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Understanding the Role of a Self-Storage District or Area Manager

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Self-storage operations with multiple locations often have at least one area or district manager between individual facility employees and the owner or home office. Learn about this mid-level role, what this person does, and what he expects from his site-level managers.

Every self-storage operation is unique, but one thing they all have in common is their success depends on the cooperation and strength of their teams. Staff must share the company’s vision and goals, and every person on the organizational chart—from the owner down to part-time facility managers—must know what’s expected of them.

Having worked in various roles in the storage industry, I’ve noticed facility managers often feel “stuck” in their positions or lack direction. They aren’t sure what’s expected, which is bad for them and the operation. Most employees want to do well and help the business succeed. They want to know how they can make a difference, grow with the company and advance their career. They want to know their opinions and views are heard and acknowledged.

For all these reasons, open communication between employees, supervisors and ownership is extremely important; yet it can be challenging to accomplish, especially at a company with multiple facilities. Self-storage usually has a very simple management structure; sometimes it’s as basic as one owner and one manager. But at larger operations, there’s often at least one area or district manager who acts as liaison between the individual sites and the home office.

It’s the job of the area or district manager to help facility managers succeed. It’s his goal and obligation to teach you to excel. But this relationship is a two-way street. You need things from your area manager, and he needs things from his staff. Let’s learn more about this middle-management position and what this person expects from you.

Self-Storage-Org-Chart.JPGHave the Right Mindset

Area managers want you to know you were hired for a reason. Out of everyone who applied for the position, the company chose you. They liked and respected your experience, how you presented yourself during the interview, and the vision you shared about your future with the company. They weren’t looking for someone who’s afraid to make decisions, avoids enforcing rules, or is reactive instead of proactive.

A facility manager is the most important part of a self-storage team, and you should know that. Your area manager needs you to change your mindset from “I just work here” to “This is my company, I want us to succeed, and this is why we do what we do.”

Your area manager wants you to think of your self-storage facility as if it were your home. You need to establish and enforce rules to ensure order. You need to keep it clean and well-maintained. You need to make sure it’s a safe environment. It’s like having guests coming to stay with you every day! If something breaks, you don’t wait for someone else to come fix it. You do the research and identify potential solutions.

A good area manager has a lot on his plate, so when your facility needs something, help him by sharing your findings. Be proud of your investigation. Present it like an attorney in front of a court. When you do this, you demonstrate initiative and an understanding of the scope of the issue at hand. You weigh in with an informed opinion. These are all important things a facility manager should do. It’ll earn the respect of leadership almost immediately.

Remember, you’re the one who’s on site every day, viewing the property and interacting with tenants. You know more about the facility than anyone else and have valuable input to share! Show your area manager you have the enhanced mindset and ability to make the best decisions for the company.

Perfect the Basics

No matter how long you’ve been in self-storage, chances are you’ve sometimes felt like you were in a rut. Your area manager wants you to stay motivated and enhance your skills. The more you’re invested in your facility and the company, the more engaged you’ll feel. Most of the following items are evaluated during your area manager’s site audits anyway, so you might as well perfect them!

Facility walk-through. When you do your daily inspection of the property, you aren’t just looking for locks on doors or checking off boxes on a list. Pay close attention and make note of anything that seems awry. Here are just a few things you need to accomplish:

  • Ensure cameras are clean and in the correct position.
  • Ensure each unit is in the correct status.
  • Clean unit exteriors of cobwebs, especially around the lock.
  • Make sure the bottom strip on each unit door is doing its job.
  • Make sure the parking lot and drive aisles are clean and free debris.
  • Check the perimeter fence for weaknesses.
  • Talk to any tenants who are on site and get feedback.

Tenant-information audit. During your downtime, check tenant files to ensure they’re up-to-date and complete. Ensure leases and autopay forms are signed. One facility I inspected had tons of returned mail, but no one had made any notes or efforts to update the addresses. Always consider how you can best protect the company.

Follow-ups. As the facility manager, you should be following up on sales leads, online reviews, move-ins and move-outs. If your management software has an automated way to reach out to customers, use it! If not, have you created your own system to follow up with prospects and tenants?

Discounts. While discounts and other concessions can sweeten a deal and help you close sales, try to minimize what you give away. If someone shows up with a truck full of stuff ready to move in, chances are you don’t need to offer a discount. Remember, the money you give away now will hurt your numbers in the months ahead. Your area manager wants you to build relationships with customers and use your sales and interpersonal skills to win people over, not drop the rental rate!

Know the Numbers

This is one of the biggest areas in which you can learn and shine. Even owners sometimes have trouble with this, as they’re typically busy with other investments and worry mainly about the bottom line. You and your area manager can help!

Rates, occupancy and revenue. You should know your facility’s street rates, occupancy percentages (physical and economic) and monthly revenue. Your area manager wants you to take it a step further and know:

  • Number and amount of concessions given
  • Number of fees waived
  • Number of move-ins and move-outs
  • Inventory and sales of retail merchandise
  • Status of units that need maintenance
  • Number of delinquent tenants and a forecast to auction or pay
  • When rent increases will occur

While this might sound like a lot, it’s what supervisors analyze on your behalf already. Your management software most likely offers these reports.

Competition. Get to know your competitors and their performance. If you have a good relationship with other operators in your market, exchange numbers. If not, the Internet is your best friend. Websites offer a lot, including available sizes, price, features, reviews and more.

Tenants and community. How much do you really know about your tenants? Some things you should be tracking include their average length of stay, average age, how far away they live, median income and more. Again, a lot of this information is available online and through your management software. Knowing it will improve your business.

For example, if you discover your average tenant is 25, you’ll know social media might be a good marketing avenue for you. If you discover the median income is higher in your area than in surrounding communities, you might be able to raise your street rates (depending on the competitors you researched above). All this data is helpful.

When it comes down to it, your area or district manager wants you to succeed. He’s investing his time and energy into you and expects the commitment in return. If this is a career choice, why not be as engaged as possible? Even if the ideas you present aren’t ultimately used by the company, all knowledge prepares you to take the next step in your career. Separate yourself from the rest and take ownership in your self-storage operation!

Matthew Eoff has worked in several positions in the self-storage industry over the past eight years, including part-time manager, maintenance employee and area manager overseeing six California locations. With a background as a military police officer, he takes pride in analyzing situations and can translate trends and predictable outcomes. He enjoys sharing information to improve the industry community. To contact him, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.enhancingselfstorage.com. You can also follow him on LinkedIn.

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