The interview is over, and you’ve been offered a job as a self-storage facility manager. What you should expect when you first start your new role may surprise you! Following are five things I wish had known in advance.
Demand Is High
In the city where I grew up, there were only a handful of self-storage facilities. Over the last 20 years, the area has boomed to include 45 or more locations. As I drive through familiar areas now, I’m always surprised to see a new facility or construction. I probably notice them more now that I work in the industry. I’m always trying to discover what other companies are doing or creating to bring in business.
Before I got into self-storage, I never realized how much demand there is for the service. All types of people going through life-changing experiences need storage. Death, divorce and moving are some of the most popular reasons for people to visit my office and inquire about sizes and prices, climate control or drive-up storage, and even vehicle parking. The need will always be there if people continue to accumulate things.
The Importance of Paperwork
I’m so grateful that the manager for whom I worked in the beginning was intentional in keeping good notes on accounts. I learned from her that whenever someone comes by the office or calls to inquire about his account balance, you should make a note in the tenant file.
I also learned all the paperwork we should keep on file for each customer. We save a copy of the tenant’s lease agreement and driver’s license as well as insurance paperwork. Over time, we add any returned letters, receipts, vehicle information, lock-cut information and much more.
While I never would’ve guessed how much documentation was maintained, I’m sure glad it is. So often, we’ve been able to reference it; and when it comes to information, it’s better to have too much than too little.
The Amount of Work Behind the Scenes
When I interviewed for an assistant manager position, I was told the job would likely involve more manual labor than the manager’s job. I would spend most of my time cleaning vacant units, changing out latches or weather stripping, vacuuming hallways, and handling many other maintenance tasks. But I never realized just how much there is to do behind the scenes.
I’ve had it said to me more times than I can count that some of our customers assume we spend all day in the office waiting by the phone and computer. At our company, we’ve made it a mission to provide “Easy, Clean, Service.” That’s revealed in the ways we care for our properties, including the office and bathrooms.
There’s always a list of things to accomplish at my facility. In one recent week we painted the bollards, rented a few units, cleaned vacated units, vacuumed the hallways, wiped down the unit doors and even created a couple of new units. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s always something to do!
The Laws That Govern
There are laws that protect self-storage customers and those that give facility operators the right to enforce a lien and hold a public auction of delinquent units. The first time I had to witness a lock-cutting due to nonpayment, it was extremely heart-wrenching and emotional. I remember going home in tears because I felt I was ruining someone’s life. I thought we were invading his privacy, taking pictures and documenting items to place an ad in the newspaper.
Then came auction day, which was even harder. Just a few days after the sale, the customer came to the office to make a payment and get a wheelchair out of the unit for her brother. We hadn’t been able to reach her by phone, e-mail or mail, and I had to tell her the unit had been sold. I’ll never forget the shocked look on her face and her demand to speak to my supervisor, who told her that if she changed her contact info and never notified the office, there was nothing she could do. I never saw her again.
The Love for the Job
I absolutely love what I do. I work for an incredible company. It’s family-owned, and each employee is treated like family. The relationships I’ve built with customers, coworkers, supervisors and office personnel have benefited me more than any amount of pay.
I can’t wait to get up in the morning and arrive at the office! People from all walks of life come through my door to rent units, buy merchandise or make a payment. I’ve met folks from several countries who’ve rented because they’re in the military, attending the local university or moving to find a better life. My customers have ranged from age 19 to 95.
I’ve also had great mentors, and now do what I can to pass knowledge forward to new employees. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Kansas City, Mo., and Minneapolis to help new and current managers learn about the business. I’ve even attended a corporate retreat. All in all, I wouldn’t trade a thing about my job.
No matter how long you’ve worked in self-storage, take in all the information you can. Learn from your peers, supervisors and even your competition. Build relationships. Show up every day ready to absorb something new. Not every day will be the same, and if it is, only you can change that.
Here’s my final advice: Be honest with your customers. Be fair and be consistent. As one mentor told me many years ago, “Tie your shoes every morning so you won’t get tripped up by the small things.” Results don’t always come right away. Be consistent, and they will.
Kevin Lanning has been a facility manager for StorageMart since 2014. Founded in 1999 and based in Columbia, Mo., the company operates more than 200 self-storage properties across Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Kevin lives in Omaha, Neb., with his wife, Krystal. His outside interests include photography and woodworking. For more information, visit www.storage-mart.com.