After many years managing a self-storage facility in South Carolina, I recently started a new job. Making the transition to an unfamiliar corporate business after working at a smaller, privately owned company was intimidating to say the least.
During my two weeks of training, I must’ve looked like a cat chasing a little red laser dot around the floor … And that’s exactly how I felt! But I stuck with it, and now everything is practically second nature. Here are five things that helped ease my self-storage career jump. Hopefully, they’ll help you in your next move.
1. Make a Good First Impression
During the video interview for this position, I was asked the dreaded question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Having had plenty of coffee that morning, I said, “I’d like to be on the other side of this camera.” My interviewer laughed and thought that was a great response. I later learned that’s what closed the deal. They were looking for someone who wanted to grow with the company, not just sit in the corner.
Prior to 2014, I wasn’t even in the self-storage industry. I worked in restaurants, specialty retail and the petrochemical industry. The training I received in those fields gave me the skillset I have now, and the things I’ve learned have easily transferred to the role of self-storage manager. I do plan on continuing to develop and grow with this industry. While some things may change, there are some foundations that have always remained.
2. Finish What You Start
Leaving tasks unfinished or even half-finished can add to your stress as a self-storage manager. You’re going to be called on to do more than you think you can, or even know how to do. That’s why it’s important to have a strong team as a support system.
Prioritizing, delegating tasks and taking advantage of the skillsets you and your coworkers possess will minimize lost time and budget overruns. Having the drive and commitment to complete tasks as they come requires planning and extra effort, but it’s worth it and looks great when your boss comes to visit! Having four projects 100 percent done looks better than having eight projects 50 percent done, so don’t lose your mind over long lists. Managing those pieces of the puzzle while staying focused will certainly be noticed and appreciated.
3. Build Trust
Building trust with your tenants has obvious rewards, but you also need trust between you and your superiors. Both groups need to trust you and your decision-making regarding the property and its policies.
What’s going to happen in an emergency? How will you react when there’s a difficult decision to be made? Your boss needs to know you have everything under control. Having clear, concise instructions for any situation and being able to explain as well as uphold company polices reinforces this trust and support from all sides.
4. Stick to Your Values
It’s extremely unlikely that someone will ever ask you to do something illegal, unethical or otherwise “unsavory” to promote their own worth. Anyone who does shouldn’t be in the self-storage business (or any business for that matter). Being directed or encouraged to lie, cheat, harass, steal, tweak numbers—call it what you will—has no place in this or any other industry. Standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves is part of it, too.
Having ethics isn’t hard, but having the strength to hold on to them is paramount. I would suffer the pain of unemployment rather than endure a toxic, stressful environment knowing the company I worked for used nefarious practices. If you feel you must walk away, then do it.
5. Don’t Just Teach, Learn
We all bring something to the table as a new hire, and while enthusiasm is appreciated, this isn’t the time to show off. Your goal at this time is to be a trainable, teachable and coachable for the position for which you’ve been chosen. The company knows you have methods you picked up from previous positions; that’s why it hired you. It’s your experience it wants to learn from—eventually.
What you need to do now is learn your new employer’s ways and policies. Listen and take notes (lots of them). Make flash cards for things like local laws and ordinances. If you don’t understand something, ask.
As training progresses, the company might inquire how things differed at your previous job. That’ll be the time to share your past experiences with your trainers. They’ll take a little from what you tell them and, who knows, it may affect policy! Later, you’ll be in their shoes and the teaching and learning cycle will begin all over again, so take advantage of it.
In the End, It’s About People
Yes, as self-storage managers, we’re here to rent units and generate revenue, but we’re also here to build relationships, be active in our community and help the industry grow. We need to make any decisions that impact our tenants effectively and logically. We need to understand, follow and enforce company policies and state laws. We need to demonstrate compassion, understanding and mutual professional respect toward our investors, co-workers, vendors and tenants. None of these things can come from a computer algorithm or piece of technology. It takes people!
Having teammates we can trust and who trust us is critical. Being able to make informed, well-balanced decisions while face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) with a tenant can be the difference between a good facility or a great one. In an age of “press one for this, press two for that,” knowing someone is going to stand up, greet us by name and be happy to see us is worth more than can be put into words.
Most of the folks I’ve worked with in the past have used the above as part of their moral compass, and it was obvious. I’ve relied on these five strategies in my own career and they’ve proven to be most valuable. Pay attention, word hard, stick to your guns, take notes and don’t fear the “five-year” question. It can really be a game-changer!
Kevin Edwards is a general manager with Prime Group Holdings, a real estate owner-operator focused on acquiring and growing a portfolio of self-storage facilities throughout the United States. His experiences include site manager, facility audits, staff training and overseeing maintenance procedures at several properties across the Southeast. For more information, call 518.615.0552; visit www.goprimegroup.com.