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Self-Storage Owners! Learn Why Team Training Is Your Operational Panacea

If you want your self-storage staff to succeed—that is, to perform well, be productive and help you make money—you need a training program. Period. No excuses! If you aren’t sure why or how to proceed, this article is for you.

Susan Haviland

March 5, 2022

9 Min Read
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Staff training and development are often low on the priority list for self-storage operators. Sometimes it’s due to lack of time or budget; other times, ownership simply doesn’t understand what’s required. In any case, most companies can improve in this area.

Training allows your staff to acquire new skills, sharpen existing abilities, perform better, be more productive, and become stronger team players and leaders. You’ve heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Well, a company is only as good as its least effective employee. If you’re a self-storage owner, it’s in your best interest to ensure everyone is performing at peak, from top-level executives to part-time facility staff.

How does your company handle onboard training for new hires and ongoing education for existing team members? Do you even have a program? If you don’t, you could be breeding unhappy employees, which can lead to high turnover. Every self-storage owner and supervisor should want their staff to succeed. Don’t be an obstacle by skimping on training! If you need help to understand why this is so critical and how to build an effective regimen, the following guidance will help.

Why Train?

Before we get into what a quality self-storage training program looks like and who should lead it, let’s clarify why it’s so important.

Orient hires. Training is particularly important for new staff. It should get them up to speed with your policies and processes as well as address any knowledge gaps.

Tackle shortcomings and improve performance. Every individual has deficiencies, and your staff should know it’s OK to need additional instruction in some areas. Training helps iron out weaknesses by amplifying each person’s strengths and enabling them to acquire new skills. In this way, performance improves.

Increase employee satisfaction. A company that invests in professional development generally has more satisfied employees. However, the training you offer must be relevant to them, so they can take what they learn and actively apply it to their own role within the company. If the information is tedious and dull and staff attend training only because they must, your efforts will be futile.

Improve productivity. Training goes a long way toward keeping employees current with new policies, procedures, processes and technology. We all need a little push sometimes to discard outdated methods. When you invest in a new tool or service, such as software or a camera system or third-party marketing, train staff through the transition. Don’t leave it up to them to figure it out on their own. The right guidance will increase their comfort level and ability to adapt, which will in turn improve efficiency.

Logistics

A key element to any self-storage training program is delivery. Who will lead your training and via which methods? When and where will it be conducted? How long will it take? What materials will be distributed, if any? Much of this will be determined by your company’s specific resources. Some operations have more time, money and people to invest. But whatever your situation, you can build a plan that works for you.

Here are a few options for choosing who will train:

  • Designate a single person within the company to serve as trainer.

  • Assemble a team of trainers based on the strengths and skills of existing staff. For example, you might have every new hire spend some time with Fred, who’s particularly good at sales; Sally, who’s exceptional at collections and the lien-sale process; and Laura, who’s top-notch at facility maintenance.

  • Hire a third-party training company.

  • Handle all training yourself. (Most owners find this isn’t a good option.)

As to where, it can depend on many factors, such as who will be involved and how many facilities you have. If you have only one property, training will likely take place there. If you have multiple locations, you might create a shared learning center at one of them for initial training, then have staff finish at the property where they’ll work.

Wherever your training takes place, don’t rush the process. It’s critical to ensure each employee has the tools to succeed. Most new hires will need two to four weeks to learn everything required to do the job well. The most important thing is to establish a method and system that works for your business and team.

What to Include

Training self-storage staff isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. There’s no “perfect” program. Why not? Because every operation and employee is unique! That said, there are a few commonalities between programs among successful companies. At the core of any curriculum is the content—the topics and skills to be taught—and these are similar at every storage property.

First, your program should be modern, relevant to participants and aligned with current business goals. This is the key to ensuring your learners are engaged and continue to come back for more. The information must be timely and applicable to their specific jobs within the company, with quick takeaways that can immediately be applied to their ongoing duties.

Most training programs begin with company policies and procedures, which is why it’s so important to have a well-written manual. This guide should provide detailed and concise descriptions for how to do everything required to effectively manage a self-storage facility, such as open and close the office, rent units and take payments, conduct property walk-throughs, and so much more. With a good manual in hand, you can systematically explain all the business aspects employees must learn.

Of course, not even the most comprehensive program will be able to address every customer-service scenario or maintenance issue. However, you should cover the most pressing material, including:

  • Business overview: The manager’s role, why people store, customer expectations, etc.

  • Job responsibilities: Renting space, collecting money, maintaining the property, assisting customers, etc.

  • Daily operation: Opening and closing the office, conducting lock checks, using property equipment, preparing bank deposits, checking the security system, etc.

  • Management software: Taking payments, renting and vacating space, running reports, selling merchandise, renting trucks, inputting sales-lead information

  • Sales: Answering the phone, handling objections, following up on leads, compiling competitor information

  • Collections: Gathering tenant information, communicating with customers, documenting efforts, understanding the lien process

  • Ancillary products and services: Anything your facility offers (retail product, truck rentals, boat/RV storage, wine storage, etc.)

  • Customer service: Being proactive instead of reactive, handling upset customers

  • Marketing: Methods, tracking, follow up, referrals, reporting, budgeting

  • Ownership expectations: Occupancy and income goals, facility maintenance, curb appeal, expense control, etc.

Refreshers

Once your new hires are trained, that’s only half the equation. You must also provide ongoing education for your entire team. What we learn fades over time, so think about the tasks and skills in your self-storage operation that might require a refresher. For example, consider situations your staff doesn’t face all that often, such as an onsite accident or disaster, tenant bankruptcy or death, or a data breach. It’s good to go over these things once in a while, so everyone knows how to handle them if and when they occur.

The key is to pay attention to your employees and their performance. Sometimes, it’ll become obvious when additional training is necessary. Here are five signs they need a refresher:

  1. You’re noticing mistakes. Is something being done incorrectly? Are the problems tied to one individual or the whole team?

  2. Technology isn’t maximized. You may notice it’s being used improperly or not at all. Perhaps staff don’t know about all of its features, particularly if there’s been a recent upgrade.

  3. Productivity is decreasing and turnover is increasing. This can happen when employees aren’t confident in their abilities, or they’re unsure what’s expected of them.

  4. You’re seeing an increase in safety-related incidents. This is often due to carelessness but can just as easily be a training issue.

  5. Customer satisfaction is down. You’re seeing higher than normal complaints from self-storage tenants or bad reviews.

A refresher course is designed to take learners back to the basics, so they can review information they may have forgotten and absorb any new developments. Schedule monthly or quarterly meetings and address one or two topics at each. A popular area of focus for many businesses is safety, as there are often compliance requirements for annual or periodic retraining. It helps to keep critical knowledge fresh in employees’ minds to reinforce more complex organizational procedures.

Effectiveness

Once you have a training program in place for your self-storage employees, you need to keep it up to date. Your facility processes and procedures should change with the times, and so should your team education.

One of the best ways to ensure effectiveness is to use feedback from the users themselves. Before training, ask employees what they’d like to learn, then tailor your program to their interests. Even if some requests aren’t directly compatible with your planned topics, soliciting input leads to better participation. Once the training is complete, ask them what they learned. This’ll help you determine if it was on point or could use improvement.

Also, bear in mind that engagement increases memory retention. During training sessions, encourage employees to play games and participate in real-time quizzes. While this all may seem a bit simple and you may get a few eye rolls, the information will be better retained.

Finally, don’t try to cover everything in a single go. It’s often helpful to break material into multiple training sessions, separated by a week or even two. This gives staff more time to absorb the information, and you can even test their knowledge from the last session before you dive into new material during the current one.

Staff training can have a huge impact on self-storage operational success. Like every other aspect of your business, it should focus on producing targeted, tangible results. The key is to take it seriously. Consider it a capital investment and make it results-driven. Don’t let it be the first thing you cut to save money, as this will only cost you more in the end.

We all want to retain our best employees. We want them to look forward to coming to work, not just because they enjoy what they do, but because they feel safe, valued and respected. An investment in their professional development can accomplish all these things while ensuring better performance for the company as a whole.

Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297.

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