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The MIP in the Self-Storage Business: The Facility Manager

For many years, self-storage owners have taken for granted the importance of the site manager. But no longer can the most important person in the business be given the least amount of consideration. Storage operators must now employ the highest quality managers and ensure their training and professionalism are superior.

This is going to come as a shock to some owners, district managers and corporate officers: You are not the most important person in your business. That distinction clearly belongs to the facility manager.

There are few businesses as manager-centric as self-storage. In many cases, multi-million dollar assets are in the hands of only one or two people, and their day-to-day success (or lack thereof) falls squarely on the backs of those managers.

For many years, self-storage owners have taken for granted the importance of the site manager. Their operation was “good enough” and “easy enough” that manager quality mattered little. But the easy days are over. No longer can the most important person in the business be given the least amount of consideration.

Storage operators must now employ the highest quality managers and ensure their training and professionalism are superior. Owners can’t expect their new (or old) facilities to magically fill up (and remain so) despite the lack of sales ability in their staff. Today’s managers must take a more active role in facility success. 

Embracing Change

A new staffing paradigm exists. The best and brightest operators are rapidly embracing this shift, creating a chasm between themselves and competitors who still have their heads in the sand. Those making these changes have chosen to thrive, not merely survive. What are the thrivers doing that the survivors refuse to do? Here’s a short list.

They get over their egos. True professionals don’t feel they have to be the smartest person in the room. The thrivers are reaching out, looking for better ideas. They don’t have to have all the answers. They clearly recognize that “how it’s always been done” is no longer working and changes have to be made. Thrivers know it takes effort to make changes, and they’re willing to make that endeavor.

They hire different people. Self-storage has become far too competitive and capital-intensive to keep hiring mom-and-pop babysitters. The past staffing model included hiring people with little management experience. But today’s managers must have sales skills. The competitive self-storage landscape dictates that managers know how to effectively answer the phone, turn calls into site visits, and turn visitors into renters.

Ninety percent of prospects looking for storage end up renting. If a manager only rents two or three out of every 10 prospects, they’re losing six or seven to competitors. Marketing to get the phones ringing costs far too much for this to be acceptable.

What does a sales-oriented manager look like? First, he has a personality. If a candidate cannot answer the phone with a smile and engage customers with rapport, you’re risking your business.

He’s also professional and clean-cut, dresses neatly and represents your valuable asset as it should be.  Lastly, he’s smart. Your business has several moving parts, and you need someone who understands that. A storage manager must know how to read the management-summary reports and realize the impact of discounts as well as rent increases.

They train their managers. Sadly, many owners spend very little on training their managers. When self-storage was easy, training didn’t seem that important. But our business is not easy anymore. Managers have to be professionally trained on how to sell units and collect rent. 

Making the Manager’s Job Easier

Today’s competitive landscape demands that you take a hard look at your operation and facilitate your manager’s sales job. Do you ever step back and take time to see what your customers see? Is your facility tired and worn, or shiny and exciting? Does your operation use horse-and-buggy systems or new technology? These are some areas where you should pay special attention.

Curb appeal. Customers often make a decision about renting based on facility appearance, so ensure your facility is clean and attractive.

Sales office. Your merchandise display should be full and organized, and the counter free of clutter. Restrooms should be clean and odor-free. Make sure camera monitors are working. The manager should have a clean company shirt.

Marketing. Your Yellow Pages ad should be regularly updated. Create a facility website with all working links and clean copy. Consider using a call center to capture unanswered calls. The manager should have business cards printed with his name.

Manager tools. Make sure your operation makes use of facility-specific software that is manager-friendly and includes a revenue-management tool. It’s also important that your facility has a good unit mix, and that your manager has access to the appropriate management reports and forms.

Today’s self-storage owners are struggling to figure out how to survive the economic downturn and turn their operations around. Sadly, most miss the obvious silver bullet: the great facility manager. All the gizmos and gadgets, programs and parties, bells and whistles in the world won’t make a difference if your manager can’t make the sales.

The most important person in your self-storage business, the manager, deserves the utmost consideration. He deserves to be highly trained and have clearly defined priorities. Managers with self-confidence and self-motivation are the keys to self-storage success. 

Bob Copper is the owner of Self-Storage 101, a full-service consulting firm specializing in training, market and feasibility studies, and helping owners and managers reach higher and more profitable levels of operational effectiveness. To reach him, call 866.269.1311; e-mail [email protected]; visit

Related Articles:

Training Self-Storage Managers to Use New Sales Tools: Teach, Practice, Role-Play

Five Steps to Running a Successful Self-Storage Operation

Self-Directed Lessons for the Self-Storage Manager: The Training You Need, the Career You Want

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