Self-storage isn’t the “build it and they will come” business it was 20 years ago. It’s much more competitive and sophisticated now. To properly operate a facility, it takes data analytics, marketing expertise, exceptional customer service and even contractor-level maintenance knowledge. And that’s just to get through Tuesday!
I often see owners falling behind and making less money than they could because they’re holding onto the reins of their business too tightly. They won’t release day-to-day control to anyone, but they also don’t have the bandwidth to do everything, let alone do it well. This is kind of funny when you consider that some of them simply want to own storage, not manage it.
There are two realities every self-storage owner must accept: You likely can’t do everything yourself, and working with a team is better than going it alone. Outsourcing certain aspects of your business may be key to its success. It’s a fantastic way to make more money, have more time, and free yourself to do the work you most enjoy (or not do anything at all). It allows you to retain control of the operation while still being accountable for the results.
Think of it as a lake: You get to decide whether you dip your toe or take a full swim. Either way, you have people ready to help if you get in too deep. It’s like having arm floats for your self-storage business! You can outsource specific aspects to several vendors or hire an industry management company to handle it all. The choice is entirely yours.
What Can You Outsource?
Marketing. When you first start outsourcing, this is often a great place to begin, as marketing regularly drives revenue. When you interview potential vendors, make sure you get a clear picture of their plan for your business. Simply building a website isn’t enough. A good program includes online business listings, search engine optimization, social media, reputation management, and much more.
Accounting. This is among the first areas that come to mind when people think of outsourcing. Hiring a professional to handle these tasks allows you to focus on other parts of the business. When talking to candidates, make sure they understand your management-software program and how to handle self-storage finances. The last thing you want is someone to record your deposits without realizing they include sales tax, for example.
Human resources. To outsource your hiring and other staff needs, you need a vendor you trust to make decisions on your behalf. It should be able to handle recruiting, hiring and training. Good self-storage managers are critical to business success, so you want ones who are trained correctly and according to state and industry standards. Further, training shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but a constant review of all the tasks that must be performed correctly. Your partner might even handle payroll, benefits and more.
Maintenance. Outsourcing in this area may be a great solution for your self-storage property, depending on its age and the level of previous care. There are many companies that can help you with preventive services or fix things that are broken. If you’re still dealing with every door, lock and screw, it’s time to consider letting someone else handle the details of site upkeep.
Management. If you’d like to outsource all your day-to-day operations so you can focus on other pursuits, hiring a third-party management company is an excellent choice. They can handle everything—marketing, revenue management, hiring, maintenance, training, payroll, accounting and so on. They’re the ultimate partner, allowing you to own storage without it owning you.
When choosing a company, it’s important to find the right fit. There are many options, from real estate investment trusts to small, independent firms. Here are a few things to find out:
- Does the company adapt a “set it and forget it” approach to management, or are they aggressive and competitive, working every day for your business?
- Will they manage your store according its individual performance, or do they manage every asset the same way according to a set process?
- Who will oversee your site, and who looks at the data?
Any good management partner will conduct site visits and have strong systems and processes in place. The thing that really moves the needle, though, is the amount of attention your store ultimately receives.
When choosing self-storage vendors with which to outsource, there are several factors to consider. Of course, price will be one, but you must also like the company and its team. Plus, its staff should be knowledgeable and understand what you need.
Be very clear about your expectations, including timelines, deadlines and deliverables. Talk to each candidate more than once before hiring and ask them to explain their approach to the work until you fully understand it. Request references. Discuss how they’ll handle potential complications. Hopefully, your new partnership will be perfect, but no relationship is all sunshine and rainbows. If you pick a vendor you like, with employees who are smart and easy communicate with, nearly any problem can be worked out quickly and reasonably.
Finally, understand the service contract. Signing a long-term agreement might leave the vendor less inclined to work as hard unless there are stipulations to enforce their performance. A shorter contract, on the other hand, will entice the vendor to show you results.
As you begin your self-storage outsourcing journey, expect to experience some bumps and roadblocks along the way. Assume there’ll be a learning curve for all parties. Be prepared to communicate your needs and speak up if a vendor isn’t meeting them. As the owner, you’re in control, and it’s your job to keep everyone on the same page. In the end, when done right, outsourcing will create the facility performance you desired when you entered the business, while giving you the freedom to enjoy it.
Magen Smith is a co-founder of Atomic Storage Group, a boutique self-storage management company, and owner of Magen Smith CPA, an outsourced accounting firm specializing in self-storage. She’s also a partner in Safe Space Development, which builds self-storage properties. Magen started in the industry as a facility manager and has held nearly every operational role. She has a passion for the industry, helping owners improve their businesses, teaching asset management and conducting self-storage audits. To reach her, e-mail [email protected].