Sidestepping Human Resources Mistakes in Self-Storage: 7 Helpful Tips

Human resource mistakes can be super costly to your self-storage business. An industry expert shares blunders she made in her own operation and seven ways to avoid staffing errors and maintain an excellent team.

Magen Smith

February 24, 2020

7 Min Read
Sidestepping Human Resources Mistakes in Self-Storage: 7 Helpful Tips

As the self-storage industry thrives and competition tightens, your facility-management staff becomes more valuable by the day. As such, assembling an A-team is crucial to business success.

Human resource (HR) mistakes can be costly to your operation, but sadly, they’re also inevitable. The idea is to minimize the damage. Here are a few staffing lessons I’ve learned along the way and seven ways to do better.

Don’t Hire Cheap

I barely paid my first few self-storage managers. I’m not proud of it, but I was opening a new facility and tried to cut costs. Huge mistake. I wound up with a staff that needed a ton of training, and I experienced huge turnover and even some theft.

Managing a storage property seems so easy on the surface that we sometimes assume anyone can do it. If you break down the job, though, the facility-manager role requires many skills: sales, people, math, computer, technology, maintenance, critical thinking and more. After learning a harsh lesson, I now like to hire competent employees who can make decisions as I would and think seriously about how those decisions affect asset value. To find that person, look for someone who’s at a station in life in which he needs more than low-end pay.

Trust me, hiring on the low end of the pay scale cost me much more than what I could have saved by spending a few more dollars per hour. Do yourself a favor and pay a little more to find (and keep!) an A-team player. I’ve since raised my hourly pay and provide commissions for hitting certain goals.

Give a Little Extra

With as little as I paid my first employees, I also didn’t give anything extra. They got paid for their work, and I thought that was enough. I was very wrong.

Including things like paid time off (PTO) and paid holidays shows you care about your staff as people and value their contributions to the company. It’s a small price to pay to build loyalty. Going a step above and offering a commission or bonus structure based on hitting milestones helps align the team’s goals with your own. Incentivize staff by clearly defining the metrics for which they’re responsible and how they can hit their targets.

Buying your staff lunch or handing out gift cards for a job well done helps build a bond and lets your team know you appreciate them. Everyone innately craves positive feedback. When someone on your staff exceeds expectations, write a nice note with a gift card as a simple way to show your appreciation.

Something else to consider is offering a PTO-emergency fund for all employees. This is reserved for truly unexpected situations like hospitalizations, accidents or major surgeries. If someone on my team is in a car accident, I don’t want him worrying about missing a day of work to pay the light bill.

Clarify the Rules

When a company is small, writing HR policies is the last thing you want to do. I’ve been guilty of this and seen it over and over again. Yes, everything else is important, and you can communicate if there’s a problem; but if an employee doesn’t remember the policy, he should be able to look it up without asking you. It’s only fair.

Once you decide on your pay structure, PTO, paid holidays and all the other HR items, write it down. Define it. Give the details to your team so they know the rules. When you’re a small-business owner and have less than 10 employees, it’s easy to be relaxed about this. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that since you told someone the rules when you hired him that you don’t need to write them down. It’s simple: People forget or misunderstand. Documenting your policies eliminates misunderstandings before they occur.

Setting pay, deciding on benefits and documenting policies is table stake for any employer. Keep in mind these are things you should be doing anyway to stay compliant and run a good business.

Don’t Expect Staff to Read Your Mind

To avoid staffing mistakes, you have to communicate. A lot. All job expectations should be documented and defined. Your team should be able to read their job descriptions and have all the training manuals necessary to perform job duties. If someone isn’t performing to your expectations, you owe it to him to have a conversation about it right away.

This is incredibly hard for most people. To avoid having a tough discussion, some owners simply hire more bodies to compensate for employee weaknesses, especially if the non-performers are well-liked. I’ve also seen owners redefine their organizational structure to work around someone’s failings. I’ve even found myself performing a manager’s job, more than once, because he wasn’t doing it correctly.

Being able to hold hard conversations is what makes you a leader. No one can read your mind. The right employee will be better for the constructive feedback, while the wrong one will quit, generally leaving you with a giant sense of relief.

Decide Once

I’m a mind-changer. I like blue one day and green the next. This is awful for my team because my expectations aren’t always clear. When this happens, people will make up what they think is right.

When you have a decision to make, decide once, document it, distribute it and move on. Your operations manual should be a living, breathing document. The latest scenarios should be addressed, and the team should know to check the manual before they ask you any questions.

Making your expectations clear is being kind to your team. When everyone’s on the same page, they can all pitch in and move the ship in the right direction.

Pay Attention

I find many self-storage owners either pay too much attention or not enough. They tend to micromanage every aspect of the day or abdicate all responsibility to the employee. Either way is awful and can be dangerous.

Micromanaging will make your team bitter, annoyed and ultimately disengaged. The worst employee you can have is one who’s disengaged! On the other side, abdicating your owner role to staff leaves you vulnerable to theft, bad decisions and a host of other issues you’ll never know about because your head is in the sand.

Delegating responsibility to the team, staying plugged in and motiving them to the next step is where you want to be. Some people are naturally better at this than others. If you need some help walking the balance, read “How to Be a Great Boss” by Gino Wickman.

Create Well-Rounded Employees

Finally, a big mistake many owners make is ignoring the fact that employees have more needs than trading time for a paycheck. Emphasize financial literacy, good habits, planning skills and more. I want my team to be well-rounded. Empower staff with books, articles, classes and education in areas outside of answering the phone and taking payments.

When your team makes smart financial decisions in their personal lives, they’ll also be good stewards of your money. When they can plan their day and week to hit personal goals, they’ll also partner with you to hit your goals. When they develop good domino habits, they make better decisions, think more critically and tend to have a more enjoyable life. This will help them care for customers and be pleasant to be around.

Empower your team to make good, healthy choices. Talk to them about money, habits and how to improve in every aspect of their lives. We all need support from others, so don’t neglect your responsibility to be the leader for your team.

Magen Smith is a co-founder of Atomic Storage Group, a boutique self-storage management company, and owner of Magen Smith CPA, an outsourced accounting firm specializing in self-storage. She’s also a partner in Safe Space Development, which builds self-storage properties. Magen started in the industry as a facility manager and has held nearly every operational role. She has a passion for the industry, helping owners improve their businesses, teaching asset management and conducting self-storage audits. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit or

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