ISS Blog

Staying Under the Legislative Radar - Not!

For decades, self-storage was fortunate enough to fly below the radar of government interest. Until recent years, there was precious little interference in self-storage by the state legislatures. State lien laws were developed, but self-storage was not generally taxed as a service. In fact, it has been one of the grounds on which municipal planning boards and councils have often opposed self-storage projects: property taxes aside, they generate no city revenue.

If you've been paying attention to what's happening in industry news, you've no doubt seen this is changing. Several states have made attempts or effectively instituted a sales tax on self-storage unit rentals, and our state and national associations are working hard to head off such devastating legislation at the pass. We've logged some victories, but defeat could be on the horizon for operators in Illinois. Legislators there are working hard to pass a bill that would put a 6 percent sales tax on self-storage as early as July. For those who don't know what's going on, here's some background info:

In following a thread about the issue on Self-Storage Talk, I see Illinois operators deeply concerned about the effect this could have on their business. A forum member in Florida says unit rentals are taxed in her state and tenants really don't grumble because there's no state income tax and tenants are accustomed to paying it. But if you're in Illinois, this new sales tax will essentially translate into a 6 percent increase on customers' rent, a steep change in an economic crunch.

Mr. Jim Chiswell, on the forum as MisterJim444, sums up the issue well:

"The implementation of sales tax on self-storage is a major problem for our industry. Having to charge sales tax on all rental property across the board is something that most legislatures would not try. However, to single out self-storage is much easier because we do not have the legislative influence that the office building, shopping center and apartment groups have in most state legislature."

In short, self-storage gets picked on because we don't have the same clout as other real estate sectors. I think we can all see a disturbing trend developing here. If HB174 gets passed in Illinois, it sets another dangerous precedence for other states to follow.

What do you do? Make sure you know about self-storage-related legislation in your state! Awareness is key in this fight. The best way to keep informed is to join and communicate regularly with your state self-storage association; if you don't have a strong state association, look directly to the national SSA, which is a vigilant watchdog on these fronts.

Tell me what's going on in your state ... If you're in Illinois, what are your thoughts on the recent aggressive move made by your Senate? If you're in another state, have you heard whispers of similar challenges? Share your thoughts in the blog.

Legislators Reintroduce Credit Card Fair Fee Act

The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Retail Federation were among those that applauded today’s reintroduction of the “Credit Card Fair Fee Act” which seeks to address the more than $48 billion that Americans pay annually in credit card swipe fees. The legislation was introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

Similar to legislation introduced last year by Conyers, the bill (H.R. 2695) would give retailers a seat at the negotiating table with banks to determine the fees assessed for every sale made by credit card, and likely reduce the costs of everyday goods for consumers.

“Between the momentum built up since this bill passed the Judiciary Committee last year, the intense scrutiny of the financial services industry seen during the current economic crisis, and the credit card reform law signed last month, we think the perfect storm exists for Congress to do something about these unjustified hidden fees,” said Mallory Duncan, NRF senior vice president and general counsel.

Credit card swipe fees, known as interchange fees, are a percentage of each transaction that Visa, MasterCard and their member banks collect from retailers every time a credit card or debit card is used. These fees average about 2 percent in the United States.

Credit card fees last year cost U.S. convenience stores $8.4 billion, compared to just $5.2 billion in store profits, according to NACS data. Almost all of these credit card fees are attributable to credit card swipe fees, NACS officials said. The average U.S. household paid about $427 in interchange fees, according to NRF estimates.

Currently, interchange fees are set in secret by the banks and hidden from view. By raising the fees, Visa and MasterCard can encourage banks to issue more credit and debit cards, NACS said. Together, the two giants control more than 80 percent of the U.S. credit card market.

“We are delighted that Congress is taking a closer look at these outrageous fees on the heels of its reform of the credit card industry’s abusive lending practices,” said NACS Chairman Sonja Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Stores. “Now it’s time to address the rest of the credit card industry’s abusive practices.

“Right now swipe fees are fixed by the banks, hidden from the public and forced on retailers in a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” Hubbard continued. “The Credit Card Fair Fee Act would allow retailers and the card associations to negotiate on equal footing, and we applaud this bipartisan effort to make it happen.”

Over the last several years, the public, consumer groups, the Federal Reserve and Congress have scrutinized unfair credit card practices, policies and fees. Swipe fees have been the subject of multiple hearings in the House and Senate under both Republican and Democratic Congresses, with the banking industry intensely lobbying against any reform.

“It is simply outrageous that the banking industry — which received hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailout money — continues to spread fear and misinformation in their lobbying efforts,” Hubbard said. “The bottom line is that unless Congress fully addresses how credit card swipe fees are determined, and why they are set in secret and hidden from consumers, the banking industry will have free reign to establish higher rates and create new hidden fees that continue to punish Americans.”

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, signed into law May 22 by President Obama, includes a provision requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of how interchange drives up retail prices, why the card industry refuses to disclose the fees to consumers and how card companies keep retailers from offering cash discounts, among other issues, the NRF reported.

“We expect the GAO to do a serious study that will reveal the negative impact of interchange on the U.S. economy,” Duncan said. “The debate over interchange that occurred as Congress considered the credit card reform bill helped shine a spotlight on this issue and make more members of Congress and the public aware of how much the card industry is making off these fees. Congress can’t claim to have fixed credit cards without addressing interchange, but they are clearly on the path to finishing the job.”

Legal Learning Live Highlights Self-Storage Lien Sales, Abandonment and More

The operation of a self-storage facility involves legal risk pertaining to customers’ personally identifiable information and stored goods. Facility owners and managers who want to ensure they’re covering their legal bases can get the critical information they need during Jeffrey Greenberger’s “Legal Learning Live” seminar at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C. 
 
On Monday, Oct. 5, self-storage legal expert Greenberger will present a five-hour tutorial on several of the self-storage industry’s most prevalent legal challenges: lien sales, abandonment of goods and documents, protection of tenant information and vehicle storage. Attendees will learn in detail about the lien-sale process, including steps to follow to be prepared in the event of a sale-related lawsuit. They’ll also learn best practices for handling customers’ personally identifiable information in compliance with state law; how to deal with situations involving abandonment and avoid exposure to litigation; and proper practices for gathering and retaining information relating to the storage of vehicles.
 
The seminar includes a comprehensive workbook and a series of sample forms attendees can reference in relation to their self-storage operation: a complete lien-sale checklist, a list of sale rules, a release for sale participants, a mutual-settlement agreement, vehicle-storage clauses to add to a lease, and forms to collect information for vehicles in storage.
 
As an added exercise, Greenberger will choose the state most widely represented by seminar attendees and walk through the lien-sale checklist particularly as it relates to that state’s lien-sale statute.
 
Legal Learning Live is an extension of the Legal Learning Webinar Series, presented by Greenberger and Inside Self-Storage magazine. The online seminars address a wide range of self-storage legal issues.
 
Created for self-storage industry owners, managers, developers, investors and suppliers, the ISS Expo comprises four days of educational seminars, product and service exhibits, and networking opportunities. It will take place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, Oct. 5-8, 2009. With a theme of “Today’s Challenges Are Tomorrow’s Profit,” the event focuses on strategies for generating revenue and perfecting business branding in a demanding economic environment. 

For details and to register, visit www.insideselfstorageworldexpo.com.

Articles by Jeffrey Greenberger:

Abandoned Records in Self-Storage: Whose Responsibility Are They?

After the Incident: 10 Rules for Dealing With the Media

The Legal Implications of 'FREE' in Self-Storage

Six Things to Disclose to Tenants About Your Self-Storage Rental Agreement

Handling Self-Storage Collections  

Canadian PUPS to Be Added to Ontario Self-Storage Facility

StorageVault Canada Inc., owner of Canadian PUPS (portable units, portable storage) Inc., has entered an agreement to proceed with a proof-of-concept trial at Conundrum Capital Corp.’s self-storage facility in Kanata, Ontario. The trial will conclude on Dec. 31 unless mutually extended in writing.

As part of the agreement, Conundrum will fund the trial and pay for the portable-storage containers used. It has also agreed to pay StorageVault a 5 percent management fee and a 3.5 percent franchise fee on PUPS revenue.
 
To evaluate the trial, the parties developed a business plan with measurable benchmarks. If the trial is successful, the companies will enter a funding/investment arrangement to allow the acquisition of self-storage facilities in major Canadian markets and a rollout of PUPS at those locations. If the trial fails, StorageVault can repurchase the containers from Conundrum at a discount.
 
StorageVault also owns and operates Trans Can Mini-Stor in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Kenaston Self Storage in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both facilities operate in conjunction with PUPS portable-storage franchises.Conundrum is a private equity management firm focused on delivering real estate investments that meet the needs of major pension plans, financial institutions and high-net-worth investors.

Related Articles:

StorageVault Canada Buys PUPS Portable Storage for $1.33 Million

StorageVault Completes Acquisition of Canadian PUPS Storage

StorageVault Completes Acquisition of Kensaton Self Storage

Forecasting the Self-Storage Investment in Canada  

Multi-Story Self-Storage on the Rise in Canada  

Self-Storage Financing in Canada: Opportunities Lost and Gained  

Theft Reported at Public Storage in Hammond, Ind.

Locks were cut off of approximately 20 self-storage units at a Public Storage facility in a North Hammond, Ind., on Tuesday, with many items reported stolen. Six tenants filed reports of theft as of Wednesday, citing losses such as televisions, jewelry, furniture, computers and other valuables. An employee of Public Storage Indiana told police the facility’s keypad access system was not working Tuesday morning, so the gate was opened at 6 a.m.
 
Source: The Northwest Times of Indiana, Thieves loot self-storage units, taking jewelry, computers, TVs

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ISS Blog

Interpersonal Relationships and Business Success

Gina Six Kudo is the general manager for Cochrane Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She is one of four recipients of the Inside Self-Storage 2009 Humanitarian Service Award.

Customers can make or break a business. On any given day, every type of personality can cross the threshold into your store. A manager’s ability to adapt on a seconds’ notice to any type of demeanor he or she comes across is a sign of a good employee.
 
Some people enter wanting to belly up to the bar and share their tale of woes. Others walk in demanding immediate attention despite the two people ahead of them. The next person wants to chat for an indeterminately long period of time about everything under the sun.

Most are extremely pleasant, while others you would just as soon like to ignore them as deal with them; or even run and hide as you see them approaching your door. The innate ability to deal with the different psychological aspects of people is a fantastic skill for someone who deals with the public on a consistent basis to possess.

Though teaching someone to think on the fly and best determine how to handle each person is a rather daunting task. Some employees may not have the coping mechanisms to grasp the concept, so what can you do to assist your employee in methods to deal with each personality type? One such method is any business course geared toward human relations or communications skills.

These are offered at premium rates through various programs, either onsite or offsite training. However, one of the most cost effective methods of training is the local community college or adult education classes. For a nominal fee you or your employees can spend time learning how to identify each personality type and how to best handle them.

Years back the best bet was the Dale Carnegie course offerings, and while they are still around, the cost is prohibitive for most small-business owners. The book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” however, is still available. For the low price of $8 on Amazon think of the lessons that could be learned, and the advances in interpersonal skills your staff could acquire.

In this age of instant gratification via Web searches, the simplicity of a paperback book could make all the difference in the world. Well, at least your little corner of the world. If you see areas that need improvement in your operation, and while business is slow, take the time to invest in your future business success.
 
The appropriate connection with your customers, staff and anyone you interact with is the basis for a successful future. I would bet there is not one person reading this that couldn’t benefit from learning a little something now and then or, at the very least, partaking in a refresher course.  

Capture Self-Storage Tenants With Low-Cost Curb Appeal

Great self-storage curb appeal can draw new customers, while poor curb appeal will likely drive them to your competition. Consumers relate well-maintained, clean properties with safer, more secure facilities.

Think about how prospective tenants look at your facility. Many will size up a property within seconds of viewing it. Does your site look welcoming, pleasant and safe? With all of the competition in this economy, how do you differentiate yours from the other self-storage facilities in town? Sprucing up the exterior can give it immense curb appeal—and it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a number of clever, affordable ways to improve your look and entice new customers.
 
Assess Your Site

First, stand back from your facility and consider it the way a prospect would. Look at it from across the street or do a drive-by. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
 

  • Is the facility starting to look shabby? Does it need a good cleaning?
  • Are the windows grimy or do they sparkle?
  • Is the metal on your storefront or office clean or marked by fingerprints?
  • Are the walls dull or faded? Are there cobwebs in plain sight?
  • Are there weeds in the flowerbeds?
  • Are your curbs faded and chipped or freshly painted?
  • Is your sign faded or dull? If it’s an electric sign, are all of the lights working?
  • Are your doors dusty, dirty or faded?

A thorough cleaning and some inexpensive touches can make a huge difference. Here are some pointers for enhancing your self-storage facility’s curb appeal:

Office. Wash windows inside and out until they shine. Wash away fingerprints and grime from the anodized aluminum door and windows with mild soap and water, and then dry. Microfiber towels make this job easier. If the metal is faded or dull, the color and luster can be restored with a quality clear coating. If necessary, paint the office inside and out.

Exterior. Sweep or vacuum cobwebs on a regular basis. Pick up trash or papers every day. A new coat of paint on curbs or bollards is inexpensive and makes a big difference. The paint can match your doors or be a contrasting color. New paint draws people’s attention. Pull weeds in the flowerbeds. Add a fresh layer of mulch or bark to save water and enhance the look of landscaping. Exterminate weeds growing in cracks in sidewalks or driveways.

Signage. Your exterior signage represents your business image. If it’s faded or broken, it will reflect poorly on your facility. If the signs posted around the property are faded or shabby, you can restore their color and luster with a clear, protective coating.

Doors. Are unit doors dirty or faded? First, you want to remove grime. It is best to wash metal in the shade to avoid hard water spots. Wet the door first, and then wash it with a soft bristled brush and a mild soap and water mixture (never put soapy water on a dry door). Rinse well with plain water. To keep water from seeping into the unit, avoid using a nozzle with a hard spray or spraying directly into the edges of the roll-up door. The seals are not designed to resist water if it’s sprayed hard into the edges.

If the doors are dull and faded after being washed, a clear protective coating can restore their color and luster. Coatings can also be used on metal buildings and colored metal roofs. Make sure the coating has UV protection to minimize fading and oxidation, and choose a coating that will remain flexible when doors roll so the coating doesn’t crack and peel. Automotive coatings are not the best for this use because they are made for short pieces of steel, not roll-up doors, which roll on themselves and compress into as little as a 5-inch circle.

For doors on interior units, skip using water altogether, as it could easily spill and damage customers’ goods. Instead, use a waterless wash and wax product. This is also great for cleaning the grimy fingerprints and marks customers leave on elevators and interior walls and doors.

Curb appeal is a critical component to attracting prospects to your door. Keeping a fresh and appealing facility doesn’t have to cost a lot. Using creative and cost-effective measures will attract new customers and keep your current tenants happy.
 
Teresa Sedmak is president of Everbrite Inc., which manufactures Everbrite Protective Coating and ProtectaClear as well as building cleaners. She is a licensed painting contractor with extensive experience and knowledge of protective coatings. For more information, call 800.304.0566; e-mail teresa@everbrite.net; visit www.renewstorage.com.

Related Articles:

The Impact of Facility Image

The Math Behind the Self-Storage Makeover

Preserving Paint at Self-Storage Facilities

Self-Storage Talk: Nature vs. Manager

 

U-Store-It Opens Call Center, Hires Salesforce.com

U-Store-It Trust has opened its own call center in Wayne, Pa., and is now using two customer-relationship management (CRM) products from Salesforce.com, Service Cloud and Sales Cloud.
 
The company transitioned the majority of its call volume to its recently opened facility. As a result, U-Store-It said it has increased the conversion rate of calls to reservations and appointments significantly during the month of May compared with the first quarter of 2009. Last month, the center handled more than 25,000 calls.
 
The call-center team comprises a manager, five supervisors, 22 full-time agents and numerous part-time agents. Collectively, it has more than 125 years of call-center experience.
 
U-Store-It is also integrating Service Cloud and Sales Cloud to enhance its sales and customer service. Salesforce.com will provide a consolidated view of customer activities and behavior through U-Store-It’s call center, website and store systems. The effort will encompass all 386 of the company’s owned facilities as well as its 205 network affiliates. The integration is expected to be complete by the end of the third quarter.
 
Related Articles:

U-Store-It Launches TV and Radio Advertising

U-Store-It Trust Announces 1Q 2009 Dividend

National Self-Storage Network Created by U-Store-It

U-Store-It Self-Storage Changes Corporate Headquarters

$48k in Marijuana Found in Fall River Self-Storage Facility

Police are looking for two people in connection with $48,000 worth of marijuana found in a unit at Somerset Self Storage in Fall River, Mass. With one male suspect in custody, they are seeking his accomplice and girlfriend.
 
On Sunday, police responded to a silent alarm at the self-storage facility, finding Daryus Pierce, 31, and Duane Franklin Glass, 32, in the parking lot. They asked Pierce to open a storage unit to which he had the key. While Pierce complied, Glass fled the scene in a car registered to Pierce’s girlfriend, Sarah Coelho. Police later returned to the unit with a drug-sniffing dog and a search warrant, discovering 15 one-pound bags of marijuana.
 
Pierce, now in custody, has been charged with possession of a Class D substance with intent to distribute, possession of a Class D substance, and conspiracy to violate the drug laws. They are looking for Coelho on the same charges and for Glass on charges of reckless operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for police, and speeding.

Police Chief Joseph C. Ferreira praised the facility owners for their cooperation and said he intends to ask the legislature to allow police to inspect self-storage “registers” and to allow periodic inspections by drug-sniffing dogs.
 
Source: Fall River Herald News, Cops find $48,000 worth of marijuana

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Security as a Marketing Tool

Man Arrested at Salinas Self Storage

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Store Enterprise

Centershift, a Salt Lake City-based provider of Web-based management software for the self-storage industry, on June 1 released its new Store Enterprise program, designed for medium to large businesses. The product includes a service layer called Store Web Services, which enables seamless integration for call centers, websites, kiosks, collection agencies and customer-relationship management applications. It includes the company’s third-generation revenue-management tools for providing supply-and-demand analysis and automated rent-rate changes.
 
Based in Salt Lake City, Centershift provides software to two self-storage real estate investment trusts as well as many other self-storage owners and third-party management companies. Its Store Enterpise and Advantage applications were designed for integration with websites, call centers, corporate offices and other business systems.

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QlikView: By Centershift and QlikTech

Strategic Storage Trust Chooses Centershift Software

Centershift Announces Vice President of Client Services

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