by Mark Lusky
No doubt you're aware of periodic negative self-storage reports. Recently, Inside Self-Storage detailed the detaining of an owner: "When police informed Westboro Self Storage owner Howard W. Cook about the serious nature of barricading a Verizon technician inside an airtight vault, the 71-year-old told them, 'That's not my problem,' investigators said. Cook is accused of locking the worker inside an underground vault during a dispute and faces several charges, including kidnapping. Police Chief Alan Gordon said the worker was in danger of running out of oxygen. 'We located the owner of the self-storage facility, but he didn't seem overly concerned,' Gordon said."
Then, there's the horror story about a frozen body, also reported by Inside Self-Storage: "The body of a missing California man was discovered recently inside a freezer in a self-storage unit at Ventura Mini Warehouse in Ventura, Calif. Jeffrey Korber, 60, had been missing for two years before a tip prompted police to search the unit."
Negative press also can tie to self-storage promotions. The Huffington Post weighed in on a self-storage company marketing units to those going through a divorce. The on-site banner, in an apparent attempt to be entertaining, pictures a couple just discovering that they might be related to one another. The Post comments, "So not only are they going through a divorce, they're also possibly related? Stick to self-storage and leave the copywriting and clip art selection to other people, guys." Much like a Jay Leno diss on his weekly "Headlines" segment, this certainly casts the facility in a less than optimum light.
So, what do you do (or NOT do) in these situations to recover from negative press?
The rule of thumb is to respond if/when you have something constructive to add to the conversation. Otherwise, you will generally appear defensive-and your efforts will just further propagate the negative reports. (However, some folks enjoy stirring the pot. Just be prepared to take some lumps along the way.)
Here are suggestions for each of the above scenarios:
The irate owner-Develop a statement addressing the issue head-on and transparently, along the lines of, "As you may be aware..." Then detail what steps the facility is taking to assure tenants, prospects AND vendors that this will never occur again, and apologize for the incident. While we all are growing weary of bad customer service, remedies shouldn't rise to the level of locking someone in a vault. Print out statement copies for on-site visitors, place it on the company website, spread it via social media, and if warranted, send the statement to the media. Addressing this straight up and being appropriately contrite will reassure people that this was an incident, not a "company policy."
Of course, if the owner wants to take the position that he was justified, it may be best to let it runs its course and hope for the best. Then, there's always the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" position that will stir controversy. Bottom line: Be honest and sincere, no matter what the position. Just know there will be plusses and minuses depending on how it's handled.
The frozen body-As this concerns an ongoing police investigation, likely the less said, the better. Do prepare information that staffers can hand out if/when asked about the discovery. In this way, employees don't get placed in awkward situations trying to answer questions. Other than that, let it go-unless there's an allegation that poor management or oversight led to the situation.
The "incest" promotion-Unless the owner is strongly invested in the campaign (and is willing to take his/her lumps as a consequence), discontinue it. If negative reports persist, the owner can always address it by saying words to the effect of, "In an effort to inject some humor into the situation, we now concur that we did so in bad taste. We apologize to anyone we may have offended."
In the final analysis, remember that there are situations both within and beyond your control. As the "Serenity Prayer" suggests, have the wisdom to know the difference-and act accordingly.