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Thoughts From the Road 5611

February 1, 1999

6 Min Read
Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

It does not seempossible that two months have gone by since writing my first column in February. It's likesigning a 90-day bank-promissory note--time just seems to fly. I've already added to myfrequent-flyer account this year, traveling from snow banks to short-sleeved weather in amatter of hours. The diversity of this county never ceases to amaze me.

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed me for a copy of the brief article on lock-checkingfrom the last column. I sure hope it prompted some of you to make sure that the lock-checkreports are getting done. I've assembled another group of rather random thoughts to sharewith you this month as I have been traveling.

Where Are the Brochures?

I "mystery shop" hundreds of facilities each year. Yet, during the pastseveral months I have been seeing a disturbing trend. I have been walking into more andmore facilities that have no literature. Some don't even have business cards. I'm nottalking just about single-facility operators. I've walked into facilities of some of thelargest owners in our industry to find no brochures.

Come on, gang. How can you spend millions of dollars building a self-storage facilityand then not spend a few hundred dollars on literature? You can't be spending all yourmarketing dollars just on Yellow Pages ads, can you? The advent of laser printers andpre-printed papers, along with the quick-printing services available from copy centers,such as Kinkos (my favorite), makes it difficult to come up with a valid excuse.

When's the last time you looked at your brochure to consider changing it? When was thelast time you shopped your competitors to see what they are handing out to theirprospective customers? If you don't have literature at your facility, I hope you will makeit a priority goal in 1999.

Can You Spell . . .

Take heart, all of you spelling-challenged people out there like me. Word is out thatthe special commemorative pens that were prepared for senators to use in signing thehistoric Impeachment Oath book read Untied States Senate instead of United StatesSenate. It should be a great reminder for all of us to make sure to proofread all of ourliterature and Yellow Pages ad copy before signing off on the final proof.

What Numbers Are You Watching?

A client's comments got me to thinking about which operational numbers the majority ofowners look at regularly in managing their properties. Mike Gardner from Boston has toldme on more than one occasion that "volume is vanity and margin is sanity." Areyou just monitoring your gross rental income or the net bottom line? You may be 100percent occupied, but have nothing to rent to a new customer. You may be 100 percentoccupied, but are leaving a great deal of money on the table because your market area'srents are up 10 percent from last year, and you are still happy with the volume and notthe margin. Your volume can actually be down and your margins up if you are watching theright numbers.

Long may She wave!

There seems to be some sentiment in the media these days that being patriotic is not"cool," that putting down America and pointing out its faults is news. I have totell you that on a recent trip to the South, I saw one of the biggest U.S. flags flyingoutside of a self-storage facility. It was a great feeling to see Old Glory waving freelyin the breeze. Yes, it may also serve as a great method to direct people to your facility,but who said that being proud of our flag shouldn't also benefit your business at the sametime? Are we not, as entrepreneurs, living the ideals of this great nation?

Flags of all sizes are available from your local congressman or senator. Yes, you stillhave to pay for them (unless you are buying those fundraising tickets), but it is fun toframe the congressional letter that certifies that the flag at your facility has flownover the Capital Building and have it on one of the office walls for everyone to view. Iwould love to see our industry leading a revival of flying the American flag all acrossthe country.

Quality Recognition

My wife, Jackie, and I recently stayed at a franchised Holiday Inn property in Alabama.As I was checking in, I noticed that the desk clerk had a number of bronze stars on hername badge. When I inquired about them, she quickly explained the company'scustomer-service-award program and handed me a simple fill-in-the-blank card thatexplained it. The stars were for outstanding customer service or special dedication to thejob. She pointed to several of her stars to explain what situation they represented. Shewas so proud of each star that she had received, and it showed in her attitude.

What are you doing to provide a vehicle for customers to recognize outstanding serviceby one of your employees? Yes, I know you might only have one facility. So what? You stillcan set up a simple program for your two or three employees. There are a number of methodsthat can be used to establish a recognition program. They don't have to cost a lot ofmoney, and they are people motivators. Many times, recognition for doing a good job isjust as important as that regular weekly paycheck. When was the last time that you justsaid "thank you" to your manager or simply presented all of your employees witha gift certificate for dinner to a local restaurant? Recognition does not cost, and itreally pays all kinds of benefits to everyone involved.

Y2K: Ready or Not, Here She Comes

During the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Las Vegas, I chaired a roundtable on the Y2Kmillennium bug. I prepared a handout that listed several excellent Y2K Web sites thatprovide a great deal of information for small-business people. If you still need to getstarted on considering how this computer problem could affect your business and what to doabout it, send me an e-mail at [email protected], and I will e-mail the same handoutto you as a text-only attachment. Do not be caught with your guard down. There is no needto fear, but let's be as knowledgeable as possible about Y2K. Being forewarned is beingforearmed. I wonder if there is a marketing opportunity to get people to use self-storageas their emergency-supply location between now and New Year's Eve 1999?

Final Thoughts

I read a quote recently that really got me thinking, and I wanted to pass it along. Ihave never heard of this author before, but I found his words very moving. From NelsonHenderson: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do notexpect to sit."

Thank you again for the chance to bring you my thoughts. I hope to hear from you withyour ideas and comments that I can pass along in the months ahead.

Jim Chiswell is the president of Chiswell & Associates of Williamsville, N.Y.Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence,professional-witness services and customized manager training for the self-storageindustry. In addition to contributing regularly to Inside Self-Storage, Mr. Chiswell is afrequent speaker at Inside Self-Storage Expos.

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