by Mark Lusky
Running a self-storage business can feel daunting. First, there's a sizeable amount of space to lease, manage and maintain. And, while renting space itself is a simple business model, you're involved with personal possessions--an issue near and dear to many.
Because of the sometimes seemingly dizzying array of responsibilities tied to owning and operating a self-storage facility, there are going to be areas that receive less-than-optimum attention. Some issues, such as a few spots where paint is fading, need to be addressed--but it's not a do-or-die situation. Others, such as second-rate customer service or tenant contracts that don't provide adequate legal protection, can ultimately destroy your business.
With so much to pay attention to, where do you start? How do you prioritize? The answer is deceptively simple: Become your facility's latest prospect and customer. To maximize value, be as nitpicky and detail-oriented as possible. To help ensure covering the bases, consider recruiting a few friends or colleagues to serve as your mystery shopper focus group. Have them go through the sales and service process, and see what ideas and issues they bring to the table.
This group approach can be very helpful to check out different ways of handling the business relationship. For example, what about first contact? Some will go to Google Local and pull up your self-storage facility, likely along with others in the area. How do your reviews stack up the competition-or do they even exist? What other information may or may not encourage a prospect to do business with you?
Others will call. Does a live person answer? If so, how does that person rate in terms of handling the call? If not, what follow-up mechanism exists? Is this adequate, or does it propel the prospect to go down the street?
From there, continue through the signing up and storing process according to your preferences. Pay particular attention to the five C's:
-Caring. From first contact through signup and move-in, how well do people treat you? For most of us, one unpleasant or uncomfortable contact--such as a rude manager or call center person-is more memorable than a consistently pleasant experience. Bottom line: You're only as strong as your weakest link.
-Clarity. Are the rules of engagement clear? Is the contract straightforward, complete and understandable? Are signage and directions easy to follow? Do tenants know who and how to contact the right resources when needed? People have enough confusion and frustration in their lives. Make your facility easy to understand, from first contact through tenancy.
-Competency. Clarity and caring quickly get obscured if people receive inaccurate or incomplete information. The joy of that congenial manager can get lost if a gate, door, light, or alarm doesn't function properly. It's not unlike working out at a gym. If you have to get on multiple ellipticals to find one with a correctly working display and/or TV interface, it will negatively impact your overall impression of the club.
-Cleanliness. Home or workplace clutter often propels people to sign up at a self-storage facility. Although it may be subliminal, generally the last thing people want to see is clutter and trash around the property. This starts with the front office, extends to the grounds and other common areas, and includes the empty unit itself. Everything should look and feel as clean as possible--including the workforce and their clothing.
-Condition. Does your self-storage facility have curb appeal? Even the most spartan of surroundings can show well if structures are well-maintained. Extensive amounts of chipping paint or dented doors can send a negative message to would-be tenants. Security features that don't seem to be as secure or fully functional as they should be often get people asking, "If this doesn't work right, what else is wrong around here?" When you read a medication label with typos and grammar errors, doesn't it make you think twice about the quality of what's inside?
Taking the time to periodically review and evaluate your facility can minimize problems and help drive tenant loyalty and longevity.