For nearly all industries, staffing is a challenge under normal conditions, much less during a mass exodus that’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” In the wake of the pandemic, employees are leaving their positions in droves, looking to change careers or move to a company that fulfils more than just payroll. In self-storage, trying to run facilities with limited human resources is an obstacle forcing some operators to close offices or limit business hours, which can result in lost sales and tenants.
Whether you have one location or 10, the ability to find and retain good workers is becoming increasingly difficult. In the current state of the market, businesses are returning to a face-to-face work environment and trying to hire, which means the cost of onboarding is going up. There’s less talent from which to choose, and discovering qualified candidates can be tough. The good news is there are strategies to combat the staff challenges you may be facing.
Before the current economic situation, it was typical to receive five to 10 applications for an open self-storage position. Today, it’s more common to get three or four at most. Making matters worse is some of these candidates don’t fit the needs of the roles to be filled, which means it takes longer to satisfy open positions. A facility manager must be skilled in several areas and often works long stretches alone or unsupervised. Finding the right candidate when there are few from which to choose is taxing.
Since there are fewer candidates available but more job openings, there’s intense competition for new hires. This can lead to a flux in pay and other benefits to make your position more attractive to potential applicants. It may also mean you’re competing against companies like Amazon or Walmart that are offering signing bonuses and waiving waiting periods for other benefits. This makes the task of filling even entry-level positions more difficult than ever.
Still, it’s important to take your time and hire right. Though it’s important to fill your positions, onboarding a candidate too quickly can cause many problems down the road. Making the wrong decision can be a waste of time, money and other resources that can set your business back further.
Even in the best of times, staffing issues can create business obstacles that must be overcome. For example, if you have an employee call out sick, you need to find someone to cover their shift. If someone quits unexpectedly, you need a replacement. There might be conflict between coworkers, or between employees and supervisors. An employee may discover that another team member is earning more than they are.
The point is staffing problems aren’t new; they’re just being magnified under current conditions. The good news is, no matter the size of your self-storage operation, there are solutions you can implement to keep the office door open, the phone ringing, units filled and customers happy.
If you own a single facility and don’t have staff from other locations who can help fill gaps, here are some ways to adapt:
- Adjust your hours of operation to coincide with when you’re most likely to have high foot traffic from prospects and tenants.
- Implement automation technology such as self-serve kiosks and smart locks.
- Offer overtime to strong employees to help bridge any coverage gaps.
If you have a larger operation with multiple locations, here are some solutions to consider when you’re low on staff:
- Again, adjust your store hours. Though this may not be ideal, it can help limit overtime. Further, it helps ensure staff is present when they’re needed the most.
- Allow part-time employees to work 40 hours per week. Though this may not be a long-term solution, it can be beneficial for your top performers as well as your business.
- Use area managers in effective and creative ways. For many large operations, these employees serve as assistants to district managers. They can focus on serving specific stores within an area to help cover as necessary.
- Install a floating manager or two to rotate between properties. This helps with coverage and site management and can be an effective use of personnel.
Juggling schedules and moving bodies around takes creativity, but it can certainly be effective. Technology can also be deployed to help fill service gaps, and there are many ways to automate facility functions. For example, kiosks allow customers to reserve units and pay their bill without the help of a staff member. Automatic billpay and online payment processing can ensure rent is collected without the help of a store manager.
While these solutions have benefits, it’s important to remember that many self-storage prospects and tenants still want direct help from onsite staff. Though you may be tempted to automate your entire rental process, customers still like working with real people and want to interact when asking questions. Be cautious about how much automation you implement and gauge whether users are accepting it.
Handling staffing issues in this market requires you to think outside of the box and be willing to use all available resources. Finding the right solutions can be tricky but doesn’t have to be impossible. If you aren’t already experiencing disruption, it’ll pay to plan ahead for how you’ll fill gaps when they do arise—and they will.
Work with your self-storage staff to provide the best coverage possible and ensure you deliver an optimal customer experience. That is the most important piece of your operation to maintain. If you keep this in mind when implementing the above solutions, you’ll be in a good position in the long term.
Lindsey Ball is a content writer for Crescendo Properties, which operates the Shield Storage portfolio throughout the western United States. The company also sources, underwrites and finances self-storage investments. Its management arm is Crescendo Self Storage Management. To reach Lindsey, call 480.206.4578 or email [email protected].