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Thoughts From the Road 5906

February 1, 1999

5 Min Read
Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

This column isproviding the opportunity for me to voice my opinion about things that I am observing inour industry across the country. My goal with each column is a simple one: Whether you area self-storage facility owner, manager, assistant manager or part-timer, I am trying toget you to think about the operation of your own facility. You may disagree with myassumptions and conclusions, but my hope is that you will read these words with an openmind and use some of these thoughts as a measuring stick for yourself.

What Is My Unit Number Again?

I continue to be frustrated by seeing the number of projects, both old and new, thathave four or five units with the identical numbers. Yes, it is possible--when you use aletter prefix (A, B, C) to designate the building. Why would you not include the buildingletter with the numbers that are placed on the unit? I was in a facility a month ago thathad identical units numbered one to 35 across from each other on the same aisle. One aislewas building "A" and the other "B." But why take the risk that one ofyour customers or members of their family will get confused and put their belongings inthe wrong unit?

The real answer, from my prospective, is to sequentially number each unit when youbuild the facility. By doing this, there is only going to ever be one unit 106, not fouror five of them. It also helps with the bookkeeping. When the check comes in the mail forunit #45 without the building letter, you are forced to look up every customer's name ineach of your units #45 to see which unit really gets the credit. I realize that you can'tchange the numbering system in an existing project. You can, however, spend a few dollarsto add the building letters to each of those existing unit numbers.

Does It Deserve to be Framed?

In eight out of 10 offices that I walk into, there are letters, posters and otherannouncements just taped up on the walls and counter. There is no way to display somethingon a wall using tape that will make it look official or important to a customer orprospective customer. I think you need to evaluate every item on your office walls with asimple question: Does it deserve to be framed? If you cannot justify the cost of a framefor that document, then it does not belong on the office wall. The same is true ofpictures. Ask the same critical question about anything that you plan to display in youroffice.

The office needs to look like a retail environment. It needs to send a neat and cleanmessage to everyone. Disney keeps people from throwing things on the ground at DisneyWorld because the grounds are always clean. It is just something that people accept. Ifyour facility rules and regulations poster is hanging dog-eared from that piece of grayduct tape, will people really take it seriously? And please doesn't substitute thoseyellow, 3M sticky notes claiming that they are just temporary reminders. Saying toyourself, "I'll take them down at the end of the day" just doesn't work. I'vebeen in offices where it looks like the big Post-It sheets are breeding, with more smallernotes hanging all over the place. Make sure your office is helping your sales efforts, nothurting it.

Silent Salesman Always On Duty

When your office is closed, wouldn't you like to have a salesman on duty to bewelcoming customers and providing them with information about renting a unit? I witnessedsuch a salesman during an early evening visit to a facility. I found a weatherproofbrochure rack on the office door of the facility filled with literature. It was the sametype of rack that some realtors are using on the "for sale" signs of residentialproperties.

The facility's flier simply started out by saying "Sorry we missed you." Itwent on to explain the office and gate hours, provided a sample of rates (not all of them)and explained the leasing procedures. Remember that a large percentage of your customershave never used self-storage before. The facility's flier urged me to stop back when theoffice was open or to call on the phone to set up an appointment.

How many people have come to your office only to find it closed? For many owners withsmaller facilities and no full-time office staff, using a simple system like this shouldbe a must. It is not enough to just post a sign on the door that says to call 765-4444 torent a unit. Your silent salesman is there, ready to provide a flier or brochure to anyinterested party. Also consider putting a full-time salesman on your payroll. If you can'tfind a local source for those weatherproof boxes, drop us an e-mail at [email protected] or call us at (716)634-2428. Maybe we can help.

Just Who Are You Selling To?

Every successful retail business is always examining its customer base. The businessowners are trying to track changes in trends and possible shifting market needs. As aself-storage owner, you have a unique opportunity to do that, in most cases, by justprinting out the correct report from your operating software, assuming you are using acomputer. You should be monitoring the zip-code location of addresses, whether they areresidential or commercial users, and the average length of stay for each type of customer.Are they coming from Yellow Pages ads? Which phone book? Do they pay by check, credit cardor cash? What are their usage patterns? Do they access their units before or after normaloffice hours? These customer profile factors will provide you valuable insights over time.You need to know just who you are selling to at your facility.

Because of publication production schedules, my next column will not appear until theSeptember issue. I hope that you all have a profitable summer.

Jim Chiswell is the president of Chiswell & Associates of Williamsville, N.Y.Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence andcustomized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to contributingregularly to Inside Self-Storage, Mr. Chiswell is a frequent speaker at InsideSelf-Storage Expos. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by calling his officeat (716) 634-2428.

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