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Self-Storage Manager or Circus Performer? Veterans Offer Advice on Succeeding in the Biz

With all the tasks and responsibilities that must be juggled, taking a position as a self-storage manager is much like becoming a circus performer. Here’s some advice from seasoned managers on achieving success in your role.

November 2, 2014

5 Min Read
Self-Storage Manager or Circus Performer? Veterans Offer Advice on Succeeding in the Biz

By Andrea Hewitt

Reprinted with permission from the StorageAhead blog.

With all the different tasks and responsibilities that must be juggled, taking a position as a self-storage manager is much like becoming a circus performer. Your list of responsibilities might look something like this:

  • Delegating facility maintenance and cleaning

  • Handling move-ins and move-outs

  • Providing exceptional customer service

  • Ensuring the property’s security

  • Managing unit auctions

  • Reporting to the owner

  • Managing other employees

You also have to deal with a variety of customer types, which makes customer service tricky. Plus, if you’re a resident manager, you may feel as though you can’t leave the stress of work, even when you go home. Here are just a few tips to becoming a successful self-storage manager:

  • Start your career by building rapport with your customers and employees.

  • Be quick to follow through on promises and proactively address people’s needs.

  • Always take a diplomatic approach to any situation by using good judgment. This will help you establish credibility.

  • Always be ready to tackle conflict, whether it’s between employees, customers or both.

  • Quickly find a solution that everyone is happy with, or you could end up losing a customer or dealing with a negative online review. This starts with honed communication skills.

  • Make sure you’re a strong, effective communicator by being transparent and firm.

Overarching advice on how to be a great manager is definitely valuable, but the best thing to do is learn from the mistakes and advice of others who are already succeeding in your field. We asked six seasoned managers at three facilities what they wish they’d known going into their careers, the most valuable thing they’ve learned, and their advice for novices. Our participants were:

  • Vickie and Mike Dzubinski, who’ve been self-storage managers for 15 years. They currently manage Noah’s Ark Self Storage in San Antonio.

  • Jim and Gerry Lewis, who’ve managed Noah’s Ark Self Storage in Buda, Texas, for the past five years.

  • Joe and Catt Mullican, who’ve managed Noah’s Ark Self Storage in Apopka, Fla., since 2010.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you start a new job, so hopefully this insight will take off some of the edge.

Looking back, what are three things you wish you knew before you started managing self-storage facilities?

Dzubinskis: We wish we’d learned right away how to appropriately deal with customer conflict. The second thing we wish we knew was how important it was to exercise patience during interactions with renters. It can get frustrating, but we keep cool by relying on the virtues the Bible taught us. We also think having degrees in counseling would be beneficial during those more difficult client interactions!

Lewises: We were aware of marketing strategies in general, but it would have been great to know how to market for self-storage specifically. We also wish we had tips for figuring out what size units renters need.

Lastly, we wish we’d be given cleaning ideas. We learned tips over the years from different managers, like using cat litter to clean up oil and mothballs to ward off snakes. It just would’ve been great to know those things upfront.

Mullicans: The first thing we wish we knew was Spanish. We have a diverse clientele, and that would have made communication much easier. Overall, be conscious of the market you’re working in. That’ll help you with your marketing and customer-service efforts.

We also wish we were more versed in computers because that would benefit our marketing efforts. Our lack of computer skills requires us to lean on others to locate target areas.

The last thing is how attached we became to some clients. We assumed it would be more of a revolving door. We have come to learn that if you treat people right, they will stay. You’ll see people marry and people die. You’ll encounter some losing their homes, and some will finally buy a new house. Babies will be born and children will graduate. You become a part of their lives.

What's the most valuable thing you've learned as a manager?

Dzubinskis: Customer service is the most important aspect of your job. It didn’t take long to learn that, which shows just how crucial it is to provide great service.

Lewises: The most valuable thing we learned was definitely to practice patience and empathy every day. It took us a year to perfect that.

Mullicans: We always say, “Every day is a training day.” We hope we never stop learning and growing. We think listening to the customer is the most valuable way we continue to learn. Listening will help you give the tenant what he needs. By asking the right questions and listening, you get to know him on a personal level, and that helps you meet his needs.

What advice do you have for someone stepping into a managerial role?

Dzubinskis: The best things you can do is listen to customers and get to know each and every one of them.

Lewises: Go into every situation with a great attitude! Learn to listen to customers more than merely talking to them. Lastly, make sure you become active in your community.

Mullicans: You must have patience and the ability to communicate. A rule of thumb we use to train people is to tell them how to do it, show them how to do it and watch them do it. Utilize this training regime at your facility and, remember, when given the right tools, anyone can succeed if they want to.

More Important Tips

As you take on your new role in self-storage management, remember the following:

  • Know your market and its needs.

  • Be prepared to become attached to customers.

  • Embrace every opportunity for improvement.

  • Practice patience and empathy with customers and employees.

  • Remember that service is key to keeping happy tenants.

  • Learn how to market your self-storage facility.

  • Approach every situation with a great attitude.

Accept that you’re not going to be an expert right away. Our interviewees admitted it took a while to learn the tricks of the trade. As the Mullicans said, anyone can be successful as a self-storage manager if he has the right tools and a strong desire.

Now that we’ve provided you with this expert advice, take these tips and use them to become the best self-storage manager you can!

Andrea Hewitt is a writer for StorageAhead, a Web-marketing company, and StorageFront, a self-storage lead-generation website. Through her blogs, she provides facility owners and managers tips to better themselves and their business.

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