When it comes to measuring the performance of your self-storage facility, you want to look closely to how well the manager is trained. A great manager can make a poor site great, while a poor manager can make a great site poor. I learned long ago from my mentor that there’s nothing worse than a “pretty good” manager.
We all want the best-trained managers marketing and managing our millions of dollars of self-storage real estate, but properly training employees is a challenge for many owners. Hiring a professional trainer might be the solution. Here are some things to consider to help you decide whether outsourcing is right for your staff.
The cost of hiring a trainer is typically the biggest drawback; however, training should be a line item in your budget. It’s the investment you make in your employees’ skillset and ability to effectively manage your property.
You can hire a trainer for a day or week, or commit to continual training or consulting. Costs can vary from a daily rate of $2,500 to $3,500, plus expenses of $10,000 to 15,000 per week. Some trainers also expect the owner to cover additional expenses such as airfare, hotel, rental car, etc.
Long-term training and consulting, in which visits are monthly or quarterly and cover the entire operation, can start as low as $1,500 to $3,000 for a day or two, plus travel. Typically, an employee training booklet or slide presentation will be included along with some action items and recommendations.
Hiring a trainer means your managers will be educated by someone with self-storage knowledge and experience. Often, these consultants have operated several locations in different markets and faced various challenges. They bring best practices and can explain the pitfalls and benefits of completing tasks in certain ways, with examples from others’ experiences. This can save you time and money on processes as well as sales and marketing programs. Most great trainers bring value beyond the training session, which will only increase over time.
Training can take many forms, including one-on-one instruction, a classroom setting, webinars, books or pamphlets, etc. What’s important is you get specific training for your circumstances. Avoid a trainer who can only provide generic business-management direction.
To get the most value from custom training, have it take place at your facility. There the trainer can see what you have to work with, access reports to gauge needs, and assess what else should be happening when customers call or walk in the door. Better yet, he may have ideas on how to improve the operation and can help set priorities for the team. Some owners aren’t comfortable allowing an outsider to see and use their data to train managers. In this case, simply include a confidentiality agreement in your contract.
You’ll have to decide how you and your team will learn best, whether it’s onsite training, an online course, education at an industry event, etc. Do you want to train a large group of managers? If so, you’ll need an adequately sized room with tables and an overhead screen so attendees can follow the trainer through the session. Handouts are also helpful. Do you expect feedback or a report from the trainer on how he’d rate your managers’ overall skills or ability to learn a new process? If so, include this in your scope of work.
You typically get the best results when a trainer visits your site and can see all the tools you have available. Managers tend to retain more information, plus the trainer can make additional recommendations for future training or resources. One note of caution: It can be a drawback if you’re using outdated software and tools at your site. This hampers the ability of each manager to be successful, so consider your in-house resources first.
The topics that can be included in your manager training are plentiful and can involve every aspect of self-storage operation. You may need to focus on just a few in the beginning, and then add more topics as the onsite team begins to see results from earlier sessions. Options include:
- Telephone and walk-in scripts
- Sales and demonstration techniques
- Calculating and improving sales-closing ratios
- Writing a budget and improvements plan
- Writing a marketing plan
- Conducting marketing campaigns and events
- Measuring marketing results
- Using management software
- Maintaining the physical property
You’ll need to determine which operational elements are the most critical to address. This can obviously affect the training time and impact your total price and terms. Some owners desire ongoing operational, marketing and sales training and pay a consultant quarterly, while others prefer one-time training on a specific item or topic.
The Final Decision
Once you make a decision on all of these factors, the trainer will put together a comprehensive package and offer a proposal that includes the cost and training timeline. Some in-house programs for new managers last up to two weeks.
Although many owners may feel comfortable training their own staff, they should consider the resources and experience an outside trainer can bring. In addition, a trainer will have a fresh perspective on a self-storage operation and can provide ideas for improving the business.
If you’re thinking about hiring an outside source to provide training to your new or existing employees, do your homework. There are a number of consulting companies in the industry offering a variety of programs. You’re sure to find one that will provide the training you need at a cost that’s right for your business. Good luck with your next training session!
Anne Ballard is president of training, marketing and developmental services for Universal Storage Group and the founder of Universal Management Co. She's a former president and current board member of the Georgia Self Storage Association and has served on the national Self Storage Association’s board of directors. She has participated in the planning, design and operation of numerous storage facilities. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.