As a self storage facility manager or owner, you are consistently evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in a given market. Over the last few years self storage markets have become more competitive than ever before. Conditions such as weak real estate marketing, an excessive supply of self storage in many areas, and a less than predictable economy have left many managers and owners scratching their heads. With these conditions hanging over the head of a number of self storage facilities, the efficient management of your facility has never been more important. Most facility managers and owners have already taken the steps to cut back on unnecessary items that weigh on expenses. As a manager or owner you may make one less trip to the office supply store, maybe you are taking your employees out to lunch less, and maybe you are even cutting your facility's lawn yourself. Once you have trimmed down most of the items you deem to be an excess, what's left? Now is the time to creatively manage your facility. In order to become more creative in managing and selling your facility consider focusing on the following items: Have I hired the right staff for my facility? Have I created a marketing plan that is not only creative but economically feasible? What if I have multiple facilities in a given area?
In order to creatively manage your facility you must have a staff willing and able to do this. One of the most important aspects of running any business, but storage in particular is hiring the right manager to manage your facility. When you start the search for someone to handle your facility, start by doing some investigative work. Visit the competition in your market and make notes of the things you liked and disliked about the managers operating these stores. Once you have some candidates review their resumes and invite them for an interview. Does the candidate give off a good feeling? Are they pleasant? Do they have a sense of humor? Do they know the market area? Would you personally rent a unit from this person? All of these are intangibles that raise a consumer's comfort level, and if the consumer is comfortable, they will be more likely to rent from your facility. Along with intangibles, does the candidate have any skills? As the storage industry evolves, technology becomes a greater part of day-to-day operations. Does the candidate understand how to use a computer? Do they have any problems answering the phone or making delinquency calls? Are they able to handle minor accounting? All of these items are part of the makings of a successful manager and can affect the potential of your investment. You can train someone how to run a computer or clean a vacant unit, what you cannot train is intangibles such as personality, sense of humor, and attitude. Remember you are hiring this person to SELL your facility, not just to sit back and collect payments.
Once you have hired the manager for your facility you can now focus on putting marketing dollars to good use. Creative management is not putting a circus in the front of your facility or always "thinking outside of the box". The idea is to create and implement creative marketing ideas that not only differentiate you from your competition but which are economically feasible as well. One of the most important marketing tools you have is the people that already rent from you. Now most mangers or owners will say "Well we already have a referral program". That may be true but how well are you cultivating it. Explaining to your customers about a referral program won't necessarily have them running into the streets to tell their friends or family. Referrals come down to how well you take care of your customers. Consider handing out bottles of water during the summer months and offering coffee and hot chocolate during the winter months to your customers. This accomplishes two distinct goals. One, it allows you to help keep customers hydrated during the summer or warm during the winter, something they won't soon forget. Second, it gives you an idea of what the tenant may be storing. Consider sending out welcome and thank you letters to your tenants. How often can you remember getting a welcome or thank you letter from anyone you have done business with? During the holidays consider using a special for people who need to store Christmas gifts. Along with the holiday special designate one storage unit as a "Santa's Helper Unit", complete with a table, wrapping paper, scissor's, and tape. Another idea is to print $5.00 coupons to hand out to your customers during times you deem necessary. If you are on the phone with a potential customer and a current customer walks in to make a payment, instead of putting on hold a potential customer, just hand your current customer a $5.00 coupon. The current customer will be happy you didn't let them slip into oblivion and hopefully your facility gained a new customer from the time on the phone. In addition, if your facility does not already have a web presence, get one. There are a number of internet companies that will reserve a domain name and give you access to a website builder for under $200.00 per year. Also, consider using a web based self storage lead generator. With a little research you can have your facility listed on a number of different self storage lead websites with a minimal cost to your facility.
A number of self storage facility owners have more than one location in a given area. One way to creatively manage these facilities would be to use smaller facilities as satellite locations. If you have a smaller facility in a given area which is within an acceptable distance to a larger, better staffed facility, consider using the smaller facility as a satellite location. The managers of the larger location should be able to integrate the operations of the smaller location into the operations of the larger location. While the integration of two facilities sounds difficult, most self storage management software has options to run multiple facility databases. If you have more than one large location, cross train your assistant managers so that they can manage multiple facilities. This handles two distinct issues, one it is usually easier to higher people for more hours and your assistants are already trained in the company's policy and procedures.
Creative management is about being efficient and effective with a facility's resources. Often trying a few new ideas may be more useful then waiving an administration fee or giving away a free lock to a new customer. Consider focusing on items which can make a direct impact on your facility's profitability such as hiring, marketing, and logistics. Remember it only takes one good idea to make a campaign successful. Don't be afraid to try different things and to make adjustments along the way. Sometimes focusing on a few items can make the difference between an average year and a blatantly successful one.
Matthew Van Horn is Vice President of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management. Cutting Edge Self Storage Management is a full service management company specializing in Management, Feasibility Studies, Consulting, and Joint Ventures within the self storage industry. For more information, contact Stephan Ross or Tammy Ross at 801.273.1267 or visit our website at www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com