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When the Unexpected Happens: Lessons From the Kiwi Self Storage Fire

The fire at Kiwi Self Storage in New Zealand has provided an excellent lesson on the right way to handle an unexpected event. Here's a look at why the self-storage operator has excelled at crisis management, and explore why their tenants might think otherwise.

Amy Campbell

April 17, 2014

4 Min Read
When the Unexpected Happens: Lessons From the Kiwi Self Storage Fire

By Amy Campbell  

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the huge fire on April 4 at Kiwi Self Storage in Kilbirnie, New Zealand. In addition to reporting the facts, I’ve also been intrigued about how the facility’s management team is handling the situation. From my perspective, they’ve done a pretty darn good job! From the day one, they jumped into the fray, communicating with fire and police personnel and their tenants—those affected by the fire and those who were not—on a regular basis.

Some tenants whose units were destroyed would wholeheartedly disagree with me. In fact, they have. And loudly. From complaints about how Kiwi is communicating with them—or not, they say—to the hassles involved with retrieving what remains of their belongings, to the news that their stuff isn’t covered by insurance (shocking!), these tenants have been very vocal to any reporter with a notepad or camera. To be fair, it’s not their fault their stuff was destroyed in a fire. They have every right to be angry, confused and stressed about the situation.

The fact is, much like a home, self-storage will never be immune to fire, crime, floods, tornadoes and other things that can cause damage to buildings, units and tenant belongings. And, unfortunately, when bad things happen, everyone’s looking for someone to blame. Sadly, it’s often the business owners who take the brunt of this anger. Regardless if they’ve done everything correctly, they’re still likely to come under fire for not doing XYZ.

In the case of the Kiwi fire, one prominent focus of the stories written shortly after it began was the building didn’t have sprinklers. The fact is, few older self-storage buildings do. It simply wasn’t required when many of these facilities were built, and the cost of adding sprinklers meant few owners were eager to create a line item for them in their development budget. Yet the fact that Kiwi’s buildings weren’t equipped with sprinklers was a very big deal and a focal point in many of the early news stories. Like I said … XYZ.  

How you handle everything—from communications to appeasing your customers—when things go sideways is what will add a target to your back or make you a hero to your tenants. Kiwi’s management stepped up in the hours after the blaze, informing tenants via phone, e-mail and on its website about what was happening at that moment, the extent of the damage, when people could access their units, etc. The company hired a security company to patrol the site to ensure nothing could be stolen from the property and there would be no more shenanigans. It also created an FAQ page and established a call center to answer tenant questions. Seems to me like Kiwi covered its bases.

While the media has latched on to the few who’ve decided to attack the storage operator, many of those in the self-storage industry can take a page from the Kiwi playbook on how to react in a crisis. While we can’t possibly know the exact details of every decision and customer interaction made by an operator thousands of miles away, we can see the company put forth great effort to take control of the situation and do right by their customers.

Let’s not forget, the facility’s tenants aren’t the only ones who’ve suffered great loss here. Kiwi will now need to jump through the insurance hoops, rebuild and re-establish its reputation in the community. That’s a lot to overcome.

In this SST thread, I asked community members if they’ve experienced a significant incident that required them to communicate with several tenants at once and how they handled it. Read what they have to say, then add your own experiences or advice. In addition, here’s a great article from the ISS archives about being prepared for a crisis, and a blog on handling the media in case you ever find yourself with a reporter at your door.

Do you have procedures in place in case something awful happens at your facility? What's your emergency protocol? Post a comment below or on this SST thread.


About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Editor, Inside Self Storage

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