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Self-Storage Staff Training: 10 Ways to Reinforce Skills and Inspire Top Performance

Self-storage manager training is a never-ending process. Here are 10 tips on training and rewarding employees that owners can put into practice and reap the best results from their staff.

You’ve spent days, weeks and even months training your self-storage managers to achieve top performance and improve your facility’s operating numbers. Now they’re either going to do well or poorly. What’s your plan of action in either case?

We Southerners have many colloquialisms, and a phrase we use when someone’s performance isn’t up to snuff is to say the person “can’t or won’t”—“can’t” because he hasn’t been trained and doesn’t know how, or “won’t” because he simply chooses not to do as he’s been taught.

If you’re having issues with staff performance, you must first decide if you have a “can’t” employee or a “won’t” employee. You can train someone who doesn’t know how to do something, but you can’t force someone to follow the correct process if he simply refuses. This person needs to find a new opportunity somewhere else, as he’s not helping you or your storage business follow the path to profitability.

Employee training is a never-ending process, as the tools and technology we use are constantly evolving. Stay current on what’s new and impart the knowledge and techniques to everyone on your team, especially your relief or part-time managers. Below are 10 ways to train and support your staff to ensure the company reaps the best results.

1. Provide a Manual

First, provide a manual in print or digital format for all employees. It should include detailed instructions on everything managers need to know, including all your company’s policies and procedures. For example, it should address:

  • Moving customers in or out
  • Using the facility’s management software
  • Making bank deposits
  • Reporting on marketing efforts
  • Applying rental discounts
  • Greeting customers and answering phone calls
  • Conducting property tours

Leave nothing to chance, or you’ll get varied results based on the person’s skill set and experience. Set standards of performance in all areas of your operation.

2. Cover All Processes

Once employees are familiar with your company’s policies and procedures, walk them through it—more than once. They should be trained on all aspects of operating a successful self-storage business. This will include making collections calls, handling customer complaints, paying referral fees, sending out rent-increase letters, raising standard rates for new customers, using petty cash, and more. Think about all the tasks managers handle every day and teach them how to do them properly.

3. Allow for Industry Activism and Education

Whenever possible, enable your team to attend state and national self-storage conferences. Encourage them to become members of your state’s industry association. Many states have very active associations and provide at least annual events for learning and networking. Use these opportunities as rewards for improved performance.

4. Offer Tools and Resources

Provide the appropriate operational tools for your managers, including an operations manual, reporting processes, sales and marketing methods and measurements, an employee handbook, staff bonus schedules, and others. It’s challenging for managers to serve customers on the front line while working to improve facility performance, especially if they don’t have all the tools they need to do the job. Help them out by having these resources readily available.

5. Set Clear Goals

You have to ask specifically for what you want your team to achieve. For example, if you want all vacant units kept rent-ready, clean and with a sign on the back wall welcoming the new customer, tell staff to “inspect vacant units to make sure they’re ready.” Cobwebs across the lock and hasps, weeds in front of unit doors, worn-out ropes on the door handles, chipping paint on the buildings or faded doors are all signs to customers that you don’t care about their storage experience. Your staff needs to know—in detail—your expectations on keeping the property up-to-date.

Set standards for everything. For example, you might declare:

  • Delinquency rates should be between 3 percent and 5 percent at month’s end
  • Rental income should be 10 percent higher than the previous year
  • Rate increases should be between 8 percent and12 percent
  • Discounts should be nonexistent on sizes that are in high demand
  • Traffic to your store and on your website should be growing

These are but a few examples of how to clearly relay your store’s goals to staff.

6. Measure Results

It’s critical that you measure your managers’ efforts. This should be done for each operational process on a monthly basis, not just quarterly or annually. Spend about an hour each month reviewing the store’s reports with your managers. Show them how to read and understand management-software reports as you see them. This is time well spent and will greatly improve your revenue and your staff’s role in achieving it. If you help your team grow their knowledge base about operating performance, it will improve the way they work.

7. Present Feedback

Give your team feedback on a regular basis for each goal, including financial performance vs. budgeted numbers through net operating income. It’s hard to continually improve the bottom line if managers don’t know what those numbers are or where they come from. Let them know if they’re meeting your monthly goals for marketing and sales-closing ratios. Are they waiving too many fees and applying too many discounts or credits? Tell them where they’re succeeding and where they’re falling short.

8. Create Staff Rewards

When it comes to rewarding staff, a monthly system is best. Bonuses must be easy to calculate. Include all team members, including relief or part-time managers, and reward excellence, not mediocrity. For example, when conducting mystery phone shops, don’t pay $1 per point for scores above 70. Instead, pay $5 a point for scores above 90, and you’ll give your managers incentive to achieve better results.

If you pay a per-lease bonus, how is it shared among your staff? If your reward is based on exceeding the budgeted income, make sure the team knows the goal and potential bonus that goes with it.

Focus on total income, not just one revenue stream, such as retail sales. That approach will cause managers to fixate on a fraction of the overall goal. The majority of your facility’s profit will always come from storage rentals. There may be exceptions at facilities with large truck-rental operations or other niche services. Those teams might be given an extra bonus, since it requires more work to meet the sales projections.

9. Apply Disciplinary Measures

Discipline should be based fairly on results and actions, and you have to commit to it. This could mean more training, remediation or even punishment with predetermined responses. For example, theft should be grounds for immediate termination.

Let your managers know if they’re failing to meet performance standards each month and what needs to change. If you don’t see improvement within three months, it might be time to let the employee go. It’s easy to play hardball and expect excellence when you’ve provided training and retraining, documenting poor performance, and giving ample opportunity to improve.

10. Focus on Continued Improvement

Keep your storage team focused on continuous improvements in all areas—closing ratios, new customers, higher income, reduced expenses, customer ratings, clever marketing programs, great curb appeal and more. Turn every facet of your operation into a number, and measure the outcome. Try these 10 tips, and you’ll see improved staff performance and happier managers who are getting more bonus money while you’re enjoying improved profit each and every month.

Anne Ballard is president of training, marketing and developmental services for Universal Storage Group and the founder of Universal Management Co. She's a former president and current board member of the Georgia Self Storage Association and has served on the national Self Storage Association’s board of directors. She has participated in the planning, design and operation of numerous storage facilities. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.

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