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Articles from 1997 In November

Yellow Page AdsWhat should they consist of?

Yellow Page Ads
What should they consist of?

By Pamela Alton

As most of us are aware, the Yellow Pages ad is where most tenants first learn about a storage facility. It is probably the largest advertising expense a facility owner has, so it should be made to count.

In some areas, a good Yellow Pages ad could cost as little as $500 or as much as $1,800 or more per month. The larger the ad, the more visible a facility will be, especially when it's in a saturated area. Statistics indicate that typically, a prospective tenant will call four ads before they choose the site they want to rent at; therefore, does a self-storage business need to be the first in storage section of the Yellow Pages? Probably not. However, an owner shouldn't scrimp on the size of his ad, as most placements in the book are based on the size and length of advertising. An owner with a new facility should budget for the largest ad possible. You can't expect a new facility to be full in six months when you have an eighth of a page ad on the last page of the storage section. It just won't happen.

There are several companies that offer telephone books in most cities: GTE, AT&T, PacBell and their subsidiaries, and local directories such as the Donnelly Directory. Prices of ads will vary, depending upon which book you go into and its distribution. In larger cities, it can be very costly if you try to advertise in all books. An owner should just concentrate on his local area, since most tenants will not drive more than five miles from their home or business to store their goods. Of course, these companies will try to talk you into their directory, saying they are the best to advertise in. It's important to keep in mind that it's the salesperson's job to sell space and get owners competing with each other's facilities. An owner should stand firm and choose the directory that is within his budget, the one distributed where most potential residents will come from.

When designing an ad, use good-quality graphics or photos. Allow a picture or graphic to speak 1,000 words for you. Some software programs, such as Microsoft Publisher or Front Page, have several Yellow Pages templates for your convenience, plus they usually have an extensive graphics package. Start planning next year's ad right now, even if it's not due for several months. Don't wait until two days before the Yellow Pages closes its ad space. If not enough time is spent on the design of an ad, you could end up with something you aren't happy with, but stuck with for a whole year. Allow yourself plenty of time so you will be pleased with the outcome of your ad. Make a list of all of the items you want to put in your ad, design it, then be critical. Is it too wordy and busy looking? Is it too plain?

Evaluate other ads in the same book, not just self-storage ads. What draws you to one ad over another? Use the other ads to give you design ideas. You may want to consider having a professional design company design your ad for you if you don't have the time or the artistic talents. A large map indicating the location of your facility is a must in any Yellow Pages ad. Once a person has decided they need storage, they pick up the book and begin cruising the ads. After the first couple, they typically zero in on maps to find a facility close to their home or place of business. If you have more than one location, you may want to consider a consolidation ad that consists of maps of your various locations.

The word storage should be in the largest print type in your ad. You may be proud of the fact that you named your facility after you, your children or the street corner it is located on, but a tenant couldn't care less if they store at Thompson's Self-Storage or not. Storage is what you are selling, so make that stand out in your ad.

Now, I know some of you have the dreaded "s" word--security--in your facility name; however, avoid the use of that word when describing the features of your site. Instead of "security gate," use electronic gate; instead of "security alarm," use individual door alarm; instead of "security cameras," use video cameras, etc. If you have rental trucks or accept charge cards or have extended access hours, state that in your ad.

Personally, I don't think you should waste your money on red or blue print, or white background. Spend the extra money to enlarge the size of your ad. When placing your ad, you may want to contact a national Yellow Pages advertiser that groups several ads together to receive a discount.

One thing about storage: You usually don't have to sell the person calling you from your ad on storage. They have already decided to store their goods--that's why they called you. However, you must compete with the other storage facilities in your area. That is why being competitively priced and having effective telephone closing techniques are so important. The cost to advertise may break down to $5 to $15 per call, just to make the telephone ring. Remember: Great closing techniques will go hand in hand with an effective Yellow Pages ad, so make each call count.

Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, the largest nationwide manager-placement service serving the self-storage industry. Mini-Management also offers full-service and operations-only property management, policy and procedures manuals, sales and marketing training manuals, inspections and audits, consulting and training seminars nationwide. For more information on the various services offered by Mini-Management, call (800) 646-4648.

Resolutions for Owners

As we approach the new year, it is time to think about New Year's resolutions...once again. We have all made personal New Year's resolutions in the past...

"This is the year I will stop smoking."

"This year, I will eat healthier."

"I will commit to an exercise routine."

"I promise to invest more in my retirement fund."

"This year, I will give more to charity."

"I resolve to be a kinder person."

"This is the year that I will learn to control my temper."

Sound familiar? We've all made numerous resolutions to improve our personal health and happiness, but what about New Year's resolutions to improve the livelihood of your self-storage facility?

No matter if you are an owner or an on-site manager, now is the time to take a few minutes, grab a pencil and piece of paper, and write down some thoughts about how you will improve your facility, work habits or personal business growth for the new year. Just keep in mind that you need to be flexible; work to achieve your goals, but don't be discouraged if you can't keep all of your New Year's resolutions.

Resolutions for Owners

If you haven't already sat down with your on-site manager and designed your annual budget, now is the time to think about it and make sure your manager has some input on the budget. Try not to set goals that are so lofty they could never achieve them, but be reasonable and flexible. Without a road map, how can you know where you are going, or when you have arrived at your destination?

Plan your 1998 audit and inspection schedule. Try to go to your site at least once a month to inspect the books and the physical plant of your facility. Take that time to communicate with your manager and discuss your goals and their achievements. If you don't have the time or expertise to conduct an audit and inspection, contact an outside company and schedule your audits with them.

On another front: This could be the year that you decide to invest in the training and certification of your on-site manager, another worthy resolution. By certifying your manager, you can give him self-worth that you might never be able to replace with a dollar figure. Perhaps the knowledge he will acquire will make your operations more professional, and from a legal aspect, it could keep you out of hot water when it comes to lien sales, collection techniques or customer service.

Maybe you need to communicate with your on-site managers more frequently, offering them a pat on the back for a job well done. Or perhaps you should visit more often as a means to motivate them, letting them know what job responsibilities they complete well, as well as those that might require some improvement.

Give your managers the tools to run the office efficiently: A pleasant working environment makes a happy, productive manager.

On the other hand, maybe 1998 is the year that you seriously consider replacing your manager if he is not producing the income that you expect. Is your manager going against the grain, refusing to abide by your standards? Have you given him plenty of training opportunities to learn the appropriate systems and functions for carrying out procedures? Does he have a bad attitude? If you answer "yes" to any of the above, don't let another year pass you by without making a management change.

Perhaps you should also resolve to attend seminars and expos to brush up on your ownership/management skills, learn about what other operators do, what works, what doesn't, etc. Coming up in February, as every year, is the Inside Self-Storage Expo, which is tagged as the biggest annual self-storage show. (If you have attended the expos in the past, perhaps this year's resolution could be to actually attend the various seminars-----instead of spending most of your time at the slot machines or gaming tables!)

Another brilliant idea: Send your managers to an expo, so that they can mingle with peers, vendors and experts in the storage industry. If they learn only one or two new sales, marketing or management techniques, then it will be money well spent. Even if you cannot afford to send several managers, consider sending one key person who can take notes and share valuable information with the rest of your employees upon his return.

Maintenance might also be in your game plan for 1998. This might be the year that you replace your roofs, install that electronic gate, upgrade the software and hardware in your office, or remodel the office or manager's apartment. If so, have your manager gather bids for these services, so that you can make an informed decision when choosing the contractor or software program.

Make sure your manager always has the tools to do his maintenance job effectively at your facility. List maintenance duties that need to be addressed daily, weekly and monthly, and include them in your manager's responsibilities. And, as always, train him as to the proper methods for completing these tasks.

Some Resolution Ideas for Managers

Is 1998 the year that you want to make changes in your employment or self-storage education? If you feel that you need more training, then sit down with your owner and discuss your options. Will your owner be amenable to sending you through a manager certification program? How about the possibility of attending trade shows, conventions or other various manager seminars?

No one is too old or too experienced to learn something or to better themselves. By investing in your self-storage education, you could make yourself more valuable to the facility's owner and its outcome.

How are your sales skills and your telephone techniques? How about your customer-service or maintenance skills? Could you do better, or will you do better in 1998? What training or incentives do you need to do so? Discuss these with the owner.

Is this the year to design a more effective marketing plan for your site? Has there been more competition in 1997, making you feel slightly inadequate? How can you position your facility so that it attracts more attention, more tenants? Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your skills and improve upon your marketing or telephone techniques. In addition, think about redesigning your Yellow Pages ads, brochures and direct-mail pieces. Maybe a new look with more punch will bring in more business.

What about maintenance of the facility? Now is the time to sit down with the owner, gather bids for planned improvements, and design a maintenance program that will save the owner money in the long run and make your facility the best that it can be.

Summing It Up

Just remember: Not all New Year's Resolutions will be kept. That is just a fact of life. However, with some perseverance and a long-range business plan, you can achieve some of those resolutions and have a prosperous 1998­both professionally and personally.

Best of luck to you. Let's make 1998 the best year yet in the self-storage industry.

Pam Alton is the owner of Mini-Management, one of the industry's largest nationwide manager services, based in Santa Barbara, Calif. Mini-Management also offers policy and procedures manuals, sales and marketing training manuals, inspections and audits, consulting services, telephone shopping and training seminars. For more information, call (800) 646-4648.



DCAL Computer Systems has acquired all rights, assets and product offerings of Acorn Management Systems, including UNItroller management and UNIkey access control products, and has established the "Acorn Products Division" to market and support the Acorn Products.

DCAL has been serving customers in the dry cleaning and laundry business as well as other markets for more than 12 years. One of the primary commitments of DCAL is customer support. DCAL professionals stay in touch with customers and provide them an 800- number to use should they any information or support services.

In an offering to show goodwill, the company is also currently honoring all paid service-support agreements for Acorn Management Systems Inc. customers. Simply send a copy of your paid agreement to our office, and service will be honored at no additional charge to the customer for the remainder of the agreement period. The support agreements from Acorn Products Division begin when the previous agreements expire.

Acorn Products have been serving the computerized management and access-control needs of the self-storage industry for more than a decade. Acorn Products have contributed to the growth of the industry and have been enhanced to meet increasing demands for more secure facilities. Today, Acorn Products are poised to meet new challenges and to expand their influences in the self-storage industry as well as new markets.


Acorn's primary products for the self-storage industry include, but are not limited to the following:

UNItroller--Self-Storage Management Software

UNIkey--Access Control Software System

Unique Vertical Lift Gate--and other types of automated gates.


Acorn offers various levels of UNItroller software to accommodate individual needs. The most current version is UNItroller IV, which includes the Custom Reporting Module that allows the user unlimited reporting capabilities. In addition to Acorn's Daily Maintenance and Inspection (DMI) report, the UNItroller IV now offers the HOT DMI and Facility Maintenance report, providing the user with an even more efficient way to keep an eye on what is going on at the facility. The following are the current versions of Acorn's management software.

  • UNItroller 300 (Handles up to 320 units)
  • UNItroller 3000 (Accommodates unlimited number of units)
  • UNImax (Processes multiple data sets from various sites)
  • UNIcentral (Communications software that allows the central office to receive data from multiple sites by modem)

The management software generates a DMI report that furnishes the manager with the necessary information to track each unit. Any unit not meeting all of the standards defined by the software will automatically appear on the DMI report. These units are checked off during the physical inspections, so if something happens to one of the units there will be an evident time frame for the occurrence. Acorn suggests two daily physical checks of the facility using the DMI report. This action narrows the window for occurrences, so stay in control of your facility no matter the size.


  • Acorn's access-control system includes UNIkey access control IBM-compatible software and a 24-volt power supply, which receives a four-wire, 18-gauge shielded cable that is run to each keypad outside. A typical UNIkey package includes the software, power supply, two electronic talking keypads with enclosures, two gooseneck stands and a 250-foot spool of the shielded cable to hook the keypads back to the power supply. The software checks the keypads 24 hours a day to make sure they are functioning properly. The software has audit-trail capabilities to tell you who has entered your facility, how long they were there and when they left.


Acorn is enthused about the opportunities in the self-storage industry and beyond. The company is checking into ways to advance its software products in other markets such as apartment complexes, private parking for corporations, marinas, corporate storage areas, and almost any place where access control is needed.

Acorn Products Division of DCAL Computer Systems meets the need for self-storage security products through the sale of vertical lift gates and UNIkey access control systems. But it also responds to the need for management software that provides self-storage owners and managers with accounting data, ratios and percentages to help them evaluate their operations.

For more information on DCAL Computer Systems and Acorn Products Division, contact Darrell Potts or Gary Trook at 4100 Adams Road, P.O. Box 3936, Bartlesville, OK 74006; (800) 328-DCAL; fax (918) 335-0240; e-mail [email protected].

The Yellow PagesMaking the most of your advertising

The Yellow Pages
Making the most of your advertising

By Michael Zervas

Recent changes in the Yellow Pages industry have left advertisers with a bewildering array of choices. Currently there are more than 7,000 directories available to advertisers. There are now more than 200 publishers, and the average directory has more than 2,500 headings to choose from. Yellow Pages advertising has grown so much that in 1990 revenue topped $8.9 billion, making it the fourth largest advertising medium behind newspapers, television and direct mail. Understanding consumer attitudes toward the Yellow Pages and what they expect from them will help you to develop an effective campaign. Also, capturing a demographic profile will help to determine if this is a good medium to use in your advertising mix. In 1996, Mediamark Research Inc. compared the profile of adult media users of Yellow Pages, newspaper, radio, magazine, outdoor and TV. Yellow Pages users are better-educated, more affluent professionals who move more and, therefore, are less familiar with services and products offered in their area. Similarly, a 1996 industry usage study conducted by Statistical Research Inc. shows several useful statistics. (See sidebar.) A review of the Yellow Pages industry coupled with this information will give you a good start on developing an effective Yellow Pages campaign.


Although there are numerous Yellow Pages publishers, they all fall into one of two categories. Utility publishers produce directories directly for telephone service providers. US West, PAC Bell, Bell Atlantic and BellSouth are examples. Independent publishers produce directories that are not associated with a specific telephone provider. Many of these independent directories publish books that are geared to a specific geographic area or target market.


There are several different types of directories. Utility or core directories are published by the area telephone company for their specific service area. Suburban or neighborhood directories serve a smaller, more centralized area already covered by a larger directory. Conversely, an area-wide or overlay directory encompasses a larger area made up of multiple smaller directories. Either the neighborhood or overlay directories can be published by utility or independent publishers. Finally, there are the business-to-business directories that target the buying needs of business consumers. This is in contrast to consumer directories that target the residential buyer. Adding further to this confusion are the companies that send out solicitations designed to look like bills. Many of these solicitations sport the "walking fingers" and are construed by the recipient as a bill for directory advertising. However, in most cases, these directories are never published or are distributed to areas well outside the pull of a particular self-storage facility.

Buying Ad Space

Prior to meeting with your Yellow Pages representative, do some research on your own customers. Customers use Yellow Pages at two different points in their buying decision: first, when they call you to check on prices, availability, hours, etc.; second, they may never call, but they may take down the address printed in the ad and just show up. In either case, you should ask your customers how they heard about you. On the phone, ask them which ad they responded to, and in which book. Track these results to get a better idea of which of your ads is drawing the most response. Next, do a zip-code survey of your existing customer base. Chart on a zip-code map (available at map specialty stores) which areas provide most of your customers. Compare this analysis to the directories available in your marketplace, making sure you spend your money in the book that reaches your market area. Consider, though, where your competition exists and if there are not quality competitors in parts of the market you'd like to attract, then consider advertising in directories that serve those specific markets.

There are several questions you should ask any publisher before committing to a space purchase. First, ask where the directory is distributed. It will do you no good to buy advertising in a directory that is charging you to reach people outside the area from which you can pull customers. Remember, most people are looking in the Yellow Pages because they want a convenient, cost-competitive place to frequent. How many copies of the directory are distributed and to whom? Determining the number of people you reach with a directory will allow you to derive the cost of reaching those people. This number is now an objective tool to measure and compare against other directories in the area. Understanding who you will be reaching--large populations of college students, primarily businesses, older resident, etc.--will help in determining the work of the book. It will also help later in designing your ad. Ask about the availability of discount and special pricing programs. Initially, a directory may not appear to be a great buy, but if you are able to negotiate a better price, it may have more value. Specifically, there are several programs you should ask about, including step-up programs, heading-based discount programs, and first-time buyer incentives. Step-up programs offer a certain ad size and charge for the next smaller size. Heading-based discounts periodically have special pricing for specific headings. These and other programs are often available, but sometimes aren't brought up by the local representative. Review the heading of the book in question to determine what your main competition is doing. This will help determine what size ad to buy. Yellow Pages ads are placed front to back from largest to smallest. If, for example, there are a lot of half-page ads, but none of them are near your business, perhaps you can buy a smaller ad and still be listed ahead of your main geographic competitors. Also, in reviewing the headings, you may uncover different headings on which your competition is not capitalizing.

1996 YPPA Industry Usage Study

  • Nine out of 10 adults used the Yellow Pages in 1996.
  • 63 percent of references were to display ads.
  • The average display user looked at 5.1 ads.
  • 87 percent of users purchase or intend to purchase a product/service from a business in the Yellow Pages.
  • 44 percent of users who contacted a business in the Yellow Pages were new customers.

Designing Your Ad

There are two goals to always achieve in designing your ad. One is to make your ad draw attention away from the competition. You can do this by the creative use of design elements. The second is to tell the prospective customer the information he wants to know. Remember, the majority of people who are using the Yellow Pages have made a decision to buy. They are only trying to decide where. First, let's discuss the key sales elements successful Yellow Pages ads should have.

The Basic RASCIL Factors

Reliability. Show years in business, association with a well-known company, trade association memberships, etc.

Authorized Sales Service. List brands that customers will recognize and trust.

Safety and Protection. Mention licensed, bonded, insured or similar protection factors.

Completeness of Information. Assure the customer you can supply what he needs. Describe special facilities or kinds of customers served.

Illustration. Help tell your story with artwork. Add to the attractiveness of the ad. Catch the customer's eye with art.

Location. Tell where you are located, how to get there and what areas you serve.

SPECIAL Factors for Retail Stores

Size of Ad. As ad size increases, attention and choice behavior increases.

Phone Numbers. List additional telephone numbers that will help indicate close proximity or size of operation.

Expertness. Show the length of years in business, professional titles, individual expertise, personalities, firm size, major clients, etc.

Clarity of Presentation. Achieve the right balance between the amount of information and the size of the ad.

Individual Product Types. List the number of different types of products carried.

Amount of Information. Show as much different information as possible within the confines of the ad. The more topics of information the better.

Location by Area Description. Give specific information to help customers find you i.e., a map, district or region, proximity to public transportation, or a well-known landmark. When you have decided on the sales elements to be contained in your ad, the next step is to consider the actual design of the ad. As mentioned earlier, the goal is to have your ad jump off the page. The following are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Banner: Utilize this element to reinforce your name or to draw the reader into the ad. Do not repeat the heading of the directory in the banner of the ad. Too often, ads will have a heading as their banner. The reader (who has turned to this section) knows what they are looking for. They are trying to decide where to buy. Use a short headline that promotes some aspect of your business that is unique.
  • Illustration: It is proven that an illustration or photograph will draw the reader's eye. Incorporating an illustration or photograph can only help your ad stand out in contrast to ads that only utilize black type on yellow paper. Remember to have your artwork created professionally, and to keep it simple. Complex artwork usually does not reproduce very well and may end up making your ad less appealing.
  • Copy: Earlier, we talked about the sales elements that your copy should discuss. Now is when you should address how the copy should work from a design standpoint. Keep your copy points succinct and easy to read. If the customer cannot find the information easily and quickly, he will turn toward your competition. Remember, this is the only form of advertising where your competition is right next to you. Also, position the copy so that the reader's eye is pulled down on the page to the phone number. And make sure that the phone number is large and easy to read. Finally, limit the number of type styles used in the ad. Too many styles can make the ad appear jumbled and more difficult to read.
  • Miscellaneous: Other techniques for creating an attention-getting ad are utilizing reverses (the design is yellow type on a black background instead of black on yellow), drop shadows (whereby the object in question is given a background shadow to simulate the effects of depth and dimension) and starbursts.

Does Red Get Read?

In designing your ad, many publishers will offer the use of an additional color (usually red, but sometimes blue or green) to add contrast to your ad. However, there is a premium for this color, usually in the neighborhood of 35 percent to 50 percent of the total cost of the ad. In most cases, the money is better spent on purchasing a larger ad. Independent studies have shown that color in an ad does not increase the likelihood of a business getting a call. In some cases, it actually decreases that chance. And when you consider that most directories are organized from largest to smallest, it is better to spend money on a larger ad (therefore moving to the front of the heading) instead of buying a smaller ad with color in the back of the section. Your goal is to get your ad seen before your competition's.


Monitoring the results of your Yellow Pages placement is vitally important. By knowing where your customers are coming from, you will be able to objectively measure the return on your Yellow Pages investment. As the years progress, you will be able to use this tracking information to measure changes and improvements in your ad design. New directories may be tested and compared with other forms of media. Tracking can be as simple as asking the customer how he heard about your site, or as sophisticated as a dedicated line whose number only appears in one directory being used to track all incoming Yellow Pages calls. Regardless of the method employed, the only thing you can do wrong in tracking is not to do it.

Michael Zervas is a partner at American Ad Management, a national ad agency specializing in Yellow Pages, recruitment and Internet advertising programs. He can be reached at (800) 423-6468 or [email protected].

Five Vital Statistics

  • 81 percent of consumers agreed they start at the beginning of a heading when they do not have a firm in mind.
  • 70 percent of consumers agreed they usually look at the larger ads in the Yellow Pages when they are not sure where to make the purchase.
  • 66 percent of all consumers viewed businesses with large ads as having an established reputation.
  • 76 percent of consumers said the Yellow Pages often influenced them to contact a business they had not considered before looking in the Yellow Pages.
  • 83 percent of advertisers agreed that Yellow Pages reach customers not reached by other media for people already in the market to buy.

Insuring Your Facility

By David Wilhite

Insuring Your Facility

One of the most difficult and confusing tasks associated with running a profitable self-storage facility has always been the need to secure proper insurance coverage. Unlike many other commercial ventures that consider insurance a simple cost of doing business, the multiple property and liability exposures specific to the self-storage industry place an uncommon emphasis on the need to secure comprehensive coverage to meet unexpected hazards.

Consider this: In addition to protecting your buildings and equipment against common hazards such as fire, flood, wind, vandalism, etc., you must also insure the safety of your tenants' property. In addition, you need to guard against liability suits filed by tenants who have been injured while on your premises, and property damage to tenants' property such as a gate closing on a vehicle. Furthermore, due to the physical nature of a storage facility, you must secure protection for your income against business interruptions that occur after a loss. There are many other important coverages of which you must be aware, such as the need for workers' compensation, as required by common law.

Here is an overview of the major coverages you need to secure in order to adequately insure your self-storage operation:

Business Property

This coverage protects your property from direct physical loss or damage. It includes replacement costs on buildings and business/personal property with no coinsurance.

Loss of Income

This coverage protects your income from direct physical loss or damage to business property. Protection against business interruption and extra expenses are also provided under this coverage.

Comprehensive Business Liability

This coverage provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage that occurs on your premises.

Sale and Disposal Legal Liability

This coverage provides broad-form coverage to protect you against negligent acts that arise from the sale, removal or disposal of customers' property when reclaiming space for which rental or other charges are delinquent or unpaid.

What a Specialty Agency Can Do for You

Although there are currently more than 25,000 self-storage facilities across the country, until recently no insurance company has offered every one of the coverages necessary to meet all of the unique needs of the self-storage industry, including such specialized coverages as flood insurance and workers' compensation.

In 1994, Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. introduced its Self-Storage Insurance Program, which provides all of the property and liability coverages self-storage owners need in a single, affordable package. We recently spoke with William Mattern, Universal's Self-Storage Insurance Program Manager, about the company's program and its plans for the future.

Can you tell us a little bit about how your program got started?

Our goal from the very beginning was to make it easy for self-storage owners to insure their facilities by offering a comprehensive yet affordable insurance package. One of the most difficult jobs facing every self-storage owner has always been the need to secure adequate insurance coverage. Besides protecting your buildings and equipment against fire, wind and vandalism, you also need to insure the safety of your tenants' property. Plus, you need to protect yourself against liability suits filed by tenants injured while on your premises,and tenants' property-damage lawsuits. You also need to protect your income against any business interruptions that occur after a loss. And there are other important coverages that are required by law, such as workers' compensation, that facility owners need to be aware of. Our program makes it easy for facility operators to get the most complete, current and comprehensive insurance coverage ever offered to the self-storage industry.

Customers' Goods Legal Liability

This coverage provides broad-form coverage against loss or damage to your customers' personal property, if you are legally liable. It also provides defense and legal costs even if the suit is groundless or fraudulent.

Flood Insurance

This coverage provides broad-form coverage against loss or damages arising from floods to your property and your customers' property. Interestingly enough, this coverage is available to self-storage facilities even if they are located in a flood plain, so you can be assured of coverage even if your facility is in a high risk area.

Workers' Compensation

In nearly all 50 states, you are required to cover your employees under workers' compensation. If, for example, you fail to warn employees of any existing danger, under both common and workers' compensation laws, you can be held liable for damage suits brought on by an employee. Therefore, this very important coverage must be considered a mandatory part of your self-storage insurance package.

Choosing the Insurance Company That's Right for You

As a responsible self-storage facility owner, you know that securing the right insurance coverages can help reduce your operating risks and protect your assets. That's why you've taken the time to evaluate your exposures and worked with your agent or broker to choose the coverages you need to protect yourself in the event of a loss- especially a catastrophic loss. But if you want to get the best insurance protection, you need to do more than just choose the right coverages- you also need to choose the right insurance company.

Why is it important to choose the right insurance company? Because if you don't, you won't know how a particular company's going to perform until you have a loss- and by then it may be too late. You don't want to discover after a disaster that your carrier has a history of poor claims handling, or that it's financial standing is in jeopardy. And there are other advantages to choosing the right insurance company that can save you money and get you the specialized coverages you need to better protect your facility.

Choosing the insurance company that's right for you is easy when you have the proper information. Here are the three most important things you need to know when considering an insurance company:

1. The Company's Financial Strength

2. The Company's Claims Performance

3. The Company's Specialized
Knowledge of Your Business

Financial Strength

An insurance company's financial strength reflects its ability to meet its obligations to its policyholders- in fact, financial strength is the very cornerstone of the promises that insurance companies are built upon. Therefore, in order to determine if an insurance company will be able to meet any claims you make, you need to know if it has a solid balance sheet. The easiest way to do this is to check the rating report of an independent insurance industry analyst, such as the A.M. Best Company.

A.M. Best has been reporting on the financial condition of insurance companies since 1899 and ranks as the oldest and most experienced rating agency in the world. A Best's rating is assigned to every major insurer operating in the United States today after carefully evaluating each company's performance in five critical areas: profitability; leverage; liquidity; reserve adequacy; and reinsurance.

Best ratings range from A++ (superior) all the way down to F (in liquidation). Although a solid Best rating is not an actual guarantee of a company's financial strength, it is a strong indicator that you will receive prompt and fair claims handling- both today and in the future.

Claims Performance

Claims performance is the make or break factor that separates a good insurance company from a great one. Each year millions of business owners file claims with their insurance companies that may be subject to careless handling and needless delays. And as anyone who has ever suffered a loss can tell you, the trauma of a fire or theft is stressful enough without having to worry about your insurance company's performance when servicing your claim.

What should you expect from a reputable insurance company when reporting a claim? Fast, fair claims handling and courteous service. First, a responsive company should contact you within 24 hours of receiving your report to begin the settlement process. Second, the company should make every attempt to dispatch a claims adjuster to inspect any property damage within 48 hours of receiving your claim (the best companies will often dispatch an adjuster within the hour). Third, and most importantly, the company should attempt to make the claim settling process as smooth as possible, avoiding unnecessary questions and issuing payment without delay.

Specialized Knowledge of Your Business

In order to protect your assets, an insurance company (and its brokers and agents) must have specialized knowledge of the self-storage industry, as well as a commitment to stay abreast of industry changes through education and training. Moreover, a concerned company will also be able to recommend measures that will help you safeguard against losses as well as provide you with the coverages you need to protect your facility.

Some insurance companies have developed specialized coverages for the self-storage industry that not only provide superior protection but can actually contribute to lower premiums. A company that is very familiar with current construction costs, or that has in-depth knowledge of the latest keyless security systems, for example, can more realistically handle any claims you may have as well as provide you with the proper coverage in the first place. Look for a company that will work with you to help reduce losses in the workplace, which in turn can help contain your insurance costs.

Understanding and Controlling Liability Losses

Business liability insurance is designed to protect you against claims that someone was hurt, or property was damaged, on your premises And as every self-storage facility owner knows, recognizing and controlling liability exposures is a prime concern in today's litigious society. Merely having coverage in place is not enough. Today's courts are getting tough on business owners who allow hazardous conditions to exist, and judging by the awards juries sometimes hand out, no amount of protection may be enough.

Take Pro-Active Action

The single most important key to protecting your self-storage facility against liability lawsuits is awareness: awareness of your responsibilities under the law, awareness of potential hazards at your facility, and awareness of your need to do everything a prudent person would do to prevent accidents. Court decisions can and do favor those who take pro-active steps; and in the case of a lawsuit, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

Reduce Potential Liabilities

The best way to limit your liability in advance is by identifying and eliminating (or at least minimizing) potential risks. Take a walk around your facility and play "What if..." where you try to imagine what can go wrong, and what you can do to safeguard against those situations occurring. For example, you may discover a glaring hazard, such as a large pothole outside of one of your storage units, that needs to be blocked off and covered. Or you may chance upon a less obvious risk, such as a worn or curled floor mat, which was intended to prevent slips and falls but may actually cause them.

Remember that a potentially dangerous situation can be created in an instant by a careless employee in the normal course of his or her work; for example, by leaving a wet floor unattended for a few moments while mopping up. Courts can and will hold management responsible for the actions of their employees in these situations. Once again, a pro-active response is the key; in this case, by advising third parties of a specific risk by posting a "Caution! Slippery When Wet" sign in the area being cleaned.

There are several other important procedures for reducing liabilities that can help prevent lawsuits, including conducting accident training sessions with your employees; conducting regular quality-control measures of your facilities and equipment; and keeping documented records of preventive maintenance. Be sure to hire competent employees and regularly monitor their performance. If you are not at the facility on a daily basis, make a practice to drop by periodically without notice in order to spot unforeseen risks.

A Note On Preventing Slips and Falls

Since slips and falls account for the vast majority of liability claims, it pays to be extra careful about preventing them. Slippery floors from rain and snow are the leading cause of tenant falls. You can reduce your liability substantially when you take reasonable and prudent care to prevent accidents. Begin by keeping floors dry. In bad weather, put up "caution" signs when the floor is wet; install non-skid moisture-absorbing carpet or mats; and keep a mop and bucket handy to control runoff.

What to Do When an Accident Occurs

No matter how carefully laid your plans may be, accidents can and do occur. If someone on your premises should suffer an injury, take immediate action by first calling an ambulance for the injured person, then document all known facts surrounding the accident in order to accurately reconstruct the events in case of a lawsuit. For safety's sake, be sure to get all of the following information in writing:

  • Name, address and phone number of injured party;
  • Date and time of the accident;
  • Name of employee(s) on duty and name(s) of any witnesses;
  • Details about what caused the accident; (i.e., was it caused by the customer or by a pre-existing hazardous condition?)
  • Information about when the site was last cleaned and inspected for hazards.
  • It's also a good idea to take a picture or video footage of the site where the accident occurred, and to try to get a written statement from the injured party, if possible. And if a trip to the hospital is necessary, call an ambulance- don't use a personal or company vehicle. You may expose yourself to a whole new set of liabilities that are much better avoided.

What to Do in the Event of a Claim

  • In the event of an accident, notify your insurance company immediately. Give your agent all of the information outlined above. If you are hit with a lawsuit, the number and nature of available defenses depends upon the specifics of the individual suit. In an injury-related action, the underlying claims must be analyzed to determine available defense; while in negligence cases, the owner may be able to assert the claimant's degree of fault, which could reduce or even eliminate his right to recover damages. Assuming the circumstance is covered, your insurance company will come to your defense.
  • One final note: In today's litigious society, aggregate liability limits of $1 million or more can no longer be considered unreasonable. For maximum protection, look for a business liability policy that is written on an occurrence basis with no aggregate limit.

Evictions and Auctions: Limiting Your Liability Exposure

The self-storage business is a rental business; the facility operator acts as a landlord, not a warehouseman. Unfortunately, sooner or later every self-storage owner will be faced with the task of having to evict tenants for failure to pay their rent, and reclaim the storage space by removing or disposing of the tenant's property. The most common way to do this is to place a lien against the property and hold an auction.

In general, most states give self-storage operators extraordinary leverage against delinquent tenants. However, if the procedures are not followed to the letter, or if there is an error in any step of the sale and disposal process, the self-storage operator leaves himself vulnerable to lawsuits claiming loss or damage of stored goods. Even when the process is handled correctly, it is not uncommon for a disgruntled tenant to file a claim against the operator charging negligence in the removal or disposition of stored property.

Sale and disposal legal liability insurance is a must-have coverage for all self-storage owners that provides protection against conversion: the act of wrongfully taking, selling, using or destroying the goods of another party. Due to the diversity of goods commonly stored and the wide range of values of the property, the penalty for conversion can be extremely high. Recently a self-storage operator was held liable for $250,000 in damages by a California court for the wrongful sale of a customer's property. The court judged that the storage owner's notice of intention of sale was defective, since the operator's newspaper ad did not include the delinquent tenant's name, which was required by state law. The court ruled that the operator was in violation of negligence and conversion as a result of this error.

Many such lawsuits are the result of trivial errors, such as reversing the numbers on an address. The chance of an error occurring is compounded by the fact that most state statutes generally require that several letters of notification be mailed to tenants with delinquent accounts, and that the self-storage operator publish a legal notice in a general circulation newspaper in the judicial district where the sale will be held. There are, of course, many variations by state on these procedures, and each must be followed to the letter to minimize the likelihood of a lawsuit.

The good news is that in most cases lawsuits can be avoided. Start by familiarizing yourself with lien laws. Consult with an attorney about preparing a written procedure that outlines the exact steps for disposing of a delinquent tenant's property. Read and follow all state statutes to the letter. Always double check names and addresses, and don't make any changes to information on the rental agreement, such as correcting an obvious misspelling, unless accompanied by a signed change of address card. Document, in photographs and writing, every step of the inventory and auction process. In a lawsuit, you will have to show proof that the disposal of the delinquent tenant's goods conformed to state statues.

Finally, if there is any reason to question the sale and disposal of a tenant's goods- don't hold the auction. Many owners prefer to let tenants retrieve their property at no charge, rather than go through the potential liability of an auction (it is certainly preferable to defending yourself in a lawsuit). And be absolutely certain you have adequate insurance coverage. Sale and disposal legal liability insurance is not normally available through regular business insurance carriers and generally cannot be added to a standard business-owners policy. However, the coverage can be secured through insurers specializing in the self-storage industry.

David Wilhite is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry. For more information on Universal's coverages, contact Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd., Box 5400, Scottsdale, AZ 85261-9957; phone: (800) 844-2101; fax: (602) 970-6240; or Web site: .

The Yellow Pages

The Yellow Pages

When Your Ad Goes Wrong

By D. Carlos Kaslow

Over the past year, several storage operators have called us concerning problems with their Yellow Pages advertisement. Either the ad did not appear, or it contained an error, such as the wrong phone number or wrong address. A mistake like this can be a problem for a mature self-storage facility and a disaster for one just opening.

For most storage facilities, the Yellow Pages ad is the number-one source of new business. The Self Storage Association has recently published Self-Storage Usage: A Study, which reports more than 70 percent of customers would consult the Yellow Pages to find a self-storage facility, and more than 30 percent found the facility where they stored their goods through the directory.

Deck Stacked Against Advertiser

What legal rights does a storage operator have when the Yellow Pages makes a mistake? A review of current law and past disputes indicates that the deck is stacked heavily in favor of the phone company. In most cases, an advertiser will not only have his or her business injured, but he finds little relief from the directory or the courts.

Yellow Pages providers use a number of contractual devices to protect themselves from liability for mistakes. The two most common contract provisions are 1.) making acceptance of the advertisement conditional on publication and 2.) limiting liability for mistakes to the amount charged for the advertisement. The courts in most jurisdictions enforce such provisions.

Acceptance of Application: It is mutually understood and agreed that the publication of the advertising requested in the telephone directory shall constitute acceptance of this application by the telephone company. Otherwise, this application is not binding on either of the parties.

This provision simply says that a binding placement contract does not exist until the ad appears in the Yellow Pages directory. If the company fails to include the ordered advertisement, no binding contract exists, and no breach of contract has occurred. This is a powerful defense to customer claims for breach of contract. The Yellow Pages publisher's defense is that no contract existed. Not including the ad is an effective rejection of the advertiser's proposed contract.

The limitation of liability, which is common in such contracts, will be more familiar to most self-storage operators. It is similar to the limitation of liability contained in your rental agreement. The following is an example of such a limitation from a BellSouth Yellow Pages contract:

In most cases, an advertiser will not only have his or her business injured, but he finds little relief from the directory or the courts.

BellSouth Advertising & Publishing Corporation's liability and the telephone company's liability (if any) on account of omission or errors in such advertising shall, in no event, exceed the amount of charges for the advertising which was omitted or in which the error occurred in the current directory issue and such liability shall be discharged by abatement of the charges for the particular listing or advertisement in which the omission or error occurs.

In only three states--Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin--have courts allowed advertisers to collect damages from a Yellow Pages publisher...

This type of provision effectively says that the Yellow Pages publisher has no liability if it does not publish or incorrectly publishes an advertisement. If the publisher makes an error, the advertiser is relieved of paying for the omitted or incorrect advertisement. This may seem like little relief to a storage operator whose advertisement contains an incorrect phone number or does not appear at all, given the devastating effect this can have on his or her business. It can take six months to a year for a Yellow Pages advertisement to be corrected.

Courts in more than 26 states, including California, Florida, New York and Texas, will generally enforce liability limitations provisions. In only three states- Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin- have courts allowed advertisers to collect damages from a Yellow Pages publisher who either left out or incorrectly published an ad. The courts held that the contractual limitations were either contrary to public policy or unconscionable and, therefore, unenforceable.

Judicial Attitudes May Be Changing

A Florida case indicates that even in states that uphold Yellow Pages liability limitations, a publisher may not be completely immune to the consequences of its errors. For example, a Florida Yellow Pages advertiser found that his advertisement contained an incorrect telephone number. He immediately contacted the publisher and reported the mistake. While upset, he apparently wasn't in a mood to sue. His attitude changed when the next year's directory came out with the same error.

The Florida Court of Appeal upheld the publisher's contractual liability limitation for the erroneous advertisement that ran in the first directory. However, the court concluded that while the first error might have been a mistake, to make the same error in the second year was more than mere negligence, and the advertiser could sue for damages.

Any self-storage operator who is the victim of Yellow Pages publisher negligence will have a difficult time collecting damages. The Yellow Pages-publishers have contractual defenses that are usually effective, and in most jurisdictions the suit will be dismissed without a trial. However, some recent cases indicate that the courts are becoming more willing to consider such suits and hold the Yellow Pages publishers liable for their errors.

The following article was excerpted from The Self Storage Legal Review, a bimonthly newsletter on legal issues pertaining to the self-storage industry. For more information or to obtain a subscription, contact Carlos Kaslow at 2203 Los Angeles Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707; (510) 528-0630.

Opinions on legal matters are those of the editor and others; professional counsel should be sought before any action based on this material is taken.

Customer Storage Insurance

Customer Storage Insurance

To Good to Be True?

By Alice Cravens

It helps you even if no one buys it.

It helps you to serve your customer while clarifying responsibilities.

It helps you to reassure customers if a catastrophe strikes.

It costs you little...or nothing.

Does this sound too good to be true? Can you believe that this is a form of insurance? Customer storage insurance programs can do all of this for a storage manager. While this type of insurance has been around for decades, today's programs have brought us into a new era of improved coverages and services that help to make them more attractive to customers. This article will give you a comprehensive update on this important service, from covering the basics to tips on how to incorporate this service into your daily leasing activities.


What is Customer Storage Insurance?

When customers store their belongings at your facility, they may be concerned about what would happen in case of fire, burglary or other catastrophes. A customer storage insurance policy commonly offers protection against several different types of damage to the customer's property, including fire, windstorms, burglary, and water damage due to roof leak and collision. It is usually offered right at the facility, the most natural place to obtain this small and often short-term policy.

Depending on the program, available coverage limits can range from $2,000 to $30,000, with policy terms ranging from one month to one year. The facility can also choose, in many cases, between offering a program where the customer mails the insurance application and premium payment directly to the insurance provider, or one in which the customer pays the insurance premium to the storage facility along with the rent for the storage space. When customers pay for the insurance with their rent, coverage starts automatically when they move into their storage units. The manager forwards the collected premiums to the insurance company at the end of every month.

Why include this service with everything else you do?
  • Customer service insurance helps you to serve your customers' needs and offer reassurance.
  • Documentation enables you to keep a written record showing that you reminded customers of their responsibility for their stored belongings in a service-oriented way.
  • Catastrophe assistance eases the burden of telling your customers that they have been affected by a catastrophe when you can refer them to an insurance provider.

Offering a program at your facility:

  • Most of the insurance carriers specializing in the self-storage industry offer a variety of customer storage insurance programs. No two programs are exactly alike in coverage and administration, so compare them and see which best suits your needs and your customers' needs. Coverage differences, limits, costs and payment terms can affect your customers' buying decision. The program materials that you will need in order to make this insurance available to your customers are usually supplied to you at no charge. However, some companies may charge shipping fees. Most insurance companies limit the availability of their programs because they must manage costs and catastrophe exposure and comply with the applicable insurance regulations in each state. You may want to find out which laws apply in your area and what qualifications or limitations are imposed by the programs that interest you.

How did Customer Storage Insurance develop?

Customer storage insurance developed out of the needs experienced by both the storage facility operator and the customer. Managers found that customers often confused the self-storage business with the moving and storage business. A moving and storage company acts as a bailee, and usually takes charge of the property. It may, therefore, be responsible for the safety of the property. A typical self-storage facility does not usually have any control over the stored property. It leases space to tenants just as a commercial building owner does. Managers needed a way to actively show the customer that the facility was not responsible for stored property.

At the same time, customers needed a way to get insurance for their stored belongings easily and inexpensively. Some homeowners policies may provide coverage for property in storage facilities, however, many provide limited or no coverage. When insurance is available right at the facility's counter, customers can be asked to sign a form: 1) documenting that the facility offered this extra service; 2) reminding the customer of his or her own responsibility for the stored property; and 3) allowing the customer to easily obtain insurance coverage.

Many storage managers offer some kind of customer storage insurance, because it allows them to clearly show the customer in a service-oriented way that the facility is not responsible for stored property. It is also offered because it enables managers to keep a written record that they took this extra step to assist their customers. This extra documentation is often contained in the materials supplied by the insurance provider. Here is an example of the wording you might see that walks the customer through these important concepts:

Tenants Store Property at Their Own Risk

I understand that this self-storage facility and/or its management:

1) is a landlord renting space, is not a warehouseman, and does not take custody of my property;
2) is not responsible for loss or damage to my property;
3) does not provide insurance on my property for me; and
4) requires that I provide my own insurance coverage or personally assume risk of loss or damage.

Tenants Choice of Insurance Options

I have been given a brochure that explains the customer storage insurance available here. As initialed below, I agree to obtain insurance coverage on property in my storage space for its actual cash value or personally assume risk of loss or damage.

________Please initial only one:

________Customer storage insurance policy

________From my own insurance agent

________Personally assume risk of loss or damage

Tenant's Signature_________________________

What kind of storage situations is customer storage insurance designed for?

Most customer storage insurance programs are designed to cover property stored in enclosed locked spaces. Many of these programs were originally created to insure household goods. Look for policy limitations on business property if you have many business clients. Most policies exclude or severely limit coverage for property stored in the open because of the increased exposure. Check your insurance program to see how it treats property stored in outside storage spaces, and suggest to your customers who store boats or cars that they consult with a local auto or water-craft insurance agent because of these restrictions.

Customer storage insurance programs may also not fit other less traditional selfstorage situations. A good example is when a majority of a storage facility's business is in active business records storage. Because the goods move in and out of the facility more frequently, the responsibility for these records can shift - you are no longer in the traditional "tenant leasing storage space" situation. These records are often not covered by the standard customer storage insurance policy because of the number of records and the difficulty of placing a value on them. This situation is often handled by a special agreement between the management and the customer.

In the last few years, storage facilities have also provided additional services. These may include the use of a moving truck or pick-up and transportation of the customers' belongings. Customer storage insurance policies usually do not take effect until the belongings are in the selected storage space, so the current customer insurance programs may still be offered. Keep in mind that your responsibilities may change when you provide additional services. It is important to check with your insurance providers and your attorney about any special agreements needed whenever your services differ from traditional self storage.

The newest service in the storage industry is one that (for lack of an official term) we'll call "portable self-storage." The self-storage company delivers specialized containers to the customer and then picks them up after the customer packs them. This presents a new challenge to customer storage insurance providers. While there is increased protection from water and crime for these belongings, they also move about under the facility's care, creating a new type of risk for "space-based" customer storage insurance policies. This type of service can affect other parts of the business, because it pushes it closer to the moving and storage industry with another world of laws, responsibilities and liabilities. This can affect a storage facility's ability to offer a separate customer storage insurance program for portable self-storage situations. Perhaps new customer storage insurance products and services can be created if the portable self-storage concept grows and manages to remain free of the laws that regulate the moving and storage industry.

Why offer such a program?

Customer storage insurance programs offer benefits for you and for your customers. They provide you with the opportunity to explain that your facility is not responsible for customers' property and to document that explanation. At the same time, you are able to offer the customers a low cost way to protect their stored belongings. Even if no one chooses to purchase the insurance, the written documentation becomes an important part of your business records if a question arises at a later date.

It is clearly to your customers' benefit to be able to purchase this type of protection for their stored property. In the unfortunate event of a catastrophe, such as a fire or a hurricane, the presence of a customer storage insurance program helps you, as well. Imagine how it would ease the burden of telling your customers about a major disaster if you could also reassure them by referring them to an insurance provider. Your ability to provide caring customer service is enhanced by these programs.


Now that you have a program, how and when do you offer it to your customers?

Insurance Phobia - we all have it. Few managers are eager to talk about insurance, unless they have seen first-hand how it can benefit customers when a catastrophe strikes. Your managers want to emphasize the benefits of storing property at your facility and might shy away from suggesting that something bad could happen to their stored belongings. But customers will value your foresight and concern, especially when your facility offers a service that can help them if an unfortunate event happens. Here are some tips to help you showcase this service:

1) All insurance providers emphasize service to you and your customer. They provide toll-free numbers and support materials to answer questions about coverage, administration and claims. Make sure that your new manager becomes familiar with the program you provide.

2) Let your customer know that your facility took the time to find a program so that you could offer this additional service to them.

3) While you manage your facility carefully, situations like hurricanes, earthquakes, and even fires and targeted burglary are beyond your control.

4) If customers say that their homeowner's policy covers property stored elsewhere, that's great. They may want to double check with their insurance agent to make sure that there are no limitations on coverage.

5) Your customers are spending a great deal of effort to care for their property by storing it at your facility. Making sure that their property is protected from catastrophes rounds out this care.


Customer storage insurance programs are changing for a variety of reasons, thanks mostly to improvements in technology. Facilities are also being built stronger and safer, and this reduces the insurance risk. For example, improvements in security have motivated insurers to offer better crime coverages. Burglary coverage used to exist only as a partial coverage, usually only 50 percent of the total limit chosen. A customer might now be able to purchase full burglary coverage or even theft coverage, where forcible signs of entry are not required to demonstrate a covered loss. Computerization has also helped with payment options and it assists the insurance providers in determining coverage and handling catastrophe losses efficiently. And as for portable self-storage, insurance providers always enjoy a new challenge.

While these improvements are welcome, it will be a long time in many states before insurance can be purchased as quickly as locks or storage materials. Customer storage insurance is a different animal from other ancillary services, primarily because it is regulated by each state with its own specific preferences. In fact, many states rely on regulations based on how insurance was transacted generations ago before fax machines, readily available computers or even telephones and regulators face the daunting challenge of questioning what is truly necessary and what if anything needs to change.

Still, the need for customer storage insurance remains. There are no alternatives in the traditional insurance market, and that is unlikely to change. The future of customer storage insurance as an enhancement to service for the manager and customer will continue to brighten.

Alice Cravens manages a variety of customer service programs for Deans and Homer, an underwriting manager in business since 1856. Deans and Homer is one of the founding insurance providers for the self-storage industry, and offers comprehensive insurance coverage for facilities as well as a variety of customer storage insurance programs. Ms. Cravens may be reached at (800) 548-1616, or email:

Ask The Waldmans

Ask The Waldmans

With Stanley and Jill Waldman

Hiring A Teen-ager

Dear Waldmans: Lately, I have seen advertisements on television about hiring teen-agers. After thinking about employing a teen-ager at my storage facility, I have decided it would be a good idea. After all, it would give a teen-ager a chance to make money and gain good experience during the summer. Have you ever employed a teen, and if so, what is important in the hiring process? I am sure there are advantages and disadvantages.

--Employing Teens in Vicksburg, Miss.

Dear Employing Teens: I give you a lot of credit for wanting to employ a teen-ager for the summer. So many teens want to work, and either they cannot find a job, or people are just too afraid to hire them. After all, teens need an opportunity to make their own money and learn what work is all about. It not only gives them a chance to learn and grow, but the experience will be endearing for you, as well.

My first experience employing a teen-ager was quite unusual. He wanted to work (or he thought he wanted to work), but he had not figured out what real work involved. It was also my first experience working with a teen, so I had to learn right along with him. I had him cleaning, painting (that was the fun part), spraying for bugs and pulling weeds. After a while, I noticed he needed to take a little break after each chore. It was too hot, or he was just too exhausted for all that manual labor.

In the beginning, it seemed I had to baby-sit him in order for the jobs to get completed. At one point, I felt I could do them a lot faster, rather than following him around the facility. That was my fault. I realized that he needed some guidance. On the other hand, I needed more patience. So, we had a long discussion about how we were going to handle this entire employer/employee situation, and then we came up with a plan.

Here are some suggestions you might want to implement in your own plan to hire a teen-ager:

  • Check with the state and federal law requirements before hiring a teen-ager.
  • Make sure the teen-ager is at least 16. Get some written proof, such as a birth certificate and a Social Security card. Make copies of both for the file.
  • Give detailed instructions on what he is supposed to do on the job and how you expect the teen to carry that out. Most teen-agers that are first-time employees are just as nervous as you are about the job. The experience can be very encouraging for a teen-ager- especially one without any prior job experience. We need to remember that teens must be given a chance to work before they can gain real job experience.
  • Go over the work schedule and determine the best hours.
  • Don't let the teen-ager operate any machinery that may endanger him.
  • Explain how the tax forms work and what he can expect to receive with his first paycheck. Many teen-agers are shocked when they get that first check; they don't realize how much the government takes out. That is why this is such a good way to teach them how the "real world" works. It not only helps them, but makes them realize the importance of money. Hopefully, by putting all that work into a job, he will learn how to save some of the earnings.

Several of my teen-agers have come back years later and told me how much they appreciated me giving them a job. That made me feel good, because I questioned whether they really liked me during their employment. Young adults grow through their experiences, and experience is only gained by doing. I give you a lot of credit for traveling into the world unknown. You will not regret giving a teen-ager a chance to learn and grow.

A father-daughter team, Stanley and Jill Waldman are self-storage owners/operators and attorneys. In addition, Ms. Waldman holds a master's degree in labor and employment law from Georgetown University. Together they have co-authored a number of books on self-storage operations, including Getting Started in the Self-Storage Business, Self-Storage Business Management Forms, The Policy & Procedure Manual for the Self-Storage Business, Selling Your Self-Storage Business and The South Carolina Tools Manual for Self-Storage Operators.

Comments and questions may be sent to: Ask The Waldmans, P.O. Box 21416, Charleston, SC 29413; or via their Web site:

Editor's Note: Views and opinions on legal matters are those of the authors. Professional counsel should be obtained before any determination or positive action is taken.

MaintenanceA full-time job at any facility

A full-time job at any facility

By Pamela Alton

There are several reasons why a tenant will choose to rent at your facility, including: location, convenience, hours of operation, price, cleanliness and attention to maintenance. You do not have to have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility with video cameras, door alarms, etc., to run rings around your competition if it is clean and well-maintained.

Take a look at your site through the eyes of a prospective tenant. Would you rent at your facility? People choose to use storage for a number of reasons, but one thing is certain: They are storing because they believe their items are valuable. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay rent each month to keep their goods. Does your manager receive plenty of calls and get people to come and visit the facility, yet they don't choose to store there? Could it be because the facility is dirty, run-down and in need of major repairs? Most prospective tenants will come visit the facility they are considering to store at before they actually move their items into a unit. The first impression means everything.

Maintenance of a facility should be a full-time job for your onsite manager. Keep in mind that there is more to maintaining a facility than just running a broom around the floor of a vacant unit. Maintenance and cleanliness mean different things to different people. Don't assume your manager has the skills or the knowledge it takes to maintain your facility. Show them what is expected of them and make sure you give them the tools to do their job effectively.

Interior Maintenance

Obviously, the manager must keep all vacant units swept, clean of dirt and debris, and free of insects and rodents. The facility should be sprayed regularly to keep insects at bay, and rodent poison should also be placed in each unit. Look up at the ceiling in a unit and make sure all cob-webs are removed. It wouldn't hurt to place a copy of your facility's rules and regulations, along with a list of items that are illegal to store, on the inside wall of the unit. Hallways, stairs and elevator shafts should be swept and kept clean. Hallway lighting should be checked daily, and any burnt-out bulbs should be replaced immediately. When your manager does his morning "walk down," taking extra locks for overlocks, he should also bring a notepad and pencil, and a small broom and a dustpan so that he may accomplish several tasks and save some time.

Keeping hallways, stairwells and entryways swept will give interior units a well-maintained look. This tells the prospective tenant that the manager cares about his facility; in turn, the tenant will feel good about storing their good with your company. Make a note here that using blowers in the hallway does not keep them clean--the dirt and dust just goes into the air and right back down again. You might consider getting a push-type of sweeper that has revolving bristles. It can be pushed down the hallway, it picks up a lot of dirt, and it can be attached to the back of an electric cart so it can be pulled behind to sweep the driveways. This does wear out the bristles faster, but your manager can do this daily and keep his driveways neat and clean without hiring an outside driveway-sweeping service. The interior and exterior roll-up doors should be dusted on a regular basis also.

Exterior Maintenance

The exterior grounds should be kept clean, lighting should be adequate, and flags, banners and signs should all be in good condition and replaced when necessary. Drive through your facility in the evening and look for places where lighting could be improved and to see how well-lit your signage is. Landscaping should be trimmed and well maintained, any large trees should be pruned, and worn-out plants and shrubs should be replaced. If you have extensive landscaping, hire a landscaping company. If your manager is doing his job correctly, he has enough to do besides spending his time gardening.

The same goes for the maintenance of or electronic gates, elevators or lifts. They should be inspected by a licensed, reputable company experienced in servicing these items. Your manager can do minor repairs; however, I would advise hiring outside contractors for any major repair work.

The following list includes some of the tools and items your manager will need to do his job:

  • Electric golf cart
  • Charger
  • Extension cords
  • Carts, dolly (hand and refrigerator)
  • Ladder
  • Driveway sweeper
  • Brooms (push and regular)
  • Dust pans
  • Electric drill
  • Light bulbs
  • Rags
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Bathroom supplies (toilet brush, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous tools (wrenches, etc.)
  • Bug spray and rodent poison
  • Facility signs (gate and office hours, closed holiday, etc.)
  • Overlocks (keyed alike, 100, red)
  • Vacancy tags and keyed-alike locks (100, yellow or green)

Annual Assessment

Each year you should assess the condition of your facility and make note of any major repairs or deferred maintenance that must be addressed. Collect bids in advance for the repair work so that you may build it into your annual budget. If you have asphalt driveways, you need to have any cracks repaired and the whole facility resealed every two to three years. Each year, have your roofs inspected. Patch spots that may cause leaks in the future, have any skylights resealed and dented downspouts replaced. A new coat of paint on the exterior buildings and interior hallways can make a world of difference. A 20-year-old facility can have years taken off with a fresh coat of paint. Even roll-up doors have been successfully repainted for a fraction of the replacement cost.

Office and Apartment

Another area for consideration is your facility office. Is it time to update it by purchasing new office equipment, replacing flooring or carpeting, installing new counter tops, or putting on a fresh coat of paint? What about the onsite apartment? Does it need new carpeting, flooring, counter tops, appliances or painting? Make sure you sit down with the manager each year and discuss the condition of your facility, office and apartment. Receive at least three bids for improvements and add the cost into your annual budget.

Maintenance of your facility is the responsibility of your manager, and it is the owner's responsibility to supply the manager with the necessary tools and funds to accomplish their tasks. If you have more than 1,000 units, you will want to consider a full-time maintenance man to help your manager. By keeping your facility clean and in good repair, you can extend the life of your investment, your manager will experience the pride of ownership and people will want to rent at your site.

Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, the largest nationwide manager-placement service serving the self-storage industry. Mini-Management also offers full-service and operations-only property management, policy and procedures manuals, sales and marketing training manuals, inspections and audits, consulting and training seminars nationwide. For more information on the various services offered by Mini-Management, call (800) 646-4648.

Your Facility Report Card

Your Facility Report Card

Dean's List or Academic Probation?

By Cecile Blaine

If your facility was a student, what grade would it get on its end-of-the-year report card? Would it be an A+ or a C-? You be the judge. The end of the year serves as an excellent time for you, as a facility operator, to take a look at your business and assess how well it is doing in terms of maintenance and management issues.

Now is the time when the maintenance schedule you put together at the beginning of the year should be put to the test. Have the daily, weekly and monthly chores been done regularly and on schedule? If not, you'll want to make note of them and set some goals for next year. What are the priorities? What is being neglected? What projects need to be budgeted for? Answers to these and other questions will help you create not only a maintenance schedule for next year, but a budget, as well.

Typically, the manager is the person who is in charge of implementing the maintenance check list and the budget that fuels it. If that is not the case, however, it's time to stay after class, says Jim Chiswell, owner of Chiswell and Associates Ltd., a consulting firm out of Amherst, N.Y. "Don't let another year go by without (the manager) getting involved in the process," he stresses. "The manager is the front line. He is the greatest tool that any owner has--whether the facility is going to be successful or not.

"When filling out your facility's report card, look first at the key maintenance issues that directly affect your customer. Chiswell recommends keeping the customer in the forefront of your minds. "I want to make sure that my customers are happy," he says.

Where's the Water Fountain?

Leaky roofs and flooded units, for example, can spell disaster at any facility. "The whole issue of water for this industry can be a killer," Chiswell points out. As a result, maintaining the quality of a facility's roofs and gutters is essential.

Sigel Roush agrees. As vice president of Capacity Development, a facility management firm in Highland Park, Ill., Roush says you should start tallying your facility's report card from the top. "You should make sure that the integrity of the roof is in tact, especially the flat roofs," he says.

Roush's staff walks the roofs of his facilities once a month to clear them of garbage, because those items can eventually rust and create leaks and other internal problems. Some of the worst cases involve people throwing automobile batteries on roofs, with the battery acid burning holes in the roofs or even causing explosions, according to Roush. Because the roof is such an important and vulnerable area, it's a good idea to add it to the annual report card.

You can't have well-maintained roofs with stopped-up gutters. Sooner or later, gutters that aren't draining properly will back up and force water, snow or ice onto the roofs. Then, leaking can't be far off. By the same token, you need to keep nearby trees trimmed and keep leaves from building up in the gutters. So, that's another section of the report card that needs attention.

Lots of today's facilities are designed with storm water retention systems, creating yet another channel in which water can back up and flood a facility. As a result, operators need to maintain the drain and make sure it is free from garbage, leaves or anything else that could stop it up.

"You want to make sure your storm water receivers are clean--not just the top of the grate. Pop the grate right off and get down and really look. If you've got to get down in there with a shovel, you've got to do it," says Chiswell.

Open Sesame

Another maintenance issue that can directly affect customers is the security gate. If the gate hasn't received proper attention throughout the year, such as a monthly oiling, it could break down unexpectedly--leaving customers locked out and angry. "When was the last time you spent a few dollars to have someone come in and make sure that the chains are properly oiled, that the motor is tuned up, or that the linkage is tight?" Chiswell asks. "Again, from the perspective of a northeast operator, you are going to have more harsh conditions," he adds, which make it advantageous to maintain it now.

Likewise, swing doors can rust if the hinges are not oiled regularly, preferably on a monthly basis. According to Roush, when a customer who hasn't visited his unit for a year tries to open the un-oiled door, he sometimes bends the hinges instead. "Then, you have to replace it," he says. "That is just way too much fun for one adult in the winter."

Snow Days

Winter's here, and part of your facility's report card should include a section on winterizing your business. Is your facility ready for the first snow? Do you have a company that will provide snowplow services? Do you have a current contract with the company, and how do you know they will come when you need them?

"I don't care what business you are in--you want to make sure that the person who is charged with the responsibility of plowing that lot is reputable, has insurance, and that means he probably isn't the lowest priced guy in town," Chiswell points out.

Problems with pavement and driveways need attention before winter hits, because chances are they will only get bigger. Cracks or potholes need to be patched before the freeze-and-thaw cycle makes a Grand Canyon out of your driveway.

School Daze

Winter means shorter days and longer nights. How does your facility look at night? This may be more important than you'd like to think because, as Chiswell points out, "There are as many potential prospects driving by your facility at night when no one's there as there are during the day. And a properly lit facility can look very attractive and much safer."

Changing light bulbs in the late fall can prevent having to expose yourself to the elements in the coldest winter months. In fact, some facilities track when they change bulbs and do a mass bulb change in the fall. "We try to make sure that we change those in October or that you don't have to go out in the dead of winter and change a halogen bulb," recalls Roush.

From Loafers to High Heels

The end-of-the-year report card requires that you look at your facility from a different perspective for once. Try to look through new eyes, recommends Chiswell. Ask yourself if your facility is as comfortable for women as it is for men. "You have to look at your self-storage facility like you have a pair of high heels on," he says, pointing out the importance of female customers in the scope of business.

Appealing to women through the decor of the office is another element of the business that is worth looking into. Chiswell suggests adopting a decor that is female-friendly.

"I'm not saying paint the office pink and have bows everywhere, but not early Tool Time, either," he says.

Maintenance Allowance

By the time you've given your facility it's grade for the year, you have collected enough information to create next year's maintenance budget. Some lenders require a set-aside maintenance budget of 4 or 5 cents per square foot, per year. Whether you arrive at it through guesswork or an equation, the research you've just done is invaluable. And the older the facility, the more need there will be for a maintenance budget. In fact, Chiswell recalls, "I've seen facilities that are 5 years old that have just been totally ignored and a facility that is 10 or 15 years old that looks 10 times as sharp," due to the degree of maintenance that has been followed by the manager and operator.

R.M.A. (Remember Me Always)

Probably the most valuable information you gather through a facility report card is about your customers. Who were they? How old are they? Where do they live? Whether you have a computer or not, you now have a full year's worth of customer information at your fingertips, and it would be a crime not to use it.

"Let's say that the average commercial customer is renting a 10-by-10 or larger space, and we determine that by looking at the trends, that our commercial customer stays an average of 20 months and that our average residential customer stays an average of three months," says Chiswell. "Who would I rather have?

"(Commercial customers) pay better, they stay longer. But in many cases, we are doing nothing to try to attract them."

Likewise, it's also an excellent time to ask yourself if you are getting the kind of return on auctions that you are looking for. If your recovery rate is very low, then you might want to direct more attention toward negotiating with customers and avoiding auctions altogether. "Let's say you auction 50 units, and on those units, you averaged 90 percent recovery," says Chiswell. You could consider your auctions very successful. If, however, you only recover 10 or 15 percent of what's owed to you through the auctions, then it is probably better to make a deal with your customers to get them to pay what they can, so you can repossess the unit.

Final Exams

Getting an "A" on your facility report card at the end of the year is certainly something to write home about. Whether you get to go to the head of your class or you have to stay back a year, sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In other words, no matter what grade you received on your facility report card, use what you've learned about your facility in the next year as far as knowing where the sticky maintenance issues are, budgeting, marketing and handling delinquent accounts. In all these areas, it is easy to see that a little maintenance each month goes a long way toward keeping the annual chores down.

"By staying on top of the faciliy, by correcting the little things, it prevents them from creating major problems later," concludes Chiswell.