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Lafrance Hospitality to Build Self-Storage in Westport

Lafrance Hospitality Co. of Westport, Mass., received approval last week to build 100 self-storage units behind the former Fred and Ann’s restaurant, where the company also plans to open a pizzeria. The Planning Board unanimously approved the plan, subject to a 20-day appeal period.

The self-storage site includes 13,400 square feet of storage in two buildings, accessible by a new road that will be built on the north side of the property. Lafrance will build a stockade fence to shield the buildings from view.

The Westport River Watershed Alliance expressed concern about the potential impact on Angeline Brook, which runs through the west end of the site and is a habitat for rare trout. Lafrance agreed to alterations to keep warm runoff water from entering the cold stream.

Source: The Herald News, Lafrance gets OK for storage space

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ISS Blog

The Power of Viral Media: Angry Customers Armed With New Weapons

I want to begin this post by saying the intent of the story I'm about to share with you is not to assign blame or speculate on who may have done what wrong. The point is all of the rules have changed when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing, for good and bad. Anyone who manages, owns or otherwise operates a business—including self-storage—will have to take heed and create a plan for mitigating PR calamities.

A week ago Monday, I arrived at work to find several e-mails from a self-storage customer who believed he had been done wrong by a self-storage facility in Hollywood. He had not only sent his messages to several of us here at Inside Self-Storage, he had copied members of the Self-Storage Association and other industry companies of import. His e-mails included details of his predicament and a link to a YouTube video, a roughly 10-minute film shot during a protest he staged outside the facility in question.

I will not present all of the minute details of the case here. Suffice it to say that, however it happened, the tenant moved his belongings into a unit other than the one listed on his rental agreement. When the manager eventually discovered the goods, he believed them to be abandoned, and ultimately disposed of them. (By "dispose," I understand the goods were tossed or doled out to whomever might want them. They did not go to lien sale.)

One day, the customer visited his unit to find it empty. When he went into the management office to inquire about what happened, he found the manager sitting on a stool he had been storing. His conclusion? That the facility employees had "stolen" his goods. After some discussion, the manager explained the misunderstanding as a clerical error. The customer demanded compensation. The situation had to be resolved through the corporate office, which took a bit of time. The customer, impatient to be satisfied, launched a full-scale PR attack upon the business.

First, Greg (customer) told all of his friends, family, co-workers, etc., about the wrong he believed had been done to him. He got everybody fired up. He created a Yahoo! e-mail address through which to send information relating to his plight: [facility name][email protected] This was the address from which I and my industry collegues received Greg's messages.

Greg organized a full-scale protest on Sunset Boulevard, just outside the facility, with a large crowd chanting and brandishing brightly colored signs. There's a lot of traffic on Sunset, as you can imagine, and drivers by joined in the ruckus by beeping their horns. Greg filmed said protest and posted the video on YouTube.

Someone who drove by the demonstration Twittered about it: "Just passed a demonstration on Sunset Blvd. 30 or so people holding signs "XXXXXXX Steals" This sure puts the WTF? in #selfstorage."

I hear ya, brother: Sure puts the WTF in self-storage, indeed.

From a journalist's perspective, I immediately saw several stories emerging out of this string of events. I was interested in uncovering the truth behind what happened, of course; but the truth, in the end, is irrelevant. Here is the fact: Perception is reality. And regardless of who was at fault for which outcome, Greg managed to do damage to the storage business in question, which I have not named because it could have happened to any storage facility. It could happen to yours.

I e-mailed with the customer and got his side of the story. I also spoke and e-mailed with the president of the self-storage operation and got his perspective. He and I agreed that once the situation was resolved, there were lessons in the story that should be shared with the industry at large. I urge you to watch the ISS website and future issues of the magazine for an article about:

  • The power of viral media and how it can affect your self-storage business
  • How to handle angry customers and avoid a PR disaster
  • How to mitigate a PR nightmare once it ensues
  • Key strategies for minimizing situations that create angry customers in the first place

Happily, the storage operator in our tale was able to settle with Greg for an undisclosed sum. Greg agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, cancel the second protest he had scheduled for April 3rd, and remove the YouTube video. He e-mailed me say he could no longer communicate on this subject.

Most of you have dealt with angry customers; maybe you even have a situation on your hands right now. In the past, you had to worry about negative word-of-mouth, a call to a local newspaper or radio show, an angry editorial ... These things are dangerous but contained to a specific community. They can be calamitous to a storage business, to be sure—I do not belittle the importance of that, especially if you are a small operation with only local facilities.

But imagine a message that can be sent around the globe almost instantly, the sheer power created by newly established social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. One customer gets upset with you in Anywhere USA, and suddenly your name is besmirched on Web pages and in the minds of customers all over the world.

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps a bit. Then again, maybe I'm not being dramatic enough. What do you think? Social media can work for us, but it can certainly work against us. Customer service has never been so critical. If you have an experience or comment to share, post it here. I'll also start a thread over at Self-Storage Talk.

Is the Future of Self-Storage Software Online?

Times have changed for self-storage operators. As occupancy levels drop and openings and expansions slow, they are increasingly focused on improving operations, seeking ways to enhance efficiency by cutting costs, strengthening collections and offering more value to tenants. New software and technology lets them do that.

Advances in programming tools and Web design make the most powerful features available to any self-storage owner or manager. While once only larger operators were able to implement online management, today operators of all sizes can reduce labor with e-commerce modules.

Stores can offer more value through online features that allow tenants to make payments and reserve units. Improved tie-ins with payment processors allow for bank drafts and lower credit card fees for owners, while improved reporting and data mining enable them to fine-tune advertising efforts.

A good management software wraps these and other money-making features into a user-friendly package that’s ready “out of the box.” Web systems are the way of the future, not because they operate online, but because they make owners more money.
 
Going Web

While Windows programs of the past only ran on a computer at the facility, today’s Web programs tie together diverse users and platforms. More powerful databases, such as Microsoft’s SQL, can work faster and to scale. Operators can add any number of computers, stores or users without special networking, cumbersome installation or added maintenance. Managers, tenants, call centers, district managers and central-office personnel can share data.

In fact, any number of users can work with data and process transactions simultaneously. A single-store operator can rent and take payments from anywhere. Busier, larger operators can have multiple users operating at the same time, and call centers and managers can process payments while tenants pay online or at a kiosk.

There are different ways to design software for self-storage using the Web. Not all Web systems require a server at the central office. Web-based programs run on a Web server in secure data center. Web systems catalog data on the Web server, which means they require only a basic computer to operate, eliminating the need for a network and network maintenance.

When a database resides on a Web server, users do not need to receive upgrades via CD-ROM. Instead, the software company deploys automatic, live updates that bring every computer up to the latest version. Eliminating central servers and running automatic updates lowers the cost of software ownership. Plus, Web systems that keep a copy of all data on the Web server as well as users’ computers improve speed and reliability, which lets stores better handle large amounts of data and customer transactions.

Web databases can also tie into a store’s website, enabling online payments and even First Class and Certified Mail outsourcing. Managers no longer have to print letters, stuff envelopes or spend time driving to the post office. Owners who enroll in a printing service not only eliminate repetitive administrative tasks but also those costly, high-maintenance postage meters. Web systems can send letters, handle postage and offer tracking, including recipients’ signatures, more reliably than manual printing at stores.

The tighter integration of a Web system also enables owners to lower monthly credit card fees. First, programs can exchange more information with processors about cardholders. The more information about a cardholder you send to the processor, the lower your rates.

Next, more users rely on automatic billing by ACH or bank draft, not credit card processing. One-time or recurring ACH can cost a fraction of credit card fees. Stores can offer ACH payments to tenants at the office and website as an alternative or replacement for credit card payments. It’s not uncommon for operators to cut credit card fees by 20 percent per month.
 
Measuring Results

SQL databases form the backbone of most Web systems and offer powerful ways to create standard and custom reports. Report writers, exported into PDF, Excel or more fine-tuned systems for tracking, can help analyze strong areas and those ripe for change.

For example, a better analysis of advertising dollars can pinpoint worthwhile channels and bring customers to the store. Owners can even create specials and assign different coupon codes for various online and print ads. Coupon codes entered into the system will bring up the right special, online or at the store, and include rent discounts coupled with waived fees or free merchandise.

Creating and tracking coupon codes not only helps combat the “$1 move-in special,” but takes the guesswork out of marketing effectiveness. Today’s improved reporting, commonly called data mining or carving, shows how specials, customer type, marketing sources and other factors are related.
 
Pulling It All Together

The future of self-storage software lies in better data analysis and the connection of platforms and users. Operators who want to stay in the loop but aren’t always at the store can view reports online. Because data on Web servers should be in real time and available to any authorized user at any time, central office reporting is easy.

Managers do not need to collect and e-mail reports because the Web system will have already centralized the data from any number of stores. Users can batch-print reports for multiple stores and download data into accounting programs in one step.  

Because data, even for multiple stores, resides in a central database on a Web server, dashboards offer a higher level of enterprise-level reporting, including analysis of key indicators, such as move-ins, collection calls and log-in times, by store. Comparing stores and spotting areas for improvement is easy. After using these new reporting tools, self-storage owners will wonder how they ever did without them.
 
The Next Step

As more users adapt operations to the new environment, management programs will offer the tools to save money and rent more units. The new generation of management programs is a huge step up from older DOS or PC-based Windows programs. Simply put: Web systems create more efficient stores.

Migrating to new Web programs with money-making features will more than pay for the software investment and raise the value of your store. Web systems can bring online payments, ACH and other billing options at no added cost. Switching now is not a moment too soon. Almost by necessity, many owners have embraced newer Web systems to survive in the current climate and found they can grow revenue, even in times like these. Now that’s real progress!
 

Markus Hecker is the chief operating officer for SMD Software, which offers SiteLink and SiteLink Web Edition for managing self-storage and mobile-storage facilities. For more information, call 919.865.0789; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.smdsoftware.com.   

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Dorset, Vt., Self-Storage Facility Approved by Planning Commission

On Tuesday, the site plan for the construction of three 2,000-square-foot self-storage buildings in Dorset, Vt., was approved by the local planning commission. The approval paves the way for issuance of a permit, which will likely be issued within 15 days. Opposed parties will then have 15 days to appeal, according to Joseph Bamford, zoning administrator.
 
The site in question, currently containing the home and electric business of resident Brad Tyler, is zoned as “village commercial.” Several residents spoke out against the project, including local self-storage owner Andy Tarantino, who said he did not believe the project was a permitted use for the zone. But Tyler's proposed project met all of the criteria required by the planning commission's site-plan review.
 
Source: The Manchester Journal, Dorset planners grant controversial storage permit

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Man Arrested at Salinas Self Storage

A man suspected of possessing stolen property and being a parolee-at-large was arrested at Salinas Self Storage, just outside of Salinas, Calif., on Tuesday evening. Hubert Allen, 53, was parked next to a self-storage unit when deputies found him in possession of approximately 7.2 pounds of marijuana and a .38 Caliber Special revolver with 66 rounds. He was booked into the Monterey County Jail and is currently held without bail, officials said.
 
Source: The Californian, Sheriff's Office arrests transient on suspicion of possession of firearm and marijuana

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Kiln Creek SpaceMart Receives Clean Business Award

SpaceMart Self Storage in Kiln Creek, Va., has won the city’s Clean Business Award for the first quarter of 2009. John R. Wharton, the facility’s manager, received the award on Feb. 26 at the Clean Business Forum. 

“This is in recognition of your combination of hard work in support of recycling in Newport News, community spirit in supporting local initiatives, and maintaining a most immaculate business,” wrote Daniel Baxter, the city’s business recycling coordinator, in a letter to SpaceMart. “Through your leadership and the support of your staff, SpaceMart is a shining example of stewardship and community spirit that make Newport News a cleaner, more beautiful place to live and work.”
 
SpaceMart has nine locations in New Jersey Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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New Self-Storage Facility Proposed for Meriden, Conn.

Meriden, Conn., business owner Peter Novicelli is applying to rezone land from residential to industrial to develop a self-storage facility. Novicelli, who already operates a local storage facility, feels this is the perfect time to seek a zone change, since the city’s recently approved land-use plan encourages industrial building. The proposed site would contain 20 to 25 units, some of which would be designated for motorcycle storage. The desired parcel is surrounded by other industrial properties, and the change would allow the city to expand its tax base.
 
The City Council referred Novicelli’s petition to the Planning and Economic Development Committee for a public hearing, which will likely take place at the committee’s May 13 meeting. If the change is approved, Novicelli plans to begin work this spring, finishing in two to three months.
 
Source: Meriden Record-Journal, Rezoning will allow storage units in Meriden

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Free Webinar on Entering Self-Storage Business Scheduled for May 6

On May 6, a free webinar on "What to Consider When Entering the SelfStorage Business" will be presented Donna May, president of Cross Metal Buildings. Intended for prospective and existing self-storage professionals, the online event will provide a comprehensive look at the components that comprise a successful self-storage business venture. Topics will include what you need to know, who you will work with, and how the process will be accomplished. The webinar will take place at 2 p.m. ET. To register, visit MiniStorageMessenger.com.
 
Based in Bulverde, Texas, Cross Metal Buildings is a Parham Group company specializing in metal-building erection and consulting, design, engineering, turnkey systems and material packages for the self-storage industry.

Equity Based Services Acquires Anchor Mini Storage

Equity Based Services Inc. purchased Anchor Mini Storage in Rohnert Park, Calif., for $5.3 million, a price reflecting a discount due to a motivated seller. The facility will be re-branded as American Mini Storage, the EBS corporate brand. It includes 525 units and 66,810 net-rentable square feet and is the company’s second property in the state. 
 
The purchase was financed through Circle Bank in Novato, Calif., and facilitated through Tavernier Capital Partners in Boca Raton, Fla. EBS was able to finance 65 percent of the price with a 15-year loan that is interest-only for the first five years and then amortized for the remaining 10 years with a 25-year amortization.
 
The facility is near Sonoma State University and right off of Hwy 101. Because of its proximity to Sonoma, ESB is considering the addition of wine storage. The site includes room for expansion and approved plans for an additional two-story building.
 
The property was originally under contract with Public Storage, but the company decided to drop the contract, according to Charles "Chico" LeClaire, senior vice president of the Marcus & Millichap National Self Storage Group. Public Storage was given a mandate by its investment committee to only purchase troubled assets, and Anchor Mini Storage did not meet this criteria, he said.
 
EBS is a private real estate company specializing in the acquisition and management of self-storage property. The company owns and operates approximately 60 properties in 11 states with a current market value of more than $300 million.

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Tri-County Self Storage in Erie Sells for $6M

Muhr Partnership Tree LP acquired Tri-County Self Storage in Erie, Colo., from John H. and Rosemarie Zahn for $6.05 million, or approximately $71 per square foot. The one story, 85,000-square-foot building was built in 2001. It consists of 425 drive-up units and was 90 percent occupied at the time of sale. It is in the Boulder County industrial submarket. Matthew Tyler of Marcus & Millichap represented the buyer and sellers.

Source: CoStar Group, Tri-County Self Storage Sells for $6M

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