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All Aboard! Positioning Your Self-Storage Hires for Success With a Strong Training Program

Hiring the right employees for your self-storage facility is critical, but it amounts to nothing if you don’t property onboard and train your new team members. Here’s insight to creating a program that’ll set them up for long-term success.

Michael Baillargeon

March 18, 2023

7 Min Read
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How do you ensure the success of your self-storage facility in the face of increasingly sophisticated competition, pandemics, technology imbalances, economic uncertainty, droughts, floods and other challenges? Just hire great people. Simple, right? If you’re still reading, you get the joke!

With all that’s going in the world today, it’s easy to understand how critically important it is to have a proven and an effective employee-training and -development program. It’ll facilitate better recruiting and retention and keep your business operating at peak efficiency. This’ll in turn ensure that you get the most out of your investment.

But what does great training look like? What should it include and how long should it take? What are the best practices to not only get new hires up to speed but to ensure they’re enthusiastic about their position and invested in their work? How do you apply protocols to existing employees and effectively build a culture of learning? Read on to find the answers to these important questions.

Lay the Foundation

Training starts with hiring, and the first principle is to hire the right people. But as noted above, this is easier said than done. The reality is that no matter how well planned or executed your self-storage training program is, if you don't have the right person in the right position, it’ll fail.

Take time to identify the type of person you want in your management positions and customer-facing roles. The skill sets might be different, but the basic cultural fit applies to both categories. You need to be specific about the traits you’re seeking, i.e., enthusiasm, passion, genuinely enjoys helping others, values a sense of accomplishment. Most important, learn to recognize candidates who are aligned with your core values and culture. If you don’t focus on recruiting people whose attributes reflect your values, even the best training program won’t breed success.

Game On

One of the most innovative, exciting and impactful advances in self-storage staff training is the inclusion of gamification elements. This type of goal-based program gives participants milestones for which to aim and complements straightforward instruction with interactive elements such as tests or quizzes that earn points or prizes.

Gamifying the training experience tends to be more appealing to younger employees who now comprise a sizable percentage of new hires in the self-storage industry. It can and should also be part of a larger learning system—a formal program structure that can help you do more with less. A codified training program allows you to scale up efficiently while ensuring consistency and maintaining cultural touchstones.

Take Your Time

Don’t rush things; self-storage training takes time. The best programs use that time effectively, with well-planned, strategic components that build on each other and gradually provide new hires with the guidance, skills and, ultimately, autonomy they need to thrive independently. At my company, we use a two-week timeline for our field employees and call-center agents, and an eight-week program for higher-level positions like district managers. The specifics can vary, but the critical pieces of the puzzle include:

The basics. To do a job right, employees need to feel comfortable and confident, and understand their environment. Make sure they spend their first week accompanied by experienced training professionals who set an example and explain what to do as well as why to do it a certain way.

A dedicated guide. Treat training like the critical mission it is by using and compensating dedicated teachers who focus on this task exclusively or make it a critical part of their responsibilities.

A focus on independence. Gradually give candidates incrementally increased freedom to operate independently. By the second half of their training schedule, the new hire should be taking more control, starting to apply what they’ve learned and showcasing their problem-solving skills, all while being supervised.

Engage and Empower

To foster growth in your new self-storage employees, ensure your initial training program isn’t a final destination but rather a launching pad. The best ones not only provide critical skills and information but empower hires to make their own decisions. Instead of creating an atmosphere of “do it this way or else,” show them that if they make choices that are consistent with company values, they’ll be supported.

Independence and the sense of pride and ownership that comes with it can be enormously powerful for a team member in terms of feeling secure and valued. Make it easier for them to achieve that autonomy by supplementing their training with readily available support materials. Consider creating a virtual and searchable knowledge center everyone can access for helpful guides, instructions and answers to common questions.

Leverage People Power

The role of an experienced self-storage trainer or mentor is essential, but new hires should also be exposed to a wide range of employees who can show them—explicitly and by example—how to do their job. For instance, our district managers spend a week shadowing staff at a local facility. Whether they’re hired from inside or outside the industry, there's no better way to learn our business and company culture than to spend time with other employees, have lunch with them, watch them work and get a feel for the business.

Our new team members also meet with each of our senior executives, building personal connections and understanding expectations and structural nuances they might not otherwise have a chance to appreciate. They go on property visits with an experienced district manager to provide feedback and oversight. In addition, they’re given opportunities to spend more time at the corporate headquarters, where they can engage with and have their questions answered by peers and company leaders.

Instill Accountability

Determining how effective a self-storage training program has been and when employees are ready to work on their own can’t be a guessing game. Cleary communicate and establish key performance indicators (KPIs), then reference them to evaluate individual performance. This can be an effective tool in determining if additional training is merited or something else is going on and should be addressed.

The more granular and regularly monitored those KPIs are, the better. Brief, daily check-ins and weekly reviews are a great way to catch small problems early and keep the learning process going well after the initial onboarding has come to an end.

Keep It Going

The best self-storage training programs never really end; they just evolve into a new phase. A strong system might include elements that extend six months or a year after a new hire begins. Additional modules can be made available for motivated employees who want to expand their knowledge base or skillset to move up in the organization. Charting a course for internal advancement is a great way to keep staff engaged and eager to learn more.

An ongoing training program can also help identify employees who are scoring poorly, so you can proactively schedule additional learning. Moreover, this education isn’t just for new hires. Even the most senior executives can and do learn from industry conferences and seminars, or company training sessions.

Moving Forward

Finally, recognize that your self-storage training must be flexible and responsive to industry and employment trends as well as staff preferences. Mobile and hybrid work models have been increasingly popular in recent years. If your training program has yielded empowered employees and a positive, constructive environment, staff more readily communicate their needs to management.

If you hire the right people for your self-storage operation, train them in a manner that ensures they’re connected to your company culture and compensate them fairly, you won’t have to beg them to go above and beyond when needed. Instead of having a collection of individual employees, you’ll have true team, with everyone rowing in the same direction.

Michael Baillargeon is senior vice president of operations for Store Space Self Storage, which owns or manages more than 100 facilities in 20 states. The company fuels growth and value through operational experience, its state-of-the-art Storage360 proprietary platform and strategic digital-marketing programs. To reach him, call 833.786.7366.

About the Author(s)

Michael Baillargeon

Chief Operating Officer, Hearthfire Holdings

Michael Baillargeon is chief operating officer for Hearthfire Holdings, a private-equity firm specializing in acquiring and operating self-storage. He has more than two decades of industry leadership experience, with wide-ranging responsibilities that have included operational management as well as third-party and asset management. 

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