Ready to Advance Your Self-Storage Management Career? Focus on These 3 Areas

The self-storage industry offers an abundance of opportunities for career advancement, particularly for facility managers. If you’re ready to move beyond your current position, there are three key areas on which to focus. Find out what they are and how they’ll help you climb the ladder.

Douglas Stirling, Area Manager

June 10, 2024

5 Min Read

The self-storage industry has experienced remarkable growth over the past few years, creating exciting opportunities for career advancement. As a facility-level manager aspiring to rise through the ranks and take on more challenging roles, you’re poised to capitalize on this growth; however, success in this dynamic field requires a combination of skills, knowledge and motivation.

I entered the self-storage business 10 years ago as a customer-service representative at a 1,400-unit facility. I progressed through my organization, embracing opportunities in site management, eventually overseeing nine facilities. Next, I became director of operations of our entire 18-property portfolio, the position I hold today. In this article, I’ll guide you through the career-advancement process, drawing from my personal experience as well as scientific research and my undergraduate education in human development, psychology and physiology.

Build Your Skills

One of the first challenges you’ll encounter as you aspire toward more demanding self-storage management positions is the skills gap—places where the competencies required for a new role surpass those you possess. Begin by assessing your current skillset and identifying the specific expertise required for success. This might include abilities in financial management, market analysis, customer service and team leadership, among other areas.

It’s important to invest in your professional development. Enroll in courses or certifications that focus on the knowledge relevant to your desired position. There are many industry organizations that offer training resources and programs tailored to self-storage professionals.

Skills-gap research emphasizes the importance of adopting a growth mindset. Psychologist and author Carol Dweck suggests that individuals who believe in their ability to learn and grow are more likely to succeed in challenging situations. So, welcome new challenges as opportunities rather than as insurmountable obstacles.

Set High Expectations

As you work to bridge your skills gap and advance in the self-storage industry, put the bar high. Why? Because the higher you set expectations for yourself, the better you’ll perform. It’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Rosenthal or Pygmalion effect. Believe in your ability to excel in new roles and visualize your success, and it’ll serve as a powerful motivator.

You also need to let your superiors and mentors know about your aspirations. Open communication about your goals can lead to their support. When others expect you to do well, they’re more likely to provide opportunities and guidance that facilitate your growth. This creates a network of individuals who are invested in your success.

In addition, try to engage with colleagues and mentors who have a proven track record in upper-level self-storage management roles. The Rosenthal effect suggests that spending time with high achievers can positively influence your own mindset and performance. Fostering relationships with peers is vital in this industry, and building a professional network can provide guidance, support and opportunities for collaboration. This is why participating in industry events is so critical in our development process.

All of this boils down to incentive, and research abounds on theories regarding the link between motivation and career advancement. The Self-Determination Theory says we’re driven by three psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness (connection). Intrinsic motivation is  a need for knowledge or independence. It leads us to engage in certain activities because we find them inherently enjoyable, interesting or fulfilling.

In the self-storage industry, career advancement requires initiative. So, take control of your path, make decisions aligned with your goals, and choose projects that resonate with your aptitudes and interests. Commit to lifelong learning, and focus on mastering new skills and gaining in-depth knowledge of the business. Finally, embrace challenges as opportunities to improve.

Prepare Yourself

Now that we’ve explored the research and theories behind professional advancement and success, let's dive into specific strategies that’ll help you meet your self-storage career goals.

Network. Connect with experienced self-storage professionals who can serve as mentors. This can provide valuable guidance and insights as you progress in your career. Attend industry events and engage in opportunities to expand your professional circle.

Knowledge. To excel in an upper-level management role, it’s essential to have a comprehensive understanding of market trends, competitive analysis, customer behavior, etc. You might also need knowledge of budgeting and revenue optimization, especially if you’re going to be managing multiple sites. Consider enrolling in financial-management courses or seek guidance from industry experts. Attend industry conferences, webinars and workshops to stay informed.

Leadership. This is a cornerstone of upper management. You’re aiming to become a leader of leaders. Invest in developing skills such as team-building, conflict resolution and decision-making. Consider joining or creating a leadership-development program, either within your organization or the larger industry.

Customer experience. In self-storage, exceptional service is a key differentiator. Focus on improving your skills and instilling a customer-centric culture at the facilities you oversee. Seek feedback from tenants and your teams, then implement improvements.

Showcase. As you gain new skills and experience, don’t forget to brag a little. Update your résumé, create a professional LinkedIn profile, and communicate your progress to superiors and potential employers. Highlight your commitment to growth and continuous improvement.

Opportunity. Keep an eye out for upper-level management positions available within your company and the industry at large. Even if an opportunity is only temporary, it gives you experience and exposure. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and apply for roles that align with your career goals.

Reach New Heights

Advancing in your self-storage career from an entry-level facility manager to a multi-site leader is achievable. By recognizing and addressing your skills gap, leveraging high expectations and cultivating your motivation, you can chart a successful path forward.

Your unique journey will require dedication, continuous learning and a willingness to adapt. As you acquire new skills, embrace leadership opportunities and build strong business relationships. Stay motivated and focused, and pursue your aspirations with determination and confidence. The self-storage industry is growing and evolving, and your potential for success is only limited by you. Follow the above strategies, and you’ll be well-equipped to reach new heights.

Douglas Stirling is director of operations for San Diego Self Storage, which operates 18 locations in Southern California. During his 10 years in the self-storage industry, he’s held nearly every operational role. He started at the front desk renting units, then worked as site manager and area manager of nine properties. He now oversees the success of the entire 1.5 million square foot portfolio. Douglas is a Marine Corps veteran with extensive leadership experience and an MBA candidate working on his second graduate business degree. To reach him, email [email protected]

About the Author(s)

Douglas Stirling

Area Manager, San Diego Self Storage

Douglas Stirling is an area manager for San Diego Self Storage, which operates 18 facilities in California. He came to self-storage after four years and three combat deployments in the United States Marine Corps. He uses his military leadership skills and education to manage more than $100 million in self-storage assets. To contact him, call 800.615.5016; visit

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