There are a lot of jokes these days about recruiting and hiring. In my company, when we’re feeling the pinch, we send around a GIF of a dumpster on fire floating down a river. I laugh because it’s an accurate depiction of how it sometimes feels, particularly when job candidates ghost you or tell you they’ve accepted another offer—on the day they’re supposed to start! We’ve also had new hires quit within the first six months.
If you’ve been hit by labor challenges in your self-storage operation, just know you aren’t alone. I maintain my sanity by focusing on the things we can control and remaining consistent in our recruiting, hiring and onboarding process. As an employer, you’ll eventually see favorable results despite tough market conditions, but it takes dedication and clear strategies.
As I write this, there’s less than one person available per job posting in the United States. In fact, the number of unemployed people per opening has been at .9 or lower since May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is vastly different than just over a decade ago when there was more than eight people available for every role. This shortage is one of the main reasons recruiting is tough. In self-storage, it can be especially prevalent in remote markets where low populations create a scarce talent pool.
Another factor that impacts hiring in our industry is the high cost. Just one employee adds significant overhead to a facility. It’s difficult to find full-time labor at a that a small or mid-sized operation can sustain. At the same time, minimum wage is rising in many states, which increases competition for hourly workers since they have more opportunities to find viable work.
Taken altogether, this can seem daunting. The way to tackle it is to control what you can. Here are some strategies I recommend for improving your recruiting and hiring efforts:
Network. Don’t undervalue the power of personal interaction. All in all, self-storage is a pretty small world. Make sure your team members know what positions you’re hiring for, so they can bring up opportunities with others when the moment is right.
Turn all team members into recruiters. Incentivize referrals by offering bonuses to those who bring in new hires that stick around. Allow staff to sign up for LinkedIn premium memberships, too. This comes with a feature called Recruiter Lite, which allows them to reach out to potential candidates with relevant backgrounds.
Post outside of your market. Advertise available jobs in surrounding towns and cities. Offer mileage or a car allowance for those who may have to drive a little farther to get to your properties.
Use free or cost-effective resources. Indeed.com, for example, has many dashboards a representative will walk you through for free. They offer valuable insight on how you can optimally tailor and market your job posts.
Offer the right incentives. Everyone values different things in life and work. You don’t have to offer every candidate the exact same enticements. Tailor offerings to what’s important to each individual.
Focus on environment. While you need to get your compensation package right, it isn’t the most important factor. Compensation can get people through the door, but it doesn’t assure a good fit nor make someone stay. All your efforts will fail without the right culture and a motivating work environment. Whether you operate a small portfolio or are an industry giant, you must create an engaging workplace that makes staff feel heard and part of a team. No one wants to be alone at a facility all day and feel like they aren’t part of the big picture.
Take your time. Think about the kind of person who would make a good fit for your self-storage company and the role you’re trying to fill, and then design your screening practices to filter out who don’t meet your requirements. A common mistake is to conduct only one interview before making an offer. That doesn’t give you enough time to get to know someone, establish trust or understand what both parties want.
At a minimum, I recommend a phone screening and two interviews. And these shouldn’t be conducted by the same people each time. Rate candidates using a scorecard based on performance and competency to see how everyone lines up after interviews.
Don’t give up on your existing talent. Most of the time, it costs more to replace an employee than to just offer an existing one a few dollars more. Consider the hole in your bucket that’s leaking profit. That leak becomes worse the longer a position goes unfilled.
A Word on Outside Help
Recruiting can be a headache, so some self-storage operators opt to hire a staffing agency or recruiter to handle their hiring. For the most part, I believe this creates unnecessary overhead. If you’re dedicated to your process, you can easily build competency internally, with higher efficiency and success.
For example, if my organization outsourced all hires, we would have spent nearly $500,000 more on recruiting this year. Instead, we’ve reduced our turnover 30% by focusing on a continuous-improvement mindset with regard to recruiting and hiring. After all, no one is going to screen for talent better than the people who already work within your operation.
If you do decide to use a recruiter, be picky and continue to follow your process. Don’t assume a candidate is somehow better just because they came from an outside source. In addition, don’t accept referrals you’re already getting through your own job board, and never accept a recruiting provider’s first rate. If they aren’t willing to negotiate, they probably aren’t the one for you.
Your self-storage recruitment and hiring process will be refined over time. To gauge your progress, it’s beneficial to establish some metrics you can use. Consider the following:
Candidate “touches.” Determine how many interactions it takes to generate an offer letter. How many candidates do you speak with or headhunt each week, and how often does this activity result in your company making an offer?
Market comparisons. Though you may not be able to pay your self-storage managers at the top of the market, you need to make sure you’re on par with going rates. There’s simply too much competition out there for your workers to be below the average threshold.
Regular check-ins with new hires. These can be surveys and physical sit-down meetings. Get feedback from your new employees and act on it. You can also use these “touch-base” conversations to flag people who are high performers but may have one foot out the door.
Three-month failure. If you consistently see new employees leave within their first 90 days with your self-storage operation, determine why and fix it.
Introspection. When you inevitably have turnover or fail to convert a job offer, look internally to determine where the organization or process is to blame. We’re all imperfect, but we can always improve. This includes monitoring the evolution of your work culture.
In our organization, we lean on our property teams, expecting them to provide great service and improve facility performance. But if you treat staff as a commodity, they’ll view their position as “just a job.” They won’t be motivated to go above and beyond.
Gather a lot of feedback from your existing self-storage employees and use lessons learned to improve your process. The right fit for your team is out there. The more you practice and refine your process, the more likely you are to get the people you need and keep them happy.
Whitney Hamm is the director of people for Spartan Investment Group LLC, a self-storage development, property-management and real estate firm that operates the FreeUp Storage brand. With 13 years of experience in human resources and business management, she’s responsible for ensuring the company’s operations run smoothly and providing a good experience for the team. She’s spent more than six years handling recruitment in various startup environments. To reach her, email [email protected] or connect with her on LinkedIn.