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Thoughts From the Road 7555

February 1, 2000

5 Min Read
Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts From the Road

By Jim Chiswell

i021ro1.jpg (13285 bytes)The new year, decade, millennium have begun. To honor publishing deadlines,I am writing this as 1999 comes to an end, so when you read this in February, the old Y2Kissue is rapidly becoming a memory. I'm sure there were a few problems here in the UnitedStates and probably many more across the globe, but the sun still came up on Jan. 1st. Ican't help but feel that we all will experience a renewed sense of challenge andopportunity as we face the future.

I was excited when this magazine's editor asked me to continue my bi-monthly column. Ipromise I will keep trying to bring you my candid opinions, ideas and occasional off-topiccomments. I sincerely appreciate the feedback I get from people across the country. Pleasekeep it coming!

Talking Trash

As I travel across the country, I do a great deal of driving in cities big and small.The other day as I was sitting at an intersection, I watched someone empty his ashtray outhis window. As the ash, butts and papers blew down the road, I could feel my bloodpressure rising. It makes me crazy to see that, and it seems to be happening more oftenfrom town to town.

I can still remember my teachers in school (and that goes back a number of years)talking to us about protecting the environment by not littering. I can also remember thepublic-service messages with a tear on the face of the Indian chief for the litter thatwas at his feet. OK, so it turns out he wasn't actually Native American, but that'sanother story.

This sense of frustration got me thinking about our self-storage operations. I keepseeing larger and larger trash dumpsters at some facilities. I don't know where we wentwrong as an industry. I honestly don't believe we should be everyone's garbage can. I knowmost communities require some on-site trash containers, but we need to place a strictlimit on what we are willing to accept.

An old friend, Ken Nash from Springfield, Mass., has always fought putting a dumpsterat his projects. He has fought many battles over it, but always won. He has a simplephilosophy: What you bring in with you, you take back out. I urge you to look at the trashsituation at your own facility. Are you providing a trash service for your commercialcustomers? If so, are they paying in addition to their rent? Do you have residentialcustomers using your dumpster so that they don't have to pay local garbage costs? Thathappened to me at a facility in Florida.

Have you examined your trash expenses closely? If you have commercial customers whogenerate a great deal of cardboard, for example, could you put in a recycling dumpsterjust for them at no cost to you? I know one owner who actually generates a small cash flowfrom providing recycling containers for his customers. Take the initiative to reduce yourexisting dumpster size in the year ahead.

Telephone, Telephone, Telephone

Everyone has heard the old adage "location, location, location" in relationto selecting real estate. The same holds true for our industry until the project is built.Then our mantra should become "telephone, telephone, telephone." Unless eachphone call is handled properly and that prospective customer at the other end of the phoneline can be converted into a prospect standing in the office, the location of yourfacility just doesn't matter.

I am still amazed at the lack of telephone skills that exists in our industry. Manymanagers do not even have an outline of a script of things to cover during their call. Theblame for managers' shortcomings on the phone comes back to us as owners. Some managershave never been told what is expected from them when they talk with prospects on thephone. If you have never "worked the phone" before, let me tell you it can bevery intimidating.

There are so many simple things that can improve phone technique. Making a change from"Thank you for calling Jim's Bins" to "Thank you for choosing Jim'sBins" starts in motion a prospect's decision-making process about where to store hisbelongings. I have always believed you don't sell self-storage over the phone. Your goalmust be to get the individual to come into the office. If you're bringing prospects intothe office, you should be converting well over 90 percent of them to customers.

A mistake some owners make is not measuring results. One of the ways to measure resultsis to have a third-party company "mystery shop" your people on the telephone. Ihave had excellent results from a company called Double Check (phone (303) 888-0602; www.double-check.com).My clients have received somegreat insights into a manager's telephone strengths and weaknesses by listening to therecorded mystery phone call. I urge you to contact them.

What goals have you set for the "telephone, telephone, telephone" for the newyear? If you haven't set any goals yet, there is still time to get them on paper. It ishard to be disappointed with the results if you have nothing to measure them against.

Drive-By Viewings, Day and Night

With spring just around the corner, it's time to start reviewing your landscapingplans. Next to the Yellow Pages, the second most important reason listed by prospects whobecome customers for choosing a facility is what they see when they drive by. What are thereal net costs of those colorful annuals you plant near your entrance just as springstarts? If your residential customers are typical, with an eight- to nine-month averagestay, just one new customer will cover your costs. And now is the time to think about it,not May or June.

P.S. When was the last time you drove by your facility at night? Are your lights on?Does your sign work? Are there letters missing because it has not been anyone's job tocheck? Does the lighting cause someone driving by to say, "This is a place I wouldlike to use if I ever needed storage?"

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 at (716) 634-2428. Youcan also visit his Web site at www.Jimdot.com.

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