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Fitch Ratings Upgrades Sovran Self Storage

On Friday, Fitch Ratings upgraded the investment-grade credit rating of Sovran Self Storage, a Williamsville, N.Y.-based real estate investment trust. Fitch had downgraded the company’s rating in May after Sovran experienced some trouble with the covenants in its loan agreements. But earlier this month, Sovran raised $114 million by selling additional shares of its stock, reducing its debt and overall leverage.
 
The company also cut its dividend by 30 percent and is saving cash by trimming its facility expansion and upgrade program. The Fitch upgrade should have significant financial benefit for Sovran. The interest savings from the upgrade are expected to offset the dilution to the company’s earnings per share caused by the sale of the additional 4 million shares of stock.
 
Sovran owns or manages 382 Uncle Bob’s Self Storage facilities in 24 states.
 
Source: Buffalo Business News, Sovran’s credit rating upgraded

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A Self-Storage Manager's Secrets to Providing Top-Notch Service

We all know when we receive great customer service, but how often do we really note basic or nominal service? Have we unconsciously lowered our expectations? Think about your most recent purchasing experiences. Does any interaction stand out as stellar?

On the flip side, have you extended any outstanding customer service to someone else? It seems we have become accustomed to the bare essentials when it comes to service. If you’re lucky, you get a “Hi” or “Welcome” from someone who doesn’t even make eye contact. If you’re at a business where you use your credit or store membership card, you may receive a “Thank you Mrs. Jones,” but again, with little or no eye contact.

Great customer service boils down to honest, open, human interaction. The service provider must treat each guest as that one special person he will encounter that day. Eye contact, a warm smile and a nice handshake are all great starts, but you must step it up from the beginning.  

Making a Connection We’ve all had that sour-faced customer walk in the door, and when you see that person, it’s your first test. Can you make that person smile within the first 10 seconds? “Hi, Mrs. Jones, its time to pay rent again, huh? Wow, time flies by so fast when it’s not a fun task. But I truly appreciate your business ... and your contribution to my paycheck.” Even if it’s a mock chuckle you receive in response, you’ve got her. There’s a chink in her armor.

At this point, you can ask a leading question. “Mrs. Jones, we’re doing a survey of our favorite customers.” Notice her standing up straighter? She’s a favorite! “Can you think of anything else we can do to make your visits here more pleasant?” Be prepared to respond with a nice “Thank you” and “We’ll run it by the owners” if Mrs. Jones should offer any suggestions. Can you imagine a business that goes so far above and beyond with customer service that everyone who visits enjoys himself while plunking down quite a bit of cash? We all want that place to be ours.

A company that arguably provides some of the world’s best customer service is Disney. The slogan, “Be our guest,” didn’t just happen by accident. When you visit “the happiest place on earth,” you can see where the training in customer relations has really paid off. The customer-service model the company has honed over the years is a good place to start when modeling your own training program. You can take a peek at it at Disneyinstitute.com. You’ll never catch Mickey and friends with frowns on their faces. Should your office be any different?

Start with a genuine, warm smile that comes from within, translates easily from one human to another, and cannot be forced. Determine what brings a genuine smile to your face and keep that information in your back pocket. Some days, you’ll find you’re just not as perky as others, and you’ll need to pull this skill out of your bag of tricks, especially for the Mrs. Joneses in your daily interactions.

Customer-Service Basics

I happened across an interesting website, Servicesavvy.net, hosted by several South Florida businesses and the chamber of commerce. The website’s entire focus is customer service. In one of the site’s videos on customer service is this simple acronym: LEARN. Here’s how I apply it to self-storage:

  • Listen to your customers.
  • Empathize with the reason they need storage.
  • Apologize about the difficult time they’re enduring (a move, divorce, layoff, etc.)
  • React by providing the best service and product you possibly can.
  • Notify the appropriate supervisor of any problems or concerns that arise during the customer’s stay.

So, we have the smile down―at least we’re working toward perfecting it―and we all know the basic rules of customer service. The next major focus is to develop the ability to truly listen, which requires focusing your full attention on the person in front of you. As you listen, you’ll pick up clues. This information can be used to determine what’s important to that person.

Consider this scenario: Mrs. Jones always eyes the chocolate jar on your counter, but she never indulges. The next time you notice her eyeing the jar is another chance to engage her in conversation. “Mrs. Jones, I admire your willpower. I’ve seen many a big, strong, guy succumb to that jar. How do you do it?” It turns out that Mrs. Jones is a diabetic. Consider adding a second jar labeled “sugar-free delights,” so the next time she walks through your door, you have something specifically for her.

Customer service is not one-size-fits-all. You need to adapt to your customers, see what they need or desire, and do your best to fulfill that want. A small, sweet gesture like the one above shows you’re aware and considerate, and your care translates into a wealth of goodwill with customers. A customer who willingly sings your praises is advertising that’s invaluable.

Just as customers are individuals, so are the people who provide the service. While the basics are a constant, how you deliver them is unique to you. Determine what comes naturally to you, and pay attention to how others respond and interact with you. Whether it’s always professional or cajoling, or a combination of interaction types, your style will morph into a fantastic sales tool. All you need to do is watch, listen and learn to determine what works best for you and your customers.  

React and Notify

Next up in our customer-service evaluation is to determine our own company parameters, within which we can give our customers more value, whether perceived or actual, and ultimately make their experience with us stand out. It’s the R and N from our acronym: react and notify.

You and the facility ownership need to be willing to react to market conditions and adjust accordingly. It’s up to you, the person on the front line, to notify ownership if you see any trends developing and help determine any necessary adjustments to business practices. All of these are part of providing the best product and customer service possible.

With everyone stretching their dollars, you need to really shine above the competition. Dollar move-ins work, but the customer who desires and responds to excellent customer service still exists, and a well-presented product despite a higher out-of-pocket cost will sell. Shouldn’t that customer belong to you?

From your warm, personal greeting to your astute listening skills, from addressing any problems or concerns and empathizing to providing the best product you can, all of this combined puts your core values in place. Now it’s up to you to pull it all into a cohesive package and sparkle. How will you know when you’ve achieved “IT”? You’ll know from the way you greet each day and from the random comments that will begin to occur more frequently.

What are you looking for in those comments? The young man who walks through your door and says, “My buddy sent me here. He said the people are cool.” Or the customer’s 8-year-old daughter who bursts out singing your praises about all the things she loves about visiting your storage facility.

The validation of achieving the pinnacle of customer service will appear in unanticipated comments, from unexpected people and places. If you’re not there yet, take some quiet time to self-evaluate, and then move forward. Life and work are infinitely more enjoyable when you’re at the top of your game.

Gina Six Kudo is the general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She has more than 15 years of self-storage experience, and a strong customer-service and sales background. She can be reached at 408.782.8883; e-mail [email protected].

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Motivating Self-Storage Managers in Tough Economic Times

As a self-storage owner or investor, you’re facing a number of obstacles: a battered economy, a weak real estate market, increased delinquencies, decreased occupancy, reduced net operating income, and more competition than ever before. Most of this is cyclical, and strength will be regained. In some areas, recovery has already begun. 

In the meantime, there’s still a need to set a positive and inviting tone with our customers and facility managers. One of the challenges in dealing with lackluster economic conditions is keeping managers motivated without letting complacency take over. Creating motivation starts with hiring the right manager and setting the right goals, along with having positive leadership and rewarding employees when they go above and beyond the scope of their position. 

Hiring a Go-Getter

The easiest type of manager to inspire is one who is motivated intrinsically. Intrinsic motivation is simply that which comes from within a person rather than any outside reward, such as a bonus. Typically, this type of manager is motivated by the satisfaction of completing a job well, rather than a bonus on the amount of units rented or inventory sales.

An intrinsically motivated storage manager will take “ownership” of his facility. For example, you may have a manager who consistently creates and implements new marketing ideas without direct solicitation, keeps the grounds around the facility in impeccable condition, makes the rental office a calm and inviting place for customers, decorates the office for the holidays, always has a bright and positive attitude, and gives the facility a personal touch.

The drive to succeed is not typically something that’s trainable. A person usually has this motivation or doesn’t.  During interviews, look for those who have this quality. Often, they will provide letters of recommendation along with references. These should be used to gauge not only the qualifications of a potential candidates, but to find out what kind of manager a person will be overall. Look for people who have been in a position in which intrinsic motivation is expected, such as a former business owner, military personnel or an apartment manager.

Define the Manager’s Goals

One of the easiest ways to motivate a facility manager is to provide goals that are clear, concise and realistic. Nothing will de-motivate a manager faster than looking at a set of goals, whether financial- or customer-oriented, and knowing he has no possible way to attain them. This doesn’t mean you should lower operating standards or allow a manager to talk you out of a goal that’s attainable but difficult; it means you should keep your perspective in the present economy.

Each manager should be given a list of goals and an operating budget, which should be reviewed regularly. Work with your managers as a team and discuss the goals of the facility. Allow them collaborate with you on next year’s budget. Here are some questions you should consider when outlining goals:

  • How much occupancy or NOI increase do you expect in 2010? 
  • What’s your goal for inventory sales?
  • What kind of closing percentage for customer leads are you expecting?
  • What percentage do you expect to decrease expenses?
  • Is your payroll going to increase or decrease?
  • How much will your marketing budget increase or decrease?

Allowing managers to participate in goals will give them a sense of responsibility toward attaining them. This works especially well if your bonus structure is tied to these goals on which you have both agreed. 

Praise and Reward

The depressed economy not only affects our facilities in terms of income, delinquencies, NOI and other metrics, but also manager performance. Facility managers are very much like bartenders in that they hear customers’ problems, from domestic disputes to foreclosures and layoffs. Mix these issues along with under performing properties, and it can psychologically overwhelm a person quickly.

As an owner or operations manager, your job is to keep morale and motivation high. Even with tight budgets, you should be taking care of managers who do a great job and treat them well. During one of your visits, take your manager to lunch and point out the areas in which he has excelled. Or cover the facility one day and give him a paid day off. Present your manager with a gift card to a local restaurant or store.

Different types of motivation work for different people. Small acknowledgements, monetary or not, will go a long way in keeping your managers spirits high during these difficult times. 

Facing the Challenges Ahead

As we move into 2010, motivating managers will continue to be a challenge. If you’re hiring a new manager this year, look for one who is intrinsically motivated will get things done. Work with managers on realistic goals for the coming year, and allow them to be a part of the budgeting process.  Lastly, provide the moral support and leadership skills needed to keep your manager’s upbeat, their spirits high and on track for a strong finish this year.
Motivate your managers correctly, and you might be surprised with the long-term success of your facility. 

Matthew Van Horn is the vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, a full-service management company specializing in self-storage management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures. For more information, call 866.970.EDGE; visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com. Follow the company on Twitter at Cuttingedgemgt.

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Westy Self Storage Hosts Beer Tasting to Help Homeless Animals

Westy Self Storage in Chatham, N.J., and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in Madison, N.J., hosted a “Ruff Draught” beer tasting last night to benefit Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter. The event took place in Westy’s grand lobby from 7-9 p.m., with Gary’s providing all of the beverages. Tickets were $35 per person, and all proceeds were donated to the shelter.

Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter is a non-profit organization that relies solely on the donations of the public to achieve its goal of saving homeless cats and dogs. The group provides animal care including spaying and neutering, microchipping, public education, and adoption services.
 
Source: Chatham Courier, Beer tasting tonight benefits East Hanover animal shelter

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ISS Expo: D.C. Show a Success, Vegas Shines Bright on the Horizon

The Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C., wrapped up on Oct. 8 after four days of valuable seminars, a lively self-storage Q&A, a packed cocktail reception and two days of exhibit-hall action. Nearly 1,000 registered participants from around the globe gathered at the beautiful Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Attendees—owners, investors, managers, builders, brokers and others―hailed from all segments of the industry. The expo also drew people from around the globe, representing countries including Australia, China, Russia and South Africa. Attendees sought real-world strategies to build or sustain their storage business in today’s difficult economic times. 

Marketing Education Lures Attendees

The expo kicked off with an opening session focused on self-storage marketing, a hot topic at this year’s show. Hosted by Derek Naylor of Storage Marketing Solutions and Mel Holsinger of Professional Self Storage Management, the presentation shared campaigns submitted by self-storage managers and operators to the recent ISS “Best in Self-Storage Marketing” contest.

The presentation included examples of creative print, radio, TV and Internet marketing campaigns. Among them were the “Naked Storage” video submitted by second-place winner Andrew Emory, and an eight-piece print-ad campaign submitted by third-place winners Stephanie and Joe Tharpe, managers of Lock Box Self Storage in St. Juliet, Tenn.

Derek Naylor (left) and Mel Holsinger (right) with Terri Gavins, first-place winner of the ISS "Best in Self-Storage Marketing" contest, at the ISS Expo in Washington, D.C.

First-place winner Terri Gavins, senior manager of Storage Center of Southwood in Tallahassee, Fla., was also recognized during the presentation. She was awarded $1,000 for her multi-faceted campaign comprising an overlapping newsletter, e-mail marketing, YouTube video (facility tour) and a grand-opening community event.

The impressive and creative campaigns illustrated the upgraded role marketing plays in attracting new self-storage tenants. “Marketing in the self-storage industry is no longer a luxury or passive activity,” Naylor says. “It’s an essential part of every successful operator’s game plan. The fact that ISS put such an emphasis on marketing tells me they’re paying attention to what operators need to hear and not hanging on to old topics that are no longer as relevant as they once were.”

The marketing track, one of three concurrent tracks, often had standing-room only as attendees clamored for new strategies to market their businesses. Other popular seminar topics included new construction and development, financing in today’s tough market, boosting facility sales, green building, and improving day-to-day facility operations.

“The ISS Expo in Washington, D.C. far exceeded my expectations in terms of attendance and quality of attendees,” Naylor says. “It’s no secret the economy is tough right now.  If companies are willing to make an investment in furthering their education, they’re definitely a lot more serious about it than I’ve seen at previous shows.” 

Exhibit-Hall Highlights 

The two-day exhibit hall featured nearly 100 exhibitors from all facets of the industry including self-storage developers and builders, brokers, finance and insurance experts, door manufacturers, software vendors, and more.

Terry Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for BETCO Inc., hailed the show as one of the year’s best. “The people who were there were quality people, and it’s actually less taxing on the vendors to deal with the decision-makers instead of others who don’t sign the checks,” he says. “We have gotten good results from the ISS shows, and that is why we were one of the major sponsors at this show and continue to do a lot of work with the folks at ISS.”

Software vendors particularly enjoyed quality leads during the show. “The Washington, D.C., expo was beneficial for us,” says John Fogg, general manager for Sentinel Systems Corp. Despite the slowdown in new construction, Fogg says Sentinel staff met with several quality prospects who are developing new properties.

Las Vegas Expo 2010

With the fall show behind us, all eyes are now on the annual ISS Expo in Las Vegas, the industry’s largest conference and tradeshow. The event will take place March 1-3, 2010, at the Paris Hotel & Resort.

This year’s theme, “When the going gets tough, the tough turn to the ISS expo,” acknowledges storage professionals’ challenges in today’s economy. The education program will include 36 seminars that address those challenges directly, broken into four detailed tracks.

  • Facility Marketing & Sales
  • Construction, Development & Green Initiatives
  • Finance, Insurance & Legal Issues
  • Day-to-Day Facility Management

In addition, the show will include four intensive workshops: Legal Learning Live with Jeffrey Greenberger, Management Workshop with Joe Niemczyk, Developers Seminar with RK Kliebenstein, and the popular Marketing and Sales Boot Camp with Tom Litton. Owners and managers can take advantage of a new Premium Package that includes the complete education program as well as “Management and Marketing Day” at a special discount rate.

As usual, attendees will enjoy multiple networking events and two days of product and service exhibits by the industry’s top suppliers.
Join us in Las Vegas for the biggest show of the year, and get the information and resources you need to get through the tough times. For details and to register, visit www.insideselfstorageworldexpo.com.

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Tulsa Thieves Rob 10 Self-Storage Facilities, Steal 100k in Stuff

Approximately 100 units at 10 self-storage facilities in Tulsa, Okla., have been broken into in the past three weeks, and police detectives are on the case. More than $100,000 in property has been stolen thus far, and police believe the crooks are targeting other businesses.
 
Because the burglars strike at night, they have so far been able to avoid being caught on tape, according to Sergeant Brandon Watkins, who heads the Tulsa Police Department Burglary Unit. The culprits are generally entering each site through the back, cutting a hole in the fence and then cutting locks off of units. Watkins thinks they have also identified which facilities have cameras and which don’t. 

Anyone with information that may assist the investigation is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 918.595.COPS. Tips leading to arrest may be rewarded with cash.

Source: KJRH 2 Tulsa, Burglars target Tulsa storage units
 
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Landvest Corp. Hires Operations Manager

Pam Barnes has joined Landvest Corp. as operations manager for its Southern Division.  Barnes will lead site operation and management for the Kansas, New Mexico and Texas territories. She has more than 15 years of operational and management experience, primarily in the apartment industry.
 
Landvest, based in Wichita, Kan., is a self-storage management company that has been business since 1985.

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Pictures From the ISS Expo

We’ll have full coverage of the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C., in the December issue and on our website in the coming weeks. Until then, here are several pictures from the show floor. 

Industry veterans Ray Wilson (second photo), Brad North (third photo) and Jim Chiswell (last photo) were on hand during the exhibit floor hours to discuss the state of self-storage with attendees.

In the fifth photo, Derk Naylor of Storage Market Solutions and Mel Holsinger of Professional Self Storage Management, congratulate Terri Gavins, senior manager of Storage Center, and the winner of the ISS Best in Self-Storage Marketing Contest after the opening session.

Software companies such as SMD Software (first photo) and Sentinel Systems Corp. (second to last photo) enjoyed good traffic on the first day.

Stay tuned for more ISS expo coverage, plus information on the upcoming ISS Las Vegas expo, March 1-3, at the Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A-American Self Storage Aids California Disaster Victims

A-American Self Storage is offering up to 90 days of free storage at any of its southern California locations to those being evacuated by a potential mudslide, rock slide or debris flow due to the recent wildfires. The company is also offering free local use of its moving trucks, complete with a driver and gas, to those who need to take advantage of the free-storage offer.
 
A-American has more than 70 California locations. For more information, call 800.499.3524.
 
Some of the disasters for which the company has offered assistance include the recent Station Fire near Glendale, Calif., the Santa Barbara “Jesusita” and “Tea” fires of earlier this year, the 2008 Sylmar fires, the California wildfires of 2007 and Hurricane Katrina. A-American has made monetary donations as well as donations of free storage and truck use many times during the last 35 years.

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The Self-Storage Brokers of California brokered the sale of American Self Storage in Paso Robles, Calif.  Broker and company owner Joseph Garvey represented the buyers and seller. The facility consists of 37,328 net rentable square feet on 2.68 acres. The property sold for $1.7 million and was financed by a national lender. 

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