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Universal Door-Drive Mounting System

JanUS Door, a manufacturer of coiling sheet doors, hallway partitions and rolling steel doors for the self-storage and other markets, released its universal rolling-steel, door-drive mounting system. The factory, pre-punched headplates match up with unique, inexpensive transition brackets that allow for new or retrofit mounting of chain hoists or front of hood mount operators with only two bolts. JanUS offers chain-hoist operation with sprocket and roller-chain reduction or cast-gear reduction by using the same pre-punched, universal transition bracket. Motor installation is enhanced and simplified by another pre-punched, universal transition bracket that mounts to the headplate and locks after tensioning the drive chain. No field drilling is required for new or retrofit installation when using the JanUS drive systems, which can be quickly and easily retrofitted to any existing door.

Getting to Know Self-Storage Manager Melissa Roberts, Self Storage Depot, Dunlap, Tenn.

Inside Self-Storage is pleased to introduce Melissa Roberts, facility manager of Self Storage Depot in Dunlap, Tenn. We spoke with her at a recent self-storage conference. Let's get to know her!

How long have you been in the industry?
Nine months.  

What did you do before self-storage?
Insurance and everything customer service.  

If you could have a second home, where would it be?
Somewhere on a beach.  

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you most like to have?
My husband and little boy, Long Island ice-teas, and food.

Thinking back to your childhood, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A teacher.  

On a scale from one to 10, how happy are you in self-storage? “I really like it. I would say about a nine.”  

Hobbies: Church volunteer, gardening. “My son is my hobby, and I read everything I can get my hands on.”  

Favorite Sports Teams: Cubs, Tennessee football  

Favorite Meal: “I like all foods, especially Italian.”  

Favorite Movie: The Notebook  

Favorite Author: John Grisham  

Favorite Music: Country and contemporary Christian

ISS Blog

Is Economic Recovery Just Around the Corner?

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen more positive headlines about bank profit and the stock market gaining ground. And while it’s good news compared to all the bad stuff just a few short months ago, does it mean the country is emerging from the recession? Not exactly, experts say.

While many large financing institutions reported billion-dollar profit in the first quarter, it doesn’t even out the huge losses these banks suffered in previous quarters. Layoffs are still a huge issue, with more than 500,000 jobs lost in March alone; and dismal retail reports for March sent the stock market plummeting for a couple of days earlier this month.

Yet, there are what President Obama calls “glimmers of hope.” The number of new jobless claims is slowing; banks are working with more homeowners on streamlining mortgages to avoid foreclosures; and, best yet, the stock market has enjoyed six weeks of upward movement. Plus, the housing market is beginning to show signs of recovery due to the generous $8,000 tax credit.

What does all this mean for you, the self-storage operator? Hopefully, it could translate into more rentals and fewer delinquent tenants in the coming months. Last week on the Self-Storage Talk forum, a poster asked if other managers are seeing a pick up in rentals. A handful of posters responded positively. “The phones have started ringing again,” Cramalot posted.

One drawback could be the cost it takes to get more tenants through the door. More self-storage operators are willing to offer concessions as the industry heads into the busy summer season, according to a recent article in USA Today. Three big players in the industry—U-Store-It, Public Storage and Extra Space Storage—all have concessions in the works to attract new tenants.

Are you seeing fewer move-outs? Are move-ins up this month? What’s your take on concessions? Share your comments with us by posting a comment.

Partnering With a Self-Storage Call Center

Today’s self-storage market requires a well-run sales-focused business that concentrates on turning every contact into a rental. The economy also demands a cost-effective approach that manages labor costs. So how does a call center fit into the mix?

Call centers have been widely available to self-storage operators as a rollover sales backup for more than eight years. Many operators use them to extend the facility’s hours of operation and capture sales inquiries that come in after regular office hours. Operators have also discovered they can use a call center to trim labor hours in the store to a more manageable level.

Call-Center Advantages

Call centers will typically create one rental from every 10 calls. It is typical to convert 50 percent of leads and reservations into rentals. If a call center took 10 phone calls and only four were rental inquiries, three of the four should turn into a lead or reservation. One could quickly calculate that even a store producing a low call volume for the phone center can gain one or more rentals a month that may have been missed otherwise.

Using a call center can also improve your sales image because call center representatives are judged by their ability to turn calls into leads, reservations and rentals. Most call centers can give you copies of recorded calls. This is a good way to double check their quality and gives you an example of a good call so you can share it with your managers during training.

A call center can also share valuable information with you on how people found your phone number, how proficient your staff is at closing the leads and the call activity coming to your store. This is just some of the information you can use to get a better idea as to how your store is doing and where improvements are needed.

You can integrate your self-storage marketing with a call center by adding unique tracking numbers on your ad campaigns to keep track of online, print and direct mail marketing. This will enable you to determine which marketing campaigns are the most effective and help you attach a return on investment calculation to ads you use.

If you have multiple facilities, a call center can help you direct traffic to the stores that need a boost in occupancy.

Choosing a Call Center

Before you talk to a call center, determine your needs. Will you send all your calls to the call center and use it as the first point of contact? Or will you only send your rollover calls when your store staff is busy?

Find out how the call center sets up its billing plans. Your preference for billing arrangements may not be what everyone else is willing to do. What terms does the call center require? The best deals are usually long-term contracts, but you can often find a trial period or short-term contract to make sure using a call center is the right for your business.

How will the call center send you communications? Will they post leads and reservations to a website? Can they push leads by e-mail or fax? How do they handle current customers? There are a lot of considerations that go into creating a successful partnership with a call center.

Most call centers are also capable of tying into your management software if you are using one of the more common storage software systems. It is not necessary to do this, but it can be a timesaver. By tying into your management software, call centers can pull your availability, pricing and specials through a Web-service interface with your software provider. Call centers can also give you the option of doing your own updates using a website interface where your staff can complete updates with just a few clicks.

Working With a Call Center

The facility’s staff should be first to answer the phone if they are able to concentrate on the call. There is nothing worse than calling a business and feeling like the call-taker is rushed, uninterested or annoyed that you interrupted something else.

You should set up your partnership so the store staff sees the call center as a leads-generator and their role as the sales closer. This sets up a healthy relationship that produces more leads and rentals.

Also, consider the call center reps staff, too. Take time to get to know their names, send posters or fliers from your store, logo caps or T-shirts. The more your staff feels like the call center reps are a part of your team, the better use you will be able to make of their work.

Be on the lookout for a call center you can develop a long-term partnership with. Unless you are looking to sell your property soon, the call center could become your most profitable partner.

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an offsite sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training and Internet lead-generation services. Mr. Jordheim is also a member of the National Speakers Association. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

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Self-Storage Auctions Increase: Frequency and Participation

Self-storage auctions are on the rise, both in number and in the amount of consumer participation, according to an article in the Quincy, Mass., Patriot Ledger. Paul Maglio, president of Storage Auction Solutions, said people are drawn to these auctions to look for items they can mark up and sell for extra money, with crowds at his auctions being double what they used to be. In addition, more storage renters find themselves unable to pay rent, causing unit “foreclosures” that result in more sales, he said.
 
Maglio, whose company conducts self-storage auctions throughout New England, was the auctioneer at Storage Pros in Brockton, Mass., last week. The auction was one of five in the area that day. A crowd of about 50 attended the one at Storage Pros, where the contents of six units were up for bidding.
 
Storage Pros Manager Paul Alves said he’s seen many customers affected by job loss and other economic factors.
 
Auction participant Michael Keene of Taunton, Mass., said storage auctions are becoming more competitive as greater numbers attend.
 
Source: The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.), Storage auctions take off in Brockton area amid poor economy

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REIT Performance Falters in First Quarter 2009

Despite a late 2008 rally in which real estate investment trusts rose more than 40 percent, the sector is experiencing tumult in the first quarter of 2009. Investors thought they had seen the low point for real estate, but performance over the three months ended March 31 has renewed their uncertainty about which companies will survive the credit crunch.
 
Healthcare and self-storage REITs, considered the most resistant to recession, were still down 28 percent and 32 percent respectively. Hotels and retail, which tend to be the hardest hit during a recession, were down 38 percent and 39 percent respectively for the first quarter.
 
The Dow Jones Equity All REIT Total Return Index, which tracks 113 stocks, posted a negative total return of 32 percent in the first quarter, slightly better than the negative 39 percent return in the fourth quarter of 2008. The index is now down about 68 percent from its February 2007 peak.
 
Source: Wall Street Journal, REIT Rally Turned to a Rout, as the 'Bottom' Dropped Out

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Self-Storage Companies to Make Summer Concessions

The recession hasn’t drastically affected the self-storage industry, but facility operators are going to give concessions to keep their units full this summer, according to an article in USA Today. Paul Puryear, director of real estate research for Raymond James, said the industry will attempt to lure customers by offering more discounts. The assumption is unit occupancy will jump 4 percent to five percent this summer.
 
The self-storage industry is resistant to the effects of the recession because customers use storage when they need to downsize or suffer life changes, such as a job loss or home foreclosure. Puryear said his organization is trying to measure how serious the downtown will get before consumers abandon the self-storage product. Right now, need is driving the business.
 
Three major self-storage operators have planned summer marketing campaigns. U-Store-It will run its first TV ads next month, promoting a low-price guarantee. If a customer finds a lower price in the market, the company will beat it by 10 percent of the difference. Public Storage is promoting the first month of rent for $1 at 2,000 of its facilities. With Extra Space Storage, customers who rent online can get a free month of storage.
 
Source: USA Today, Self-store units balance slump to still fill their spaces

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Layton Brokers Sale of Two WA Self-Storage Facilities

Ryan Layton of American Real Estate Associates represented the seller and buyer in the sale of University Storage in Ellensburg, Wash. The property sold on March 25 for $400,500 at a 9.5 percent cap rate. The site includes 10,268 rentable square feet of self-storage on 27,800 square feet of land.
 
Layton also represented the seller and buyer in the sale of Valley (Wash.) Self Storage. The 16,512-square-foot property also sold on March 25 for $245,189 at an 11 percent cap rate.

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Using Security to Increase Self-Storage Revenue

We are all asking ourselves what we can do in 2009 to maintain or increase revenue. One area in which many self-storage owners are focusing is security. In a weakened economy, property crime and theft tend to increase. One of the best ways to maintain or improve your occupancy during these times is to assure your tenants their belongings will be safer at your facility than the one down the street.

Find a security vendor that can provide you with a complete solution. This is more important than ever because the latest technology in security systems is so advanced that you need to ensure you have total compatibility. Next, provide a self-assessment of the security existing at your facility. An old black-and-white camera connected to a time-lapse VCR is like a black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and no remote control. It works, but you can do so much better.

You can always cut rates and give “free rent,” but that doesn’t help your bottom line. Better security leads to bigger occupancy and more revenue.
 
Onsite Security

Is your security prominently displayed? Do your prospects see cutting-edge, access-control keypads and an array of sophisticated cameras around the facility? What about door alarms on each unit? Does the inside of the office show managers and tenants a snapshot of the facility via video monitors and a digital representation of your site layout? Have you added intercoms or music throughout the facility so tenants can reach a manager instantly, listen to the latest specials, or just feel more comfortable at your property?

It’s true that better security can change the entire demeanor and atmosphere at a site. Let’s take a look at the latest security innovations and what you can do to get your facility modernized with the lowest expense and highest return.
 
Door Alarms

Now is the time to invest in individual door alarms. Market conditions and the increased need for security make this the perfect time to upgrade your facility. There are two types to consider when selecting a door alarm system: wired or wireless.

Years ago, wired alarms were the standard as wireless technology was being perfected; however, the roles have reversed. Not only has wireless equipment dropped significantly in price, especially compared to the ever-climbing copper and labor prices associated with wired systems, but the technology is as close to bulletproof as you can get.

Regardless of which system you choose, be mindful of the overall cost. For wireless, you must consider the cost of the unit sensor, any necessary repeaters to get the signal back to the office, and the office receiver. Wireless units also work off batteries, so be sure to ask your security company how long the batteries last, how long it guarantees them, and how much replacements cost.

For a wired system, there is the cost of the door contact, wiring from each unit to a multiplexer, the multiplexer and the office receiver. With wired, the biggest cost of the system is the labor required to run the wiring to each unit. In addition, you’ll need to allocate additional funds for conduit. Weigh the pros and cons of each system carefully before making your decision.
 
Access Control

Access controls have come a long way since the days when a green light admitted tenants and a red light locked them out. Access control at your facility is not only your first line of defense against unauthorized people, it also helps with rent collection. Tenants can’t get in if they’re behind on payment.

Though most owners first think of a gate and keypad, there are other points throughout a facility that can be used to restrict access. For example, if you have a multi-story facility, consider adding keypads in the elevator cars. The keypad ensures the elevator only stops on the tenant’s floor. This helps keep tenants contained to the areas for which they have access and assists you in tracking their movement if an event does occur.

The same goes for access doors. If you have several buildings with interior hallways, consider adding keypads to control access to those buildings. Most access-control systems will allow you to set zones so tenants can only access specific keypads. By simply adding a few strategic access-control points throughout your facility, you can better control tenant access, which could reduce break-ins and other crime.

The more sophisticated systems today have LCD screens to provide feedback to the tenant if he tries to use the incorrect keypad. For example, it might say, “Mr. Jones, you do not have access rights to this location.” Or if payment is due, “Your rent of $75 is past due. Please see the manager.” If a tenant is current, it can remind him when his next payment is due.

There are several innovations in the access-control market, ranging from improved functionality to modern styling. All the features you have come to expect from a high-end access-control system are still there, such as card readers (with payment-at-the-keypad options), pinhole cameras, proximity control and intercoms.

In addition, there are wireless keypads at an affordable price to reduce trenching and conduit costs to the office, and the ability for the keypad to store all of the information so it will have offline functionality and improved lightning protection.

Also, look for modernized keypad housings. You can now find strong polycarbonate housings that are impervious to rust and salt and are non-conductive to reduce lightning damage while still providing a solid vandal- and weather-resistant solution.

Last, but perhaps most important, check with your security company about what kind of warranty it provides. What does it include and for how long? There are many access-control companies, but not all are designed specifically for the self-storage market. For example, does the security software interface with your management software so status changes such as automatic lockouts, move-ins, move-outs, etc., are properly logged without the need for double entry?
 
Digital Video Surveillance

Digital video is a must at any facility. If you’re still using time-lapse VCRs or black-and-white fuzzy cameras, do yourself a favor and see how much better things can be. Not only is the quality of new digital systems superior to the older ones, but they add several features you will soon realize you can’t live without, for example, remote connectivity to your site from anywhere in the world. Simply enter a username and password on a website and you can view live video, review recorded video or even save events to your local hard drive or CD/DVD burner.

Digital video recorders (DVRs) allow you to easily and quickly search for events by time, camera, date or even detected motion. When you’ve found what you’re looking for, pop in a CD or DVD and record it. Now you can give a copy to a tenant, police or insurance company while keeping the original event recorded on the DVR hard drive. Some digital systems even allow you to trigger sirens or strobe lights when motion is detected on a given camera or during a certain time. This is a great way to add supplemental security for little expense.
 
Intercoms

After addressing the above main security systems at your site, consider adding in an intercom or music system. These are inexpensive tools that provide value to any facility. Intercoms strategically placed around the facility provide tenants with instant access to your manager when they have questions or concerns.

A music system creates a calming or upbeat ambience for tenants while they are at their units. Create a CD that offers specials on your inventory or truck rentals. Add a microphone to your music system to implement facility-wide or zoned paging.
 
After the Install

Set up, configuration and training on your newly purchased security equipment are just as important as the equipment itself. Ask your supplier how it handles these items. Does it remotely assist you with setup or provide you with real-time webinars? Does it conduct onsite training at the completion of the installation or a combination of these methods?

Unfortunately, it is all too common to have a system installed by a local company that does not understand the idiosyncrasies of the self-storage industry, so be sure the security vendor you choose does.

In addition to increasing the security at your facility, be sure to take a hard look at your  management software. Does it allow you to remotely access your facility, which can reduce commuting time or lower staff requirements? Does it enable tenants to pay their bills online or view transaction history?

A security company that offers software, access control, digital video surveillance and door alarms can provide you with a seamless system that allows you to observe all movement and access at your facility. Strong integration is more important now than ever, letting you know all your systems are compatible and working toward the same goals: secure your facility, protect your tenants and increase revenue.
 
Paul Brandenburg, commercial sales manager for QuikStor Security and Software, has more than nine years of self-storage experience, including seven years working for QuikStor. The Van Nuys, Calif.-based company is a supplier of management software, access control and digital video products. For more information, call 800.321.1987, ext. 207; e-mail [email protected].

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Self-Storage Insurance in a Weak Economy: Your Investment, Carrier and Coverage

The fundamental purpose of insurance is to provide the purchaser with a greater sense of financial security, protecting assets and income from accidental loss and misfortune. So insurance is a financial market. Considering the current state of the economy, you might want to know just how secure your coverage is.

While insurance investments—the places where premiums and policyholders’ surplus are parked while waiting to pay out claims, expenses and dividends—have taken a beating over the past year, they’re in much better shape than most retirement accounts. By their own nature and as imposed by state regulation, insurance-company investments are generally very conservative. Typically, two-thirds of an insurer’s investments are in high-rated bonds. Less than 20 percent may be tied up in common and preferred stocks, and typically less than 2 percent in mortgage loans or real estate, the sectors of the financial market most affected by the recent downturn.

The bond markets did not turn in a profitable performance over the past year, with bonds of even high ratings posting high single- or double-digit losses. Still, these losses seem a blessing compared to the slide in equity markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 35 percent over the last 12 months and the S&P 500 down more than 40 percent.

Some of you are thinking, “Wait, I’m a taxpayer, and I now own a portion of the federal government’s substantial equity stake in an insurance company called American International Group. AIG is obviously in serious trouble.” Let’s be clear: The problems of AIG are due to the failure of a financial unit regulated by federal agencies, not its more traditional insurance products, which are regulated by state insurance departments. Financial problems from such risky investments as credit default swaps are not shared by companies who focus and restrict operations to traditional insurance products. 

Big Losses

While I just painted a picture of the insurance industry designed to reduce your stress level, I would be remiss in leading you to believe all is rosy. The combined ratio—incurred losses plus expenses divided by net earned premiums—was 105.6 percent for the first six months of 2008. In other words, insurance companies paid out about 5.5 cents for every dollar they took in.

Catastrophe losses accounted for higher than average annual losses for the property and casualty industry in 2008, with hurricanes Ike and Gustav contributing to $14.3 billion in losses. Ike was the fourth most expensive storm on record. While year-end results for 2008 were not published at the time this article was written, the projected loss to the property and casualty insurance industry surplus for the year is about $80 billion, or about 20 percent of policyholders’ surplus.

Policyholders’ surplus is a financial cushion that protects a company’s policyholders in the event of unexpected or catastrophic losses. A certain margin of that cushion is required for every policy based on line of business and state regulatory requirements. What this means for companies that have seen a decline in their policyholders’ surplus is they must write less insurance or raise more capital during the next year. Raising new capital is not a simple task in today’s market.

Know Your Carrier

What does all this mean for you, the business owner and insurance consumer? First, look at the company or companies with which you are insured. How are they weathering the storm? One of the primary and perhaps most reliable sources for checking the condition of your insurance provider is A.M. Best Co. Founded in 1899, A.M. Best is a full-service credit-rating organization dedicated to serving the financial-service industries, including the banking and insurance sectors.

You can review the financial ratings of your insurance carrier at www.ambest.com. For a secondary source, many analysts and interested parties also check the Standard & Poor’s financial ratings for insurance companies. Alternatively, you can request this information directly from your insurance agent or provider. If your carrier’s rating is slipping below an A or is on a watch list, you should have healthy concern about its condition.

Examine Your Program

Now that you’ve increased your knowledge of your insurance carrier, let’s look at your overall program. When finances get tight, people become more litigious, so consider raising your limits for coverage in areas such as premises liability, customer-goods legal liability and sale-and-disposal legal liability.

Since increasing your liability coverage will boost your premium, you might reduce in other areas. For example, consider accepting higher deductibles for your property coverage, which will lower your premium. Customers may be more inclined to place the blame for property damage or theft on you during hard times. This makes tenant insurance or property-liability retention programs even more valuable.

The increased potential for loss does not reside solely with your customers. While the potential for employee theft always exists, the probability increases during a poor economy. Employee-dishonesty coverage is available as an option with many insurance package policies and should be considered where employees are entrusted with cash transactions. Improved audit precautions are strongly encouraged at this time.

If you’re an employer who provides employee benefits such as health insurance, annuity or retirement-income accounts, give extra attention to purchasing errors and omissions coverage for your role as an agent or representative in these accounts. These are uncertain times; accounts will lose value, and you may be brought into an action that requires you to defend yourself―at significant cost―against the actions of a financial market that has lost its way.
We are living in interesting times. Make sure your insurance is really working for your business.
 
Scott Lancaster is the regulatory compliance officer for Deans & Homer, which has provided insurance products designed to respond to the unique risks of the self-storage industry since 1974. Lancaster started his insurance career in 1976 as a licensed insurance agent and broker in California. For more information, call 800.847.9999; visit www.self-storage-insurance.com.

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