So, you finally landed that self-storage manager position, and it’s your first day on the job. You’ve met the supervisor and he’s given you the “nickel” tour. Back in the office, as you follow your new boss behind the counter, he points out the computer, cash drawer and customer files. Next, he hands you the keys to the entire facility with a ceremonious smile. Then he does something you didn’t expect—he leaves. What about your training? A feeling of anxiety comes over you as he drives away ...
You may think this story is imaginary, but it’s all too real and repeated more often than anyone would like to admit. During our first taste of self-storage management, my wife and I learned that the regional manager had no real interest in our training or in the success of the site. Consequently, we were forced to learn all the early knowledge about the facility and industry on our own, without the benefit of a close supervisor or trainer.
Our situation may have been unique, but it does help illustrate a point. There are times when all self-storage managers will need to direct their own continuing education, whether as a result of an upheaval at a facility that places you in charge, or to develop your knowledge in preparation for future advancement.
In other words, training is the key to every successful facility manager, and the foundation on which a satisfying self-storage career is built. Whether you’re on assignment at a new facility or trying to prepare yourself for advancement within your current organization, there are things you can do to ensure your knowledge keeps pace with the demands of the position.
First, don’t panic, even if you’ve taken the reins from a manager who was dismissed and left the site a mess. Keeping your wits in this type of high-stress situation is vital to your primary objective of re-organization. In every case, begin by examining the resources you have at your disposal. Strive to quickly understand the fundamentals of your site and procedures to help you more easily understand the new situations you’ll encounter. From there, consider these simple, self-directed lessons.
Office Systems 101
Many new self-storage managers come into a facility with experience from another type of property-management position, possessing a basic understanding of this type of office system. Others are completely green and know little. In either case, a good starting point in your self-education involves a review of the various systems and procedures unique to our industry.
Above all, a review of the facility's management program is necessary. Fortunately, even the most basic self-storage management software includes a tutorial, and you’ll want to go through it several times until you’re familiar with the program’s main functions such as taking payments, processing rentals and creating reports.
Speaking of reports, your supervisor will be duly impressed if your initial questions include a request for a list of periodic reports he may require. Familiarize yourself with this important function of the management program, and practice creating and modifying important reports such as operational and financial summaries, customer inquiries, delinquency reports, etc.
As time passes, you’ll discover not only which reports provide the best information, but just how valuable these are to site operation and success. Make a habit of discussing these reports with your supervisor, and demonstrate an interest in what they tell you about the business.
Fundamentals of the Facility
After a while behind the desk, it’s time for a walk—a site walk, that is. Obviously, you must learn office operation, but you must also learn your facility. As soon as it is convenient, take a walking tour of the entire site (with map in hand, if available), noting where you find specific unit sizes, climate-controlled buildings, etc. Try imagining yourself as the customer, asking questions about the features and amenities. Review the general layout until you have it memorized, and then determine the best tour route for your customers.
Do your best to learn all you can about the greatest aspects of the site, because they’re an important tool and critical element of the self-storage sales process. Repeat the walk daily to keep site information fresh in your mind. Plus, you’ll also discover maintenance issues while they’re still minor.
Back in the office, find and study facility maps, vacancy reports and rate sheets until you’re satisfied you can answer every prospective question thrown your way. Don’t forget that a thorough knowledge of your facility is the prerequisite for more technical instruction in other areas like maintenance and marketing. Remember, the more you know about the site, the more precise your judgment will be in setting important facility priorities.
Know Thy Customer
Few of the lessons you learn in the self-storage business are as important as understanding your customer. Learning to interact with your current tenants helps you understand their motivations and concerns, and may assist you in gaining insight to past tenant-management issues. Consistent communication also tends to solidify customer loyalty, which ultimately provides an invaluable boost to your referral program.
The process of knowing your clients usually begins by learning their first names, and greeting them enthusiastically as they visit the office to rent or drop off payments. Creative site managers sometimes encourage interaction by providing free coffee in the office, which is one of several ways to foster open communication with your customers. As appreciation for your tenants grows, you may discover that the trust you build helps you gain cooperation in the implementation and enforcement of facility policies.
Ultimately, with a better understanding of your client comes customer-service skills that are more acute, and these skills are beneficial in every aspect of the self-storage manager’s job.
Advanced Industry Education
Once you’ve completed a few fundamental courses, you’ve laid much of the groundwork necessary to effectively manage your site. As with most careers, however, continuous improvement is required to make sure your skills stay sharp, and to ensure you keep up with the many advances in the industry. Information related to marketing your facility, legal issues, etc., may call for additional expertise. Fortunately, much of the information you need to advance in the industry is literally at your fingertips.
Today, most self-storage trade organizations provide training programs designed to improve your skills in a variety of areas. Many of these allow you to learn at your own pace, and successful completion is rewarded with a manager certification, often invaluable to future advancement within the industry. Local, state and national association meetings and conferences provide the perfect “hands-on” training, allow you to meet other professionals and, compared to the value of the experience, are relatively inexpensive.
SelfStorageTalk.com, the industry’s largest online forum, provides an incredibly diverse source of knowledge via the experience of thousands of peers within the industry. The benefit of this ever-expanding network of professionals cannot be overstated. Registration is open to self-storage managers and others at no cost, making participation a no-brainer.
There exists near-unanimous agreement among industry professionals with respect to the evolution of the business, and as they vie for a limited number of jobs, storage managers are discovering the same. Continued improvement is a vital part of the self-storage career. Obviously, training is a must—not only for the “newbie,” but for experienced managers who desire to expand horizons and set the stage for greater heights within their own vocation. Education is the key, and training is mandatory.
Hopefully, your organization provides its own comprehensive manager training, and you have ample opportunity to improve your skills through the program. Regardless, the wisest manager is one who takes control of his own career by exploiting every educational opportunity. As the industry evolves, self-storage managers with a well-rounded education will be better positioned to prosper and thrive.
John Roser has broad industry experience as a facility manager, regional manager, sales and marketing trainer, and founder of USA Storage Resource, a self-storage enterprise devoted to the support of small and independent facility owners and operators. He is the creator of the “Adventures in Storage” cartoon featured monthly in Inside Self-Storage magazine, a member of the ISS Education Advisory Committee and a moderator for Self-Storage Talk, the industry’s largest online community. To reach him, e-mail [email protected].