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November 1, 2007

6 Min Read
Manager's Memo: Change for the Better

Having visited numerous self-storage facilities around the country over the years, I’ve met managers from all walks of life: schoolteachers, retired executives of public companies, military personnel, accountants, construction workers, engineers, business owners and more. Because of this diversity, I’m compelled to inquire how they chose to manage a storage facility. Most often the answer is, “I like working with people, and I enjoy performing a task that allows me to use my background to improve an operation.”

On the road to improving the business, many have encountered difficulties in changing how a facility is managed, even when it’s for the good. How do we, as managers, take it upon ourselves to improve an operation when, in most cases, we work directly for an owner or management company? Here are some things you can do for the better without spending a dime or huge increments of time.

Operations Audit

Perform your own “operations audit” to objectively evaluate how your facility runs, looks, performs and, in general, makes the owner money. For example, is your office neat and clean? Does it smell pleasant? Would you be impressed if you were a customer walking in the door? If you can’t answer “yes” to all these questions, perhaps you can dream up ways to improve the look.

Start with your signage: Is it framed and professionally printed or at least typed to give a good impression? Is the front counter user-friendly or is it cluttered? Are the carpet and tile clean? Do you have an air-freshener in place? Does the room look like a business office or is it personalized with all your family pictures? Are your candy dishes filled? Are your business cards and brochures adequately displayed? How about your retail area: Are products prominently and attractively displayed, or do they just take up space and give a cluttered appearance?

As you can see, the list of questions on a comprehensive audit are endless; but by doing this for each aspect of the facility, you can grade your physical appearance. Do this same exercise for the exterior, evaluating curb appeal and landscaping inside and outside the fenced area. The goal is to make the site appealing to customers. If your site falls short, note that in your audit for presentation to the owners.

Reports

Go through and review the list of reports your owner/manager requests on a regular basis. As you evaluate each, ask yourself if the report gives information that is useful for whomever it is collected, and if it helps you make better decisions or sell more units or products. Should the information be expanded or improved?

One frequent complaint I hear from managers is there’s too much paperwork. I challenge them to show me what information they believe is wasteful. If upon review we both decide the report wastes time and paper, we eliminate it. Rarely is this the case, however, because most reports have some operational function; but it can’t hurt to visit this from time to time.

Friendly Visit

Have a friend or relative who is not familiar with your business visit and give impressions of your facility, sales pitch, rental package, etc. Ask them to offer constructive criticism or suggestions for to improvement. An unbiased opinion can provide fresh ideas and perhaps even easier ways of accomplishing your goals.

Official Invites

Invite your local police and fire departments to your site for opinions of how can you better secure units/ grounds and make your facility safer from vandalism, fire or accidents. Gain a perspective of what they need to do their jobs better if they are called upon in an emergency. Creating goodwill with them can pay dividends.

Happiness Is ...

Ask yourself: “What would make me be happier in doing my job, and would I perform better?” I’ve found simple things help my outlook and performance. For example, leaving 10 minutes earlier from my home to the office allows me to avoid traffic. Thus, I arrive earlier, less tense and frustrated, and I enjoy work more. I also found eating a healthy lunch with fruits and light foods gives me a slightly better attitude and more energy in the afternoon.

Break Routines

Instead of starting your day with a property inspection, switch things around. I like to change my routine at least three or four times a year so I don’t get complacent and keep a fresh outlook on my job. Instead of checking my e-mail when I arrive in the morning, now I like to send out thank-you cards first thing. This way, when I get to my e-mails, I’ve already accomplished a positive task for my business, and problems that may surface don’t seem so difficult. After a few months, I may pick another task to do first, with thank-you notes at the end of the day.

Offer to Help

Ask your owner or supervisors what they envision you doing to make positive change at your facility. I’m surprised how often an employee will say, “I wanted to ask you to do (fill in the blank), but didn’t want to bother you.” If you think it’s important, chances are the owner or manager will appreciate you asking for an opinion, particularly if you have an idea that will result in positive change.

Meet the Competition

If we know what our competitors are doing, we can help ourselves and even them too. I try to spend at least one day per month doing nothing but visiting other self-storage locations. I inform managers of my position and give them a business card. I’m open with them about my purpose for the visit. I have met hundreds of managers who say they’ve never met their competitors, though most admit that they would like to meet others in the business.

Take a batch of fresh-baked cookies or some candy if you feel you have to break the ice. Most managers are in the business because they like people, and you’re a person! Meet them and get to know them. Who knows ... you could learn something and perhaps change something positively in your operation. Also invite them to your store to see you in action; you’ll often find you have a lot in common and can help each other in a time of need.

Reflection

At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Is there anything I could have done better today?” I like to do this on a regular basis. If I feel like I did all I could, I have a sense of pride in my performance. Some days don’t go as well; that’s when I need to think about what I can do to improve. Either way you win: If you had a good day, you feel good. If your day was not so good, you have a chance to make tomorrow that much better.

Making changes for the benefit of your facility or business is fun, invigorating and rewarding. You’ll do your job better, and your owner or manager will likely appreciate your value and reward you with the recognition you deserve. Plus, customers will notice when you make changes. Be positive, make improvements, and you’ll enjoy rewards all around.

Mel Holsinger is president of Professional Self Storage Management, based in Tucson, Ariz., which offers facility-management, consulting and development services to the self-storage industry. He is also president and co-founder of the Self Storage Education Network, which provides online-based manager and owner education (www.selfstorageeducation.net). For more information, call 520.319.2164; visit www.proselfstorage.com.

 

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