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Professional Options for Running Self-Storage Managers Through ‘Spring Training’

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Self-storage managers need the right training to succeed, and the facility owner is rarely the right person to give it. Outsourcing provides several professional options to ensure a great sales season for your valuable team players.

Each year, professional baseball players participate in spring training to prepare for the upcoming season. They focus on the basics—hitting, catching, fielding, pitching, running bases, etc.—because even the highest paid athletes need a refresher. During the offseason, they can get out of shape and rusty, so they generally need to be retrained on many skills they already know how to do.

What about your self-storage team players? Your facility managers are responsible for the basics of your business, namely renting units, collecting payments, answering the phone, providing superior service and keeping your property in prime condition. But when is their “spring training”?

After more than 20 years in self-storage, I’ve seen that most owners generally have no annual training budget, and yet their expectations for facility management remain unfairly high. As we approach what’s typically the busiest time of year for our industry, your business would be well-served by some professional staff training. Here are some options to consider to ensure a great season ahead!

DIY = Don’t

If you’re inclined to train staff yourself, don’t. There are many great resources for facility-manager training, and the worst option is usually the business owner. There’s a reason most companies, large and small, contract training from outside their organization. Very few self-storage owners are effective trainers. Most will only make matters worse.

Why? Because they never went through an effective training program themselves. Some have no idea how to rent units, collect money or provide superior customer service, much less instruct others how to perform these skills successfully. Those that try often aren’t up to speed on industry best practices and wind up teaching dated techniques from a bygone era. Many owners also don’t have the necessary personality or temperament to be good trainers.

Outsource Options

If you aren’t a professional trainer, you really should consider outsourcing. Your primary options are:

Third-party management firms. If you’re using the services of a professional management company, good for you. It’s likely you already have a fantastic manager-training program in place. If not, consider moving your business to another provider. When making inquiries, become intimately knowledgeable about a company’s training program, including the skills it teaches, how often, how it tracks results, etc.

Industry consultants and trainers. The self-storage industry is blessed with unbelievable talent when it comes to manager training. Some trainers are local or regional, while others work nationally. There are plenty of quality candidates from which to choose.

Training Types

A good professional trainer will offer programs in several formats, as every operation is unique. The most popular options are:

In-person training. Many trainers can prepare and present a program designed specifically for your business needs. Typically, a trainer will spend time at your facility or set up a session at a local hotel or similar space for larger groups. While in-house training can be much more expensive than other options depending on the program scope, it’s also been proven to be substantially more effective.

Webinars. These are a convenient online way to teach skills. Most webinars are topic-specific and run an hour or less. They can also be company-specific or more general. Many self-storage operators prefer this option because webinars tend to be less intrusive than in-person training. They’re also affordable, ranging from free to several hundred dollars. If you’re considering this as a platform, ask trainers about their options, particularly a schedule of upcoming events.

Print materials. While probably less effective than in-person training or webinars, there’s a wealth of printed training materials available in the industry. They range from books and DVDs to USB drives and downloadable videos. They’re generally inexpensive (most are less than $100), but their effectiveness can depend on the user’s ability to “self-train” as well as his willingness to use and embrace the content.

Conferences. One of the most easily accessible training opportunities for managers is state or national industry conferences. Most states have a self-storage association, and education is one of their responsibilities. It’s usually well worth the price of admission. Most conferences have training seminars for owners as well as managers. These are opportunities every operator should take advantage of, particularly when they’re held in your area.

Pros and Cons

As with anything, there are pros and cons to hiring a professional trainer or service. On the positive side:

  • Professional trainers are typically at the forefront of industry best practices.
  • Most outsourcing options are relatively inexpensive.
  • Facility managers have more job satisfaction when properly trained in their role.
  • Facilities are more effective and profitable when run by skilled managers.
  • Operators with trained managers experience less job turnover.
  • Customers prefer to interact with competent, knowledgeable managers.

On the flip side:

  • Outsourced training comes at a cost. Most options require at least some investment.
  • Not all trainers can deliver on their claims. It’s important to get referrals or references, and look at customer reviews of their material.
  • There may be conflicts between how the trainer trains and how you operate your facility. That doesn’t necessarily mean one way is wrong—just different. Communication will avoid any issues during the process. For example, if you prefer to have your managers answer the phone in a particular way, share those points with your trainer in advance. He should ask those types of questions before any training occurs to ensure you’re on the same page.

So, when does your self-storage spring training start? While you may find it unnecessary, your competitors likely won’t! They’ll embrace these kinds of opportunities to create a distinction between their operation and yours. Explore your options and provide your managers with the tools and confidence to succeed.

Bob Copper is the owner of Self-storage 101, a consulting firm specializing in self-storage. Bob and his team have worked with hundreds of owners, operators and managers to maximize asset value, conducting countless due-diligence audits and helping owners position their facilities to sell. To reach him, call 866.269.1311; e-mail bob@selfstorage101.com; visit www.selfstorage101.com.

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