If you are a self-storage facility manager, there is a strong likelihood that you have the same goals as every other type of working human: be successful and make money! But in the highly competitive self-storage industry, achieving those goals can be somewhat elusive, especially for new managers. As former self-storage managers and now involved at the corporate management and executive level with a combined nearly 30 years’ experience, we, Sarah Beth Johnson and Stacie Maxwell, share a unique insight by having worked in all levels of self-storage operations. That being said, one of the biggest interests we share is to help today’s self-storage managers reach their goals of being successful and making money. Here are our top six things that we know self-storage owners will appreciate their manager handling, leading to a more profitable facility and ultimately, more money in the owner’s and manager’s pockets.
- Property Maintenance- Nobody sees every inch of your property as much as you do, and as a manager you should know every nook and cranny. Keeping your property in great shape will help your owner avoid major maintenance issues, as well as allow you to charge a premium rate for your product. You should regularly check the hasps and springs on doors, keep gutters clear, and fix any leaks ASAP. When you do your walk-through be sure to spray any weeds, and look for any damage or issues with the fence line and buildings. Keep a small broom and dustpan with you to collect any trash and sweep out any vacant units immediately. Also, keep your golf cart clean and free of trash and maintenance tools and equipment. Remember its primary purpose is transporting people, not maintenance, and potential tenants don’t want to sit next to the day’s trash you just picked up, or hold the broom handle to prevent it from hitting them in the head. You can find inexpensive trailers that can attach to the golf cart for maintenance, that can be removed for showing your customers around the property.
- Keep Your Facility Website Up-to-Date- Studies and analysis show that the vast majority of self-storage shoppers nowadays are starting their research online. Therefore, your facility’s website must stay in tip-top shape in order to compete with the numerous other facilities in your community. At USG, over 40% of our leases come from the web, and that number is growing annually! Whether you are a smaller operator or a large one, making sure your website delivers current, informative content and valuable information about your property will increase revenue, because it will capture more leads and generate more leases. More leases mean the potential for the manager to earn a bigger bonus as well as increase the property’s value, which the owner will appreciate. To make the most of your web presence, you can do several key things. Make sure your site has up to date professional photos on it. If a building is painted or added, update the photos! Pricing is key, too. Today’s customers want to see what your rates are as part of their shopping research. Not only must you show rates, but it is advisable to publish discounted or special rates as well – this has become an expectation among customers. Ideally, you will want to have the discounted price be the one in bolder font, as it will attract the customer’s eye. Put your best deals on top with wording like “today’s special” or “choice units”. Make sure your website is transaction-enabled so that customers can reserve or rent online to simplify their process and remain mindful of the contactless service that has become the norm. A great website should be mobile friendly, too, as USG’s statistics show that over 70% of all web rentals are people who shop and reserve or rent from their phones versus a desktop computer. And, as a bonus tip - ask for those Google reviews! People pay attention to them and consider the reviews as strongly as they would a referral from a friend.
- Watch Your Market, Adjust Your Street Rates, and Know Your Competition – Your Street Rate is the published price for any given available unit at your property. This is not a contract-bound rate, so you are fully able to adjust that published rate up or down as the market dictates. Being mindful of market demand and pricing and adjusting your rates to match can help increase revenue, so watch those street rates daily. These published storage rates are meant to be fluid and change often. So many owners don’t do this simple task and they leave so much money on the table. But, don’t just reply on website rates when checking out your market. It will serve you best if you go the extra mile and physically shop your competitors, too. Some managers feel that this can be tricky, but with a little prep-work you can convert most “enemy managers” into “friendly confidantes” with a simple gesture of goodwill. Consider taking a pizza and soft drinks to the competition at lunchtime – it works because it’s a time when most managers are scrambling to figure out what and when to feed themselves while dealing with customers who stop by on their own lunch breaks. How many cold lunches have you had to endure due to customer visits? Show up to your competition with a big smile and a hot lunch, and just sit and chat with them about their site and whatever else. You will be surprised how much market knowledge you can gain by just being a good neighbor. You can learn about each other’s differences and similarities, and you can leverage this knowledge to sell your facility as well as recommend the competition when the customer in front of you is simply not a good fit for your facility or you do not have what they need. You’ll be pleased to know that even if you are not able to lease to the customer, the customer will still favor you and your facility and be proud to recommend you to others because of your willingness to help them, even if that meant sending them to another location.
- Always Be Marketing – Yes, with the pandemic and so many restrictions upon us all, Marketing is different these days. The days of big friendly smiles and warm handshakes are gone (hopefully temporarily). But you can still send out a hand written notecard to each of your tenants with your logo on it, and your Google review request card and referral cards enclosed. When Is the last time you received a handwritten note in the mail? Consider starting a Business of the Month program where you highlight one local small business in your email blasts and social media posts. Maybe host a Zoom event once a week or once a month with a featured speaker to teach people something valuable like cooking, tax preparation, crafts, or even story time for the kids…. Ask your Businesses of the Month to be a part of this online event and have some sort of giveaway too. It may take several repeat events but eventually the program will get noticed and recommended, and your tenants and community will begin to look for your events and tell others to join as well. And all of this publicity will only cost you the price of a Zoom account and a little virtual elbow grease. Another important thing you can do now is find ways to give back to your community in highly visible, positive activities like food drives, coat drives, blanket drives, toy drives, school fundraisers, and more. There are a lot of important needs going unfulfilled out there, and all of these can be done all year long, not just at the holidays. Other creative yet safe marketing activities include virtual scavenger hunt events with clues that lead back to your facility for a safely-presented prize for a completed hunt list, hidden treasures (think painted rocks) with marketing messages to post to social media with your branded hashtag, and virtual-voting coloring or costume contests hosted on your social media channels. Get creative while being safe – because at the end of the day, when someone needs self-storage in your area, your brand is who you want potential customers to think of first, regardless of how they heard about you to begin with!
- Sell Those Boxes and Enroll Every New Lease with Tenant Insurance - Box sales bring the owners a 55% markup, generally, so this is a natural upsell to add to your facility’s bottom line, and to your bonus potential. Offer free contactless curbside pickup for their box and supply order, or even provide contactless drop-off delivery of their orders within a 10-mile radius when they purchase more than $XX worth – whatever sales threshold makes sense for your facility and your ability. Make sure you are helping the customer visualize their stuff packed correctly into the proper size box as you are showing them the unit and when discussing your box and supply offerings in the showroom. Explain why they need different size boxes, such as smaller boxes for heavy items and larger boxes for lighter items, and why bubble wrap and protective coverings are an investment in the protection of their stored property. Ask for the sale, or just say, “Why don’t you take a few home with you to get started because I know how packing can be overwhelming if left to do all at once? You can always come back for more later if you need them.” Flex your packing and storing knowledge to help the customer make good solid choices on what to buy and why. They will appreciate your sincerity when they realize you are trying more to help them than to sell to them. Offer a bundle discount on boxes, and a box buyback program to buy back new, unused retail-ready boxes that they did not need – this can help offset the fear of buyers’ remorse or overspending before it ever happens, leading them to buy many more boxes than they might have otherwise. And, we all know you always end up needing more boxes than you think you do, anyway! For tenant insurance, consider first that in many states, tenants having some form of insurance protecting their stored property is a material condition of the rental agreement. With something so important, it is especially helpful to every customer if you take the few minutes to explain your tenant insurance program’s pay-with-rent convenience and the benefits of having it rather than using your homeowners or renters’ policy, which might not cover their stored property. Selling tenant insurance is a win-win for the facility and the owners because the facility is better protected against tenant loss claims, and the owners can earn 25-30% or more back from each policy each month as income. The more insurance policies you get signed up with your leases, the more money your owner makes, and in turn, so will you!
- Perform Regular Tenant Rate Increases - Don’t be afraid to raise existing tenant rates! We have found that people will not move out if you raise their rates just a little each year. Monitoring your tenant rates as compared to your current street rates will show you how much of a variance there is, and increasing those tenant rates that are 10% or more below the current street rate can help close that gap and increase the property value. We schedule a tenant rate increase for every eligible tenant, every 270 to 300 days. But there are some nuances that are taken into consideration, and you should never bump prices too high too quickly. A simple 3% increase cycled for all eligible tenants can increase your overall facility value by a large margin over the course of a year. And when you are processing tenant rate increases, you may consider leaving yourself some negotiating room. Not all tenants will call to refuse or negotiate the rate increase, but for those that do, be prepared to strike a bargain with them, especially when they have been a long-term tenant in good standing. You’ll want to keep those “gold star” customers around longer, so be mindful of their increases and be ready to work with them to keep them happy. Consider cutting the increase in half for this cycle, and then see where it falls the next time they are eligible for a rate increase. A tenant who pays on time reliably and stays for a long time is worth far more than the one who is paying a higher rental rate, but never on time and ends up going to auction, costing you time, energy, and auction sale processing fees.
Most of all, in the self-storage industry, a happy manager is a productive manager. Nothing kills morale faster than an owner or operator’s lack of interest in the manager’s wellbeing, engagement, and capability. Owners and operators that have a bonus program and a benefits package will find that managers will work harder for them, because they appreciate the opportunity. Give managers monthly bonuses based on sales and keeping costs down. People love to know they can earn more money, and will strive to do so. Also, owners and operators will do well to listen to their managers… they are the ones dealing with the customers and are part of the community representing the brand. It should be an owner or operator’s goal to empower their managers and give them the tools to treat the facility as if it was their own business and something to take pride in.
And on the other side of that table, Managers should be mindful that they are the front-line representatives and stewards of a multi-million-dollar business, and as such, everything they do and say should reflect that prestige and position. Always act professionally and maintain the facility’s dignity and brand integrity in every situation. It’s much easier to sell a well-maintained, clean, nice product than one that is not kept up to date or allowed to become dirty or neglected. Following the steps outlined above can help every manager make the most of their position, while creating opportunity for both their owner and themselves to earn more money as well.
Stacie Maxwell is Vice President, Marketing and Training for Universal Storage Group (USG), and oversees the branding, design, marketing-program planning and implementation for the company, including the USG portfolio of 70+ storage facilities, as well as the marketing and internal/public communications for USG corporate. With 20+ years of experience in the storage industry, Stacie also works closely on USG’s facility-development and transition projects, and is responsible for driving the company’s award-winning 4-Phase Manager Training program and New Store Startup teams. Stacie enjoys speaking at industry events and contributing to industry publications when she is not busy thinking of creative and engaging ways to educate her teams to help keep USG a continual industry Top Operator. http://www.linkedin.com/in/staciemaxwell/
Sarah Beth Johnson is the Client Development Specialist for Universal Storage Group and is the front-line representative for introducing the USG to self-storage facility owners and investors. She helps with feasibility studies and contract negotiation, and is currently serving her second-term as a board member for the Georgia Self Storage Association where she also serves on the Charity and Membership committees. After starting her storage career in 2012 as a facility manager then transitioning to the corporate management level, Sarah Beth is well-qualified to usher USG’s new clients from contract signing to opening or takeover, answering questions and concerns along the way. She is also responsible for ensuring that USG’s brand and services are positively represented in person at tradeshows, and at national and state association events. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-beth-johnson-7393bbb6