for two or three years. Let's be honest--if you can'tkeep the one toilet in the entire facility working, what confidence does that give yourcustomer?

If you receive an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) complaint, you'd better have agood reason why you have not done the work. Many older facilities only need to increasethe width of the door opening and add railings to meet the ADA standards--not a majorexpense. Please remember: It is not only handicapped individuals who appreciate the workyou will do. Anyone who is at all physically challenged will benefit, and you, too, willreap rewards from increased customer satisfaction.

I know that it can be bothersome to keep a bathroom clean, but if it helps to retainexisting customers and attract new ones, what is the true value of this extra effort?

Just How Many Cars a Day Are Coming to Our Facilities?

There are a number of questions I am asked by almost every client that I work with andafter almost every speech that I give. Questions such as: How much can I really make? Itwon't really take me two years to lease up my facility will it? The deal should workbecause we already own the land right?

Most of these questions have fundamental answers based on industry averages andpersonal experience. The answer to one question continues to elude the entire industry:Just how many vehicle trips per day does a self-storage facility generate? There have beensome roundabout opinions and projections, but I have yet to see a definitive study thatanswers the question.

I would like to ask for your help to see if, together, we can come up with a specificanswer. I am asking both owners and managers to participate in a study with me and InsideSelf-Storage. I would like to request, on an anonymous basis, the followinginformation: Total rentable square footage in your facility. Number of total units. Percentage of units rented. How many customer vehicles come into your facility on a daily or weekly basis.Please send this information to me via mail at Chiswell & Associates, Ltd., 1260 N.Forest Road #A2, Williamsville, NY 14221; fax (716) 634-2428; e-mail [email protected]. I will compile theinformation and write a detailed story of the results in an upcoming issue. I would alsobe willing to share the results of the study with anyone who participates. Simply provideme with a mailing or e-mail address, and I will send you a copy of the results.Thanks for your help. Together we can go a long way in answering this question for theentire industry. And thank you to everyone who has written or called me about this column.Please know that I am open to suggestions and ideas at all times. Jim Chiswell is president of Chiswell & Associates of Williamsville, N.Y. Since1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customizedmanager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to contributing regularly toInside Self-Storage, Mr. Chiswell is a frequent speaker at Inside Self-Storage Expos. Hecan be reached via e-mail at [email protected]or by calling (716) 634-2428.

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