ISS BLOG - Leading the Charge as a Self-Storage Owner: How I Built My Team and Nurture Their Success

Creating a successful self-storage team involves hiring people who align with your business vision; but it doesn’t end there. As their leader, it’s your job to foster a work environment that encourages continual growth and empowerment. An owner shares how she found and nurtured her talented staff while improving your own leadership skills.

Corinn Altomare

April 26, 2024

7 Min Read

Fire walker. Dream weaver. Vision caster. Manifesting leader. 

Being a self-storage owner calls upon all our human resources, plus a fair amount of the superhuman and divine, to deliver the otherworldly endurance, creativity and humility required to learn the inevitable lessons that come along the journey. We must adjust and continue ever onward toward the end goal. No matter how limitless our own potential may be, each of us needs a team of others to move the vision forward. Every individual plays their own vital role in delivering on the business purpose and impact. Creating a world-class team is a vital component of achieving massive success and fulfillment in any organization.  

So, how do we actually do this? Below I share insight to finding key people, attracting them to your vision, empowering them for success, and improving your own skills to become the best leader you can be, based on experience with my own team. 

Sourcing Talent 

When searching for exceptional people to join your self-storage team, it's crucial to identify the skills and qualities that align with your organization's vision and values. This requires looking beyond resumes and qualifications. Relentlessly pursue those who not only possess the necessary technical expertise but demonstrate a growth mindset, passion and a strong cultural fit. Our world is so quickly changing that growth-focused psychology and work ethic are equally important—if not more so—than technical skills. 

How and where the job posting is publicized varies depending on the role. At my company, we source individuals through industry networking and referrals as well as traditional job postings and specialized recruiters. Current team members can also be wonderful advocates and help source candidates who might share our values and vision. After all, who better to recruit than someone already on board and who “gets it”? For a location-specific or specialized role, perhaps an online community group post will garner some solid local referrals. 

After our first few attempts to source key team members by ourselves, we learned to delegate and leverage experts. Depending on the role, we now also use recruiters and benefits consultants. These resources help us not only identify top talent, but also craft custom compensation packages unique to each individual, their role and contribution to moving the company vision forward. 

The Mission and Values 

With quality individuals identified, the next step is attracting them to our mission and differentiating our company from the rest of the employer options in the marketplace. This is where the visionary shines (if this isn’t you, it’s usually the company founder). Cast the vision of the future, the larger impact and purpose of the business. People want to be part of something meaningful, so it’s important to clearly communicate the mission and values. Share stories that illustrate the business’ positive impacts on customers, team members and the broader community. 

We balance this with the tangible nuts and bolts—compensation, benefits packages, career trajectory, continuing education—to ground the bigger-picture vision to the reality of capitalism and costs of living in our current reality. We believe in the adage “pay peanuts, get monkeys,” so we temper generous compensation packages with high expectations, clear targets and regular tracking to ensure we’re setting up new hires to achieve the success criteria outlined at their onboarding. 

The Interview Process 

Our interview process is multi-layered. We look for cultural fit as well as specialized expertise through a staged mix of individual and panel interviews. Our team currently includes people across the U.S., so whenever possible, we try to make in-person conversations happen. If speaking with a potential new executive team member, meeting the spouse is also important. 

We also use personality-assessment tests (such as DiSC or Predictive Index) and map the potential new hire’s results within the broader context of the current team profiles. This sparks awareness and discussion within the hiring team of how the assessment aligns the individual with the role and expected outcomes as well as how they might benefit the makeup of the broader team. 

Again, we leverage experts. This is where executive coaches and hiring personnel come into play to help lead discussion, interpret and advise on reports and integration of the individual into the team and the role. 

Empowering team members to achieve success and fulfillment starts with clear definitions. Challenge your concept of the traditional job description with the consideration of a “job scorecard,” which outlines specific and measurable outcomes of the role, rather than activities. Clarity on success outcomes sets up the next step to encourage autonomy and decision-making, allowing the individual to take ownership of their work. 

Open Communication 

With rockstar resources in place and empowered, the next steps are all about communication. This starts with fostering a culture of open communication, where feedback isn’t only welcome but actively sought. We do this by regularly recognizing and celebrating individual and team achievements. Shout-outs pop up on team Slack channels, in weekly huddles, at monthly team meetings or quarterly reviews. This fosters a sense of accomplishment and motivates continued striving for greatness. Encourage a growth mindset, where failures are seen as learning opportunities and innovation is encouraged. 

By fostering a culture of trust, respect and empowerment, you’ll inspire your self-storage team to reach new heights. In our remote-work and geographically diverse team, how can we knit our members together for cohesive connection? We have a mix of approaches: 

  • Weekly virtual team huddle. This is to discuss objectives, roadblocks and accountability. 

  • Monthly team meeting that alternates between virtual and in-person. Agenda topics come from team members who present successes and work outputs from the past 30, 60 or 90 days. This serves a dual purpose: Individual ownership of areas of expertise as well as spreading awareness across team verticals of the different impacts upon delivering the broader company mission. 

  • Quarterly full-team meeting. This is one to three days offsite for strategic goal progress, setting future targets and team-building activities. 

  • Annual review and strategic goal-setting. How did we measure up against the goals we set for ourselves? How do we take that into account as we set our targets for the year ahead? 

  • Extra credit: A virtual monthly book club. Topics alternate between financial concepts, personal productivity and team dynamics, and we’re open to requests. Team members volunteer to present a summary and their greatest takeaways. For extra incentive to participate, everyone who attends the entire meeting gets credit. You can set a dollar value that makes sense for your company. At ours, it’s paid in January for the year. 

Continuous Improvement 

As leaders, our most crucial responsibility is continuous improvement. My business partner, Sergio, and I have executive business coaches, dedicated practices to our mental and physical health, and show up with intention in networking groups and masterminds that elevate and challenge how we approach our goals, thoughts and actions. We talk about our own experiences candidly with our team, offering our coaches to our executives, sharing the latest bio-hack we’re experimenting with ourselves (workout variations, cold exposure, alternate day fasting), and encourage our team through our own example to have similar pursuits along the path of self-evolution. 

We also talk about the visceral experience of attending Tony Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within,” and about Sergio’s takeaways from climbing his first “Fourteener” mountain climb in Colorado. We bring the whole person to our daily work, aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and leverage those accordingly. 

For us, leadership isn’t about commanding but to trust, inspire, motivate and empower others. We pursue the concept of servant leadership and focus on supporting team growth, removing obstacles and cultivating a positive work environment. 

Building an extraordinary team in the self-storage business involves finding the right people who align with your vision, attracting them by showcasing a compelling purpose, empowering them through autonomy and recognition, and continually improving your own leadership skills. It’s the combined efforts of an exceptional team that propels a business toward success, fulfillment and a lasting impact in our communities. 

What has been the absolute game changer for us in building our self-storage team has been to surrender ego and focus on the process of bringing in incredible talent who’ll work together in harmony. The experience and deep knowledge of our team is world-class, and there’s nothing more rewarding and humbling than to see them come together to work toward extraordinary results. 

I’ll leave you with one last thought, from entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn: “The big challenge is to become all you have the possibility of becoming.” 

Corinn Altomare is cofounder of Hearthfire Holdings, a private-equity firm focused on self-storage, with a growing portfolio across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Founded in 2012, Hearthfire began with nine multi-family assets, then pivoted to self-storage in 2019. It now operates 14 facilities. Corinn is an industry speaker and thought leader as well as a working-mom entrepreneur. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. To reach her, email [email protected] 

About the Author(s)

Corinn Altomare

Corinn Altomare is cofounder of Hearthfire Holdings, a private-equity firm focused on self-storage, with a growing portfolio across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Founded in 2012, Hearthfire began with nine multi-family assets, then pivoted to self-storage in 2019. It now operates 14 facilities. Corinn is an industry speaker and thought leader as well as a working-mom entrepreneur. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California. To reach her, email [email protected].

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