Finding the right employee

Self-Storage Hiring Hacks: Advice From an Industry Staffing Expert

Your choice of facility manager could mean the difference between success and failure for your self-storage business. To hire right, heed these words of advice from an industry staffing expert.

The people you choose to manage your self-storage facility will make the difference between a highly successful operation and a mediocre or failing one. Though finding the perfect staff isn’t always easy, knowing where to locate good candidates and what do once you bring them on board is paramount. Here are some “hacks” for successful hiring and onboarding.

Finding Candidates

There are many employment websites that can be excellent sources for qualified management candidates, such as CareerBuilder, Craigslist, Indeed, Monster, WorkingCouples and Zip Recruiter. Other resources include self-storage trade magazines, professional placement services and the Self-Storage Talk online community. You can also ask for referrals from your current managers or other facility owners and operators.

Choosing and Matching Applicants

Wherever you advertise your position, be prepared to receive responses from people who don't seem qualified—or even willing to read thoroughly! You might clearly state that you’re seeking an experienced self-storage manager, but some will think they can talk their way into the job. If you have a resident position, you’ll likely be contacted by inexperienced applicants attracted to the “free housing.”

Be prepared to weed through a lot of resumes. Getting people to respond may be the easiest part of your search. Interviewing and matching the right manager to each facility isn’t as simple.

Anyone can be on his best behavior for an hour, which is why it’s important to interview preferred candidates more than once. If an applicant is employed at a facility close to you, consider visiting. Just keep in mind that most managers seek new employment confidentially. You don’t want to jeopardize someone’s current position by showing up unannounced and revealing who you are.

When interviewing, aim to uncover each candidate’s talents and match his traits to the position you’re trying to fill. Don’t make assumptions about a person’s skills based on his gender, age, etc. For example, you can’t presume women are better on the phone or men are better at maintenance tasks. Everyone has unique strengths and interests. Some candidates will be more outgoing than others; some will be natural marketers or salespeople. Look at the gifts of the individual and consider assigning job responsibilities that best suit each person.

Conducting Due Diligence

Once you’ve narrowed the list to the best possible candidates, check their references. That means speaking with past supervisors or owners, not tenants, co-workers, friends or relatives who would never speak ill of them. Keep in mind, though, that some large companies won’t verify anything more than employment dates and job title.

If a candidate is currently employed as a self-storage manager, have someone phone-shop him to evaluate his customer-service skills. You want to ensure the person you hire answers the phone in a timely and professional manner and sets an appointment to visit the facility. In short, he should try to close the sale.

Next, dig deeper into your candidate. There are numerous companies that specialize in background checks, personality testing, drug testing and credit reports. You can find them online or ask other owners for a recommendation.

Signing Paperwork

Once you’ve done your due diligence and decided to hire, have the new staff member sign a letter of employment. The letter should spell out the manager's job duties, pay and bonus structure, and any goals you expect him to achieve. This puts you both on the same page regarding expectations.

Some storage facilities are still being built with a manager’s apartment. If your new hire will live on site, he should sign an apartment lease that stipulates the grounds for housing, for example:

  • The manager will live in the apartment rent-free as long as he is employed at the facility.
  • The manager will have X days to vacate once employment ends.
  • The apartment can be used only as a residence for the manager and can’t be sublet.
  • The manager is responsible for any damage to the property, whether from himself, a pet, a family member, etc.

Most states are “employment at will,” which means you can give notice of termination to your manager—or he to you—at any time. The lease will come in handy if you terminate, the manager refuses to vacate, and you have to go through the eviction process. Though it won’t necessarily stop him from “squatting,” it’ll make it easier to evict him and reclaim your apartment.

Orienting and Training

Give your new hire a formal orientation. This is the time to discuss company rules. It’s critical to have a clear, concise policies-and-procedures manual customized to suit your company philosophy. Go over it with the manager. Discuss job duties and responsibilities, chain of command, etc. Again, make sure you’re both on the same page.

The next step is training, which should cover facility and corporate forms, your rental agreement, phone techniques, facility tours, site maintenance, sales and marketing, computer programs, and processes for collections and lien sales, just to name a few key items. If your new hire is inexperienced in self-storage, you’ll need to spend a minimum of 10 days to get him up to speed. If he has industry experience, your training time may be less.

If possible, conduct training away from the hustle and bustle of the facility office, even if that means setting up a table and chairs in a vacant unit. It doesn’t matter if a manager has been in the industry for 25 years or this is his first trek into the business. All staff needs to be trained and, in some cases, re-trained. Just because an employee has years of experience doesn’t mean he’ll automatically perform tasks the way you want them done. Training is an essential part of success; it’s the little things that set your staff apart from the competition!

Even your relief managers need to be trained. Don’t think of them as simply holding down the fort while the manager is away. If trained thoroughly and properly, these employees should be ready to move into a full-time position when you acquire or build your next project.

Finally, it’s imperative to give your management team the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. These include maintenance supplies and equipment, an organized office, easy-to-use software, and more.

Communicating

Open communication is another important element of successful staffing. As a team, you and your employees should be able to discuss any positive or negative aspect of the job.

One suggestion is to have the manager call in his daily deposits to your office. While you can track the income through your management software, establishing a daily call gives you the opportunity to discuss other issues such as marketing, maintenance, problem tenants, etc., without making the manager feeling like he’s being micromanaged or stripped of authority to make day-to-day decisions.

Define your expectations! Most people aren’t mind-readers. If you aren’t happy with someone’s job performance, tell him what you require. Visit your facility regularly or hire an outside company to conduct semi-annual or yearly audits. Let your managers know up front that there will be regular facility inspections so there aren’t any surprises.

It’s also important to include manager input when designing marketing or maintenance programs, creating annual budgets, implementing rate increases, etc. Empower your team. You hired and trained them, now let them manage! If you don’t trust their judgment, you likely made the wrong choice in hiring. If you come to that conclusion, terminate employment; allow them to find a suitable position elsewhere and yourself to get the right people for your operation.

Evolving

Things can change rapidly in the self-storage industry. It’s important to evolve with the times and stay up-to-date on trends and developments including lien laws, marketing techniques, and systems for improving productivity. Managers need to be trained on new systems or have refresher courses. As part of their professional development, provide subscriptions to industry magazines and send them to storage seminars and conferences.

You don’t have to be a genius or own a crystal ball to have a successful storage facility. By following these basic hiring and training philosophies and implementing clear-cut policies and procedures, you should be able to match your staff to your business goals and philosophies. Give your managers the tools to be successful, pay them well, reward them with obtainable bonus programs and pat them on the back for a job well done. Let them know you appreciate having them as part of your team and acknowledge the role they play in the success of your business.

Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management Services, which has been placing self-storage managers in positions all over the United States since 1991. She also offers staff training, operational consulting, and facility audits and inspections. For more information, call 321.890.2245; e-mail pamela@mini-management.com; visit www.mini-management.com.

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