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Making It In Self-Storage: A Facility Manager Shares His Story

A self-storage manager shares how his unexpected career path shaped his work ethic, boosted his confidence and helped him become a better facility operator.

Every self-storage manager has a story. Those interested in advancing their career as a facility operator may find encouragement in this tale to forge their own path. 

I’m from Tuscaloosa, Ala., born and raised. I attended the University of Alabama, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduating, I needed a break. I was unsure what I wanted to do, and there were plenty of options. Go to graduate school? Move to Mozambique, Africa, to attend ministry school? In the end, I went to Tillamook, Ore., for the summer to work on an oyster farm. (Random, I know. It was a family connection.)

When I returned home, I still wasn’t ready to go back to school, so I began working for a friend at an apartment complex. Looking back, this decision and experience shaped my work ethic. It was humbling, but I learned to do a lot during this time.

A Foot in the Door

About a year later, I received a call from another friend who needed help running a records company where they stored, scanned and shredded paper. It was a family-owned business that showed lots of promise. I took the leap and went to work there as the operations manager. It turned out to be a good step.

Eight months into my position, the owner asked if I wanted the general manager position, which meant I would oversee the records company as well as three self-storage facilities in Tuscaloosa. I accepted the challenge.

On-the-Job Training

I had to learn quickly. I didn’t receive much training for my new position, but I enjoy learning through experience, so I started asking questions and hit the ground running. One of the benefits of working with this family is they’re transparent. They trust me like I’m part of the family. They give me a ton of responsibility and expect a lot. When things are good, I feel a sense of accomplishment. When things are tough, they expected me to handle it.

About a year after becoming general manager, there was a fire at one of our storage facilities. This was by far the biggest challenge I had faced in my career thus far. Here I was, 25 years old, running two businesses, one of which was going through one of the worst things that could happen.

In retrospect, this disaster was really the beginning of my self-storage career. We were able to successfully repair the building and meet the needs of our tenants. It was one of the best learning experiences to ever happen to me and others in the company. Our facility is now better than ever, and our reputation is even improved because of the way we responded to the crisis.

New Opportunities

A little over a year after the fire, I was asked to help with another of the family’s businesses: outdoor advertising. I would much rather dig a ditch than sit in a sales meeting, but I accepted. I started making cold calls and walking into offices attempting to sell advertising. I knew I wasn’t the most persuasive guy, so I made up my mind that I was going to work harder to overcome my lack of sales skills. I experienced a little bit of success, but I think the experience shaped me more than something I might have been better at or enjoyed.

After about eight months of selling billboards, the family sold both the advertising and records companies. I worried about what the future would hold for me career-wise, but they asked me to take over the three storage facilities in Georgia and help with the development of a fourth. A year later, here I am, traveling back and forth between Alabama and Georgia, a month from opening our eighth storage property.

Life-Long Learning

Many people look at others’ career success and chalk it up to luck and good timing. There can be some truth to that; however, no success comes easy. In my path, there have been many obstacles, moments of pressure and fear, and times when I was asked to do something I didn’t know I could. But I believe the more we face something of which we’re afraid, the stronger we become.

I never want to stop learning. I make it a priority to learn something new and contribute to the company in some way every day. Some of the best advice I was given is to come to work every day with the attitude that I’m here to make my boss’ job easier.

So, if you’re interested in progressing your self-storage career, find a goal and run full-speed. Your path will become clear if you stay positive and work hard. Be yourself and surround yourself with people who encourage you. Lastly, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the praise or rejection of others. Believe in yourself!

Chris Rhodes is the general manager for All-American Self Storage, which will soon operate eight facilities in Alabama and Georgia. He has five years of industry experience. For more information, call 205.292.6989; e-mail chris@all-americanonline.com; visit www.all-americanonline.com

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