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Attaining Your Career Goals: Advice to Help Self-Storage Employees Reach the Next Level

Whether you’re new to the self-storage industry or looking to move up the ranks, it requires time and effort. Follow these steps to move your career to the next level.

Matthew Van Horn

April 20, 2017

5 Min Read
Attaining Your Career Goals: Advice to Help Self-Storage Employees Reach the Next Level

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” is the title of a book by Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University. The basis of the book is that passion isn’t the driver of a great career; becoming an expert in your field is what will propel you to personal satisfaction.

Now why would I begin an article about attaining self-storage career goals by crushing the idea of professional passion? Because companies and customers generally pay people for what they know, not their fervency.

For example, I’m a huge New York Mets fan, and I’ve been one for longer than I can remember. Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, that’s as far as passion will take me. I’ll never be able to waltz into Queens, N.Y., and play third base for the Mets, nor will they take a chance and hire me to be their general manager. There’s no reality TV show or contest that will change that hard fact because passion doesn’t equal experience. (I still think I would make a great Mets manager, but opinions will vary.)

The self-storage industry is no different. Maybe you’re currently exploring how to get into the business, or you already work in the business and would like to take the next step in your career. Maybe you hope to own your own facility someday. No matter where you are along the self-storage job spectrum, it will take hard work and time to reach your next goal.

I recently listened to an interview with Bo Eason, a former safety for the Houston Oilers. After retiring from the National Football League, he decided to become a Broadway playwright. He went from the top of his former profession to the bottom of his new one. He moved to New York and went to every acting, performance and writing class he could find. At the time, Al Pacino was considered the best stage performer in America. Eason was lucky enough to get a meeting with Pacino, who explained, yes, Eason could become a great playwright and stage performer, but it would take 15 years to learn the craft.

Fifteen years later, Eason opened a one-man play on Broadway to rave reviews. He made it, but it took all that time to learn, practice and gain experience. If you want to excel in self-storage, your journey will be no different.

The First Step

If you want to break into self-storage management, first you must learn about it. You need to research what the industry is about, how it works, the necessary level of education, the skills you need, the technology with which you should be familiar, the company you’d like to work with, and who you’d like to meet.

You can start online. The Web knows everything, so all the answers are at your fingertips. Consider leveraging social media sites such as LinkedIn, and start making connections. Volunteer with your state self-storage association. These organizations are always in need of committed people to assist on different projects. Attend association functions. This will give you endless opportunities to meet people who come from all areas of the industry.

When networking, be prepared. Keep a résumé handy, be willing to talk about your goals, and be honest about your level of commitment. The self-storage industry is always hiring, and the need for great people is endless.

Moving Up

Once you’ve worked at a storage facility for a while, you might be ready to move to the next level. Many managers have reached this point and are eager for a new challenge.

The subsequent step is typically a position with the title of area manager, district manager, regional manager or some other label with a geographic measurement built in. The availability of these positions is much more limited. Larger companies may require a college degree, but that’s not always the case. Many companies will want a certain level of self-storage experience, but some might not require it at all. Every firm will want to know your level of industry knowledge, so use your time wisely and learn as much as you can while you’re managing a property.

The best thing you could find at this stage is a mentor, someone who’ll take you under his wing and teach you not only how the industry works on the outside, but how it operates behind the scenes. A mentor will show you how the world looks at our business, what employers want, and who you need to work with to learn various skills. He can also guide you through challenges so you’ll gain experience without exposure to excessive risk. If you can find the right person, it’s more valuable than any college degree.

I was lucky enough to find my mentor in my early 20s, and it has made all the difference in my career. If you don’t have a mentor, keep looking until you find someone who’ll take stock in your career and teach you. A great book on this subject is “Mastery” by Robert Greene.

Looking Toward the Future

Once you’ve achieved your area/district/regional manager position, the key at this stage is to gain as much real-life experience as possible. For example, if you oversee five self-storage facilities, you should know everything about them:

  • How were they acquired or developed?

  • How were they financed?

  • How did the owner(s) decide on locations and unit mix?

  • How did the company develop its policies and procedures?

  • What’s the pricing strategy?

  • What kind of person do you look for when hiring managers?

  • What marketing strategies should you implement?

  • What revenue-management strategies will you apply?

There are many other important concepts; this is just a sample. Your mentor will help you with these things.

Once you’ve put the years in at this level and gained the necessary experience, the next stage of your career is whatever you want it to be. Remember, be so good they can’t ignore you, and you can attain anything you want.

Matthew Van Horn is a member of the operation team at Reliant Management, a full-service self-storage management company specializing in management, feasibility studies, facility acquisitions and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. He’s also president of 3 Mile Domination, a full-service self-storage marketing and strategy company. For more information, visit www.storesmart.org or www.3miledomination.com.

About the Author(s)

Matthew Van Horn

Founder, Black Swan Storage Advisors

Matthew Van Horn is the founder of Black Swan Storage Advisors, which specializes in self-storage consulting, feasibility studies, underwriting and investment analysis, site selection, and facility management. To reach him, call 855.720.6030 or email [email protected].

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