Security…it’s still our risk!

Owners and managers must not lose sight of the overarching contractual and legal obligations regarding site security. An unusually high level of illegal activity has occurred in self storage businesses across Australia in the past few weeks highlight this need for vigilance. Fortunately the industry generally experiences relatively few incidents but it seems October and November has been a particularly active period for such nefarious conduct. A number of sites in Melbourne have experience burglaries, a facility in Queensland has had some units damaged from a suspicious fire and another unit in Queensland was found to be rented by a person involved in the illegal drug trade who was storing firearms and large sums of cash. In effect this is more illegal activity than the industry normally experiences in a year…all in a matter of weeks.

On the positive side, action taken by the Self Storage operators concerned, particularly in the Melbourne case, greatly assisted the police in arresting the perpetrators and bringing the issue to a close in a relatively short time period. While the events surrounding the arrest of the group in Melbourne were covered extensively by the media, there has been no mention that the burglaries were carried out at self storage facilities. This is a timely reminder that owners and operators, and the industry as a whole, cannot relax with security measures.

Importantly all sites should be copying photo ID of all new customers as a minimum. Staff should be trained to monitor customers that access units at unusual times or frequencies, and certainly keep an eye out for people who rent a unit but don’t appear to move good in, particularly if they are still accessing the premises. Security vision is not just there to look good on the monitors in reception; the footage should be reviewed regularly, particularly if you have out of hours access on the site.

It is now apparent that some self storage businesses are moving away from standard 24 hour access for this very reason. Technology allows us to be able to grant extended access to individual clients if we choose. So rather than offering 24 hour access for everyone, consider the options. Perhaps have a policy that allows extended access to those that demonstrate a genuine need for it, and maybe even charge extra for it. THe Association has a watch list that was developed in conjunction with the Police authorities which highlights what to look for in regards to potential criminal activity at a self storage business. This list is available from the Resources section of the SSAA website and you and your staff should be familiar with it. Report any suspicious activity to your local police station.

Over the year the Association has developed a good relationship with both the AFP and local law enforcement. There is now a greater understanding within these government departments about how self storage works and that we cannot grant access to a Storer’s space under standard self storage. The police have also come to the Association on occasion looking for individuals who might have had storage and we have been able to communicate these requests to business in the areas concerned. It is the long-term interest of the Association and the industry to maintain such good working relationships with law enforcement agencies.

gary headshot
Gary Vick
SSAA Chairman

Pay per click tips

Did you know that you could be paying lots more for your ‘pay per click’ advertising with Google than your competitors even if you are bidding on the same words?

It’s all to do with another one of Google’s mysterious algorithms, this one is known as the Quality Score. Google understand that to maintain their massive advertising revenue they need to make their advertisements as attractive to users as possible. If people click on their paid ads and end up somewhere they do not want to be, then they are likely to stop clicking on the paid ads. No clicks means no advertising revenue. So Google don’t just want to sell their adwords to the highest bidder, they want to also make sure the person who clicks on that ad also gets what they want or in technical terms, increase the click-through rate.

Essentially if they don’t think your website is as relevant to your keywords as your competitors, then they may charge you more money for those key words. This who concept is tied together with the Quality Score of your website against the keywords you are bidding on.

What is the Google Quality Score?
Every time someone does a search that triggers your ad, Google calculates a Quality Score. To calculate this Quality Score, they look at a number of different things related to your account such as:
– Your keyword’s past click-through rate (CTR): How often that keyword led to clicks on your ad;

– Your display URL’s past CTR: How often you received clicks with your display URL;

– Your account history: The overall CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account;

– The quality of your landing page: How relevant, transparent, and easy-to-navigate your page is;

– Your keyword/search relevance: How relevant your keyword is to what a customer searches for;

– Geographic performance: How successful your account has been in the regions you’re targeting;

– Your ad’s performance on a site: How well your ads been doing on this and similar sites (if you’re targeting the Display Network);

– Your targeted devices: How well your ads have been performing on different types of devices (you get different Quality Scores for different types of devices).

The Quality Score you have for particular keywords is constantly re-evaluated and rather than showing you a constantly changing Quality Score, Google displays a single Quality Score updated less frequently that gives you an estimate of that keyword’s overall quality. Quality Scores are rated from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most relevant ads for those keywords.

How does the Quality Score affect my advertising?
Google wants to display more relevant ads, even if they do not earn as much money for them, as their long-term success depends on their ads being relevant for users. So if you have a high Quality Score then your ad will be placed more frequently at the top end of the paid listings than one with a low Quality Score. This means it is more likely to be viewed by potential customers. What’s more, Google will charge you less for this ad if you have a higher score: A higher quality score gets you a better placement at a cheaper rate.

Improving your Quality Score
As with any of the Google algorithms the Quality Score calculation is extremely complicated and constantly refined by Google. This means it usually requires a combination of changes to make a big difference to your scores. However, one of the simplest things you can look at to make a difference, is your landing page. The landing page you have for you ad should be as relevant to that particular ad as possible. Many people simply send all their ads to their homepage, but creating customised landing pages for your specific adwords campaigns could be more beneficial. Your homepage tends to be fairly generic and relatively low on content. If you create a customised landing page you can make sure it includes all the relevant words that are in your ad and your key words.

A good example of this would be if your self storage business is located in Bundoora, you might also be bidding on self storage Thomastown as a key word (as Thomastown is the adjoining suburb). The problem is that your homepage just talks about Bundoora, so Google will judge it as less relevant. If you create a landing page just for this ad you can fill it with content about storing in Thomastown which Google will judge as more relevant, hence improving your Quality Score. All the links on the landing page can then go back to your normal website information and booking, but the landing site will have content that is pertinent to the words you are bidding on. This means that you could have multiple landing sites for your multiple adwords campaigns.

The other thing to consider when building your landing sites is how well they perform on mobile devices and tablets. More and more people are using these devices to search the internet and Google assesses how well sites display on a variety of devices as part of the Quality Score. This suggests that they may rank mobile friendly sites higher when people search from mobile devices.

Your account score
While Google will show you an individual Quality Score for every one of your ad campaigns, they also have an overall score for your whole account. This means that if you have some really low scores on your account as well as high ones, your overall score is being dragged down by your poorest performing campaigns. If any of your campaigns have a score of 3 or lower, then pause or cancel them – changes are they are not giving you a good return on investment anyway.

Work on your lowest quality score campaigns and if you can’t improve their scores then seriously consider how important they are to your overall account. Ultimately you want all your campaigns to have a high Quality Score and this will give your account a higher score overall resulting in better value for your money.

Avoid using broad match
When setting up your adwords, account Google defaults to broad match. What this means is that Google will attempt to show your ad to anyone who searches that keyword or any variation of the keyword Google thinks might be related. Unfortunately Google thinks a lot of things ‘might’ be related to self storage, like shipping containers for example. Broad match usually means you will get more junk clicks which you pay for. Most of your campaigns should be set up using phrase match. This means a search must include the phrase you’ve designated in the search.

For instance, if you bid on the term ‘Bundoora storage unit’, your ad will only appear when someone searches ‘storage unit Bundoora’ or ‘self storage unit in Bundoora’. They need all the words in their search. Your ad would not display for ‘self storage Bundoora’ as the word unit was not in the search. Also consider using the negative keyword function to knock out irrelevant words like ‘food storage units’ or ‘cold storage units’.

Google adwords are a great way to market your self storage business online, but like any marketing program you need to monitor, measure and adapt it to suit your business needs. Particularly as more and more businesses bid for the same keywords make sure you are getting the most out of your adwords account.

The culture of discounting

Have you noticed that everything appears to be ‘on special’ these days. It seems no one is paying full price for anything anymore and most consumers now expect a discount on almost everything they buy. We have a culture of discounting and are moving towards what is common place in Asia and the Middle East, haggling on price over everything.

I remember when I bought my first car. It was a ’73 mustard yellow Corolla and I spent what seemed like ages haggling with the seller to save myself a few dollars on the price. In the end I drove away with my prized possession straight to a car audio shop to pay full price on a pumping car stereo and some seat covers. If had even though about asking for a discount on the car stereo, the sales guy would have probably just laughed at me. These days if you pay the full price for any electronics then you are probably being robbed and you can usually cut 5-10% off the price just by asking, even at major retailers.

First there were the rug sales, 70% off everything. Then there was curtains and blinds, 50% off or second set free. Now every second ad on TV is talking about discounting a product or having something on sale. The important thing is, I don’t think this is genuinely being driven by customer demand; it is driven by the retailers continually offering discounts, so much so, that now the consumer expects them. The result is sales staff that are in a discount mentality, offering discounts as part of the normal sales process, without even waiting for the customer to ask for one and certainly not considering whether they need to.

I encountered this when I took my family to the beach for a week to a small coastal town in Gippsland. During this holiday my wife accidentally broke me daughters laptop screen, so off I went with my daughter to the nearest major town to buy her a replacement. I won’t name the retailer we went to but it was a major national brand. The sales guy was very helpful, letting my daughter use Windows 8 to get used to it, showing her how it worked and giving her time to decide on what she wanted. When we finally chose a computer – I was happy with the service – and I figured that while maybe I could save a few dollars on the sale by bargaining, the price was reasonable and less than I expected to pay in rural Victoria, so I said I’d take the product and followed the sales guy to the payment counter.

We get to the counter, he punches the details into the computer and says, “I can do it for a bit cheaper if you like, how about $xxx?” Well obviously I didn’t say “No, I really want to pay the higher price” and so he just gave away some of his profit. Maybe he thought that would make me a more loyal customer, but he knew we were from out-of-town on holidays so we weren’t likely to be back any time soon.

I had committed to buying the product and had not even mentioned the price…so why discount it at the point of sale?

Unfortunately we have seen this kind of approach when ‘mystery shopping’ self storage businesses as well. On some calls, the salesperson mentioned the price before the shopper has even enquired about it, often something along the lines of “that sized unit is $150 a week, but I can do it for $140 for you” all in one sentence. What’s more, by the time they get off the phone the price is even lower. If you are willing to give away that price to everyone, why not just start there.

Don’t think that if you offer a discount up front that will stop the customer asking for more, it is more likely to encourage them to haggle with you as you have just declared that discounting is the go here. If you are particularly unlucky it may also inspire them to call up the last place they rang and see if they can get a better deal from them. If they are a genuine price shopper then they don’t care how long it took them to get your best price, they just wan to compare it to everyone else’s. No matter how you look at it there is no point in opening with a price and then immediately discounting it.

All the research done across the world says that price is not the major driver for self storage, but one of a combination of factors including; security, location, access and relationship with staff. This does not mean that people shopping for self storage won’t try to get a discount, of course they will! The reality is they have probably already decided where they want to store and are trying to get the best price at that place, or they are trying to get some leverage from you, so they can take your price to where they really want to store their goods.

That’s not to say there is not a role for discounting in self storage, it is after all mostly a retail business, however there is usually a time and place to look at cutting the price. It may be because you have an abundance of that kind of unit, or for that particular customer discounting will genuinely give you an edge to get them over the line. It could also be a way of getting them on board and then selling them some insurance or packaging products at full retail.

It’s all about pricing for purpose, considering why you are offering a discount and not just becoming a contributor to the discount mentality.

Why you should regularly inspect your self storage units

Conducting unit inspections at your facility is a key part of monitoring your site. Sometimes the task can seem too large to tackle and it gets put on the shelf. Your site and aspects that make up the site as a whole (such as your units) are what make you an income, so it’s vital that they be controlled and monitored where possible.

Unit inspections involves inspecting the property to verify the status of each and every unit. It should naturally be your standard practise that all units are locked or sealed with a company tie at all times. You wouldn’t leave a store open after you leave for the day, and storage units are no different in that respect. Locking or sealing empty units is so important for may reasons:
– It give the impression that your site is secure
– It reduces the likelihood of a customer moving out without your knowledge
– It stops customers or strangers taking an extra unit without paying for it
– It eliminates the very real problem of a new customer potentially moving into the wrong unit

There have been incidents where a customer mistakenly moved into the wrong unit (because customers sometimes do the wrong thing, and the staff made an oversight), and down the track that customer did not pay their rent and basically disappeared. The owners at the site decided to sell up the customer (following the SSAA’s procedure) and it was later discovered that the customer in arrears had moved into the wrong unit and therefore another (paying) customer’s goods were sold up in error. You do not want costly mistakes like this to happen, and the only way to counter this is to be vigilant.

Other benefits of locking or sealing empty units include:
– Avoiding losing revenue through fault of your own
– Ensuring correct use of overlocks
– Knowing daily lock checks are being completed by staff
– Knowing that no damage is being left unnoticed

Performing unit inspections
Set aside a good allotment of your time for the inspections. Get staff to help you open all unoccupied units and inspect these all in one go, quickly and efficiently. Tick them off as you go. Inspect through the eyes of a customer. They would not want to see any sign of infestation, cobwebs, leakage, mould, faulty doors or dirt and neither do you! Make sure you also check-off the following:
– All unoccupied units are locked with a company lock and are in presentable clean condition ready to be rented
– All rented units have a tenant lock in place
– The lock and the door are secured correctly
– Overlocks are present if the unit is unpaid
– Doors are in good condition indicating proper use
– There are no units that are supposed to be vacant with non-company locks or seals on them

In addition to inspecting every unit, you should also have in place a ‘weekly lock check’. This can be done very quickly – it involves walking through the facility to see if there is a lock on each space. If this goes well, you can bypass checking the remainder of the vacants. However if you find more than one of these unoccupied units to have some sort of problem, then you should inspect all unoccupied units to discover if this is a problem with a pattern.

What to do about…
1. Finding unidentified goods in a unit that is listed as vacant
This could mean that a customer has decided to get ‘a bit of extra space’ because their unit would not fit all their possessions. This is easily checked against your records and you can remove the items after you have checked your records and are certain this is an unsolicited move in. Goods left in another unit or common area under the current standard storage agreement can be disposed of accordingly. However, you MUST be certain that these goods are not just left in the wrong space (i.e. they are not actually covered by an agreement).

2. Finding a customer lock on a unit that is meant to be vacant
This definitely requires a further investigation from you. Is it a computer glitch? Did a customer accidentally move into unit 301 instead of 311? Does this mean the storage agreement in your files is wrong? Is it squatters? Keep digging until you find the answer to this puzzle, and in the meantime you can always over lock the door.

3. Company units
Sites have been known to allow managers to use a unit for their own personal use, however there should be an agreement for company units. Any space being used for any purpose should have an agreement. Some managers have used units as a practise area for drums (not allowed at home perhaps?) and some just use it to store golf or other large equipment that does not fit into their apartment or house. On the other hand it might be a unit that is used for company storage such as cleaning suppliers, electrical items and excess stationery.(Note: a manager’s personal items should not be in the same unit as the company’s items).

Either way, you might consider that while it is handy to have these units close to the office they might serve better in a less desirable position, so you can rent out this prime location. Company storage units should be tidy and it should be easy to take inventory of what’s inside.

Depending on the results of your unit inspection, it could lead to a review of your procedures and is a good time to reaffirm staff’s responsibilities and follow-through. Conduct another unit inspection at a later date to see if any issues and problems have been resolved to your satisfaction and don’t forget to communicate your expectations to your staff.

Technology is not always a time saver

There is so much new technology coming out all the time it’s hard to keep up. Just when you were getting your head around email, now there is Facebook messaging, Twitter, Pinterest and who knows what will come up next…

Rather than become overwhelmed by it all, maybe consider the old adage it is better to do what you do well, than do more poorly. So rather than try to hit every new medium, pick some you are familiar with or you think will be effective for your business and execute them well. Social media is a classic example and if you want to be active in this field then it takes time and resources. You need to be posting new content and feeds all the time, which means thinking about creative things to be saying, working out where your client base ‘hangs out’ and how to access them, and how to convert your ‘friends’ into customers.

Hootsuite
While it can certainly provide great results it does take work. If you are going to venture into social media then consider using software like hoot suite. This allows you to post messages to all your social media streams (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more) through a single post. What’s even better is that you can write these posts and then set them to be released in the future through the scheduling feature. This means you can write a whole stream of posts and set them up to go out during the week automatically.

Just be careful you don’t get caught out by current events that occur after you have scheduled a message. Hootsuite is free for the basic version which will be suitable for most users and only a few dollars a month for the advance version which allows you more social network feeds and advanced features. Remember though, you still have to write the content and posit it, so if you don’t have the time or ability to do this then stay out of social networks as there is nothing worse than having a stale account on social networking where people can see that you are not using it.

Email
There has been a lot said recently about the death of email, yet there are still around 15.5 billion emails sent around the world each day. Imagine if we sent that many letters by traditional mail! OK, so only about 14% of these emails are considered important by end users, but that’s still over 2 billion emails a day and there are only 7 billion people. Obviously people from all walks of life are still using email, in fact despite the increase in social media, email is still the communication method that reaches more people.

The real change is that many people now consider email slow, relying on their instant Facebook and Twitter notifications instead. People may only clear their emails a few times a day, even if they are mobile, while they will jump straight onto their social media feeds. So don’t write off communication with potential and exiting clients using email. Play to its strengths; you can usually provide more detail in an email, you can be creative with the layout, but be careful with attachments as more and more email clients are dropping them off as potential virus threats, and most mobile devices won’t download them unless requested by the user.

Make sure you view your emails on a web mail client like Gmail or Hotmail as a test run, particularly if you are using fancy styles and colours as often messages that look fine in outlook are unreadable on web mail, and a lot more people view their emails through the web rather than paying for software like outlook.

Google Ad-words
Google ad-words can be viewed as the next yellow pages. Everyone says you have to be in it, and once you get in, the costs seem to keep escalating without any real benefit in returns. The cost of some self storage based keywords have more than tripled over the last 18 months, and that’s not because they are providing better results, just because more self storage businesses are bidding for them.

Just like with the old yellow pages, there reaches a point where it is simply not economically viable to spend that much money advertising in a single stream. Particularly when most key word advertising is only targeting people who have chosen to use self storage and you are not actually attracting new customers to the industry and expanding your marketing. If you are going to get into Google ad-words, then make sure you spend the time on it.

Keep monitoring the effectiveness and price of the words you are bidding on, look for words that target your local market and those that other operators are not bidding on, consider misspelt words and other anomalies that can sometimes provide great results. Remember if an ad-word is a quarter of the price then it only needs to have a quarter of the results to be equivalent to an expensive term. Unlike the yellow pages ad-words is not a ‘set and forget’ thing that you do once a year. You need to be constantly monitoring and tweaking it to make it run effectively.

There is no doubt that to be a successful self storage business in today’s technological world you need to have a strong web presence. However your don’t necessarily need to be strong in every single stream. You can concentrate on one or two, do them well and reap the rewards. There are some very successful businesses with basically no web presence as such, they do all their work in social media and vice versa.

You need to decide what is best for your business, who is going to look after it and how much resources you are willing to allocate to it. Remembering that people’s time is a resource that costs you money and often these mediums can be very time-consuming methods of marketing your business.

Make sure whatever you do, you do it well and you will reap the rewards.

What is more important? Attitude or qualifications?

It’s no secret that hiring staff is an expensive business. The loss of productivity with the departure of a highly capable staff member, the recruitment campaign – from placing the advertisement, screening applications, interviewing, reference checking, contract formulation and getting the new employee ‘up to speed’ is both time-consuming and costly. None of these costs begin to consider the possibility that the new hire isn’t the right fit for the company’s culture and the risk that the whole process may have to be repeated.

Mark Murphy, the author of the best-selling book, ‘Hiring for Attitude’ makes reference to research that demonstrates that of those people who fail in roles within the first eighteen months of employment, 89% of the reason for the failure is due to attitudinal deficiencies and only 11% is due to a lack of required skills to do the job. Ultimately, he demonstrates that attitude and not skill is the top predictor of success or failure for an individual in a new role.

Consider the case of a potential front line employee for your storage facility. Do you hire the individual with ten years of similar work experience and suitable qualifications, but a seemingly chequered history in terms of stability (a number of different companies over that time)? Or do you opt for an individual with limited relevant work experience, who seems to be brimming with motivation to learn, can demonstrate the ability to be innovative, collaborate with team mates, handle feedback and coaching and, instinctively appears to be a good fit for the company’s culture?

Why focus on Attitude?
1. What you know changes, who you are doesn’t.

Hiring people with the right experience but the wrong attitude and expecting that they will successfully integrate into the company’s culture is foolhardy. Individuals can always be taught more skills, but it’s almost impossible to change innate traits they demonstrate (i.e. being overly competitive or not being a team player in the workplace).

2. You can’t find what you’re not looking for.
Analyse the personal characteristics of some of the top performers in your current workforce. If they are thriving (increased telephone query conversions to sales etc), ask yourself why and look to hire new individuals who exhibit similar traits.

3. The best way to evaluate potential staff is to watch them work.
Steer away from traditional interviewing techniques that reaffirm what you already know from the individual’s resume (their previous work history). Simulate ‘real’ job tasks and give the individual a set time to perform the task and then evaluate their success and potential suitability for your job vacancy.

4. You can’t hire those who don’t apply.
This concept is a again related to that of analysing the traits of your top performers. The mindset they possess has enabled them to succeed in your business. Don’t be shy to use this to your advantage. Seek referrals from current staff as to their friends or acquaintances who may be looking for work. Your top performers are likely to interact socially with like-minded individuals.

How to recruit for attitude?
The question then remains, how do you alter your current recruiting processes to ensure that you focus on ‘hiring for attitude’ and ‘training for skill’? How indeed do you avoid falling into the trap of hiring for experience vs. hiring for the right mindset? Again a check list provides a useful reference guide.

1. Advertise for specific qualities you are looking for in the job.
Try to gauge an individual’s passion for the role they have applied for. What is it about the self storage industry and the desire to provide exceptional customer service to storers that excites them? Perhaps ask them to describe what such exceptional customer service might look like.

2. Engage behavioural interviewing techniques.
Ask questions that demand the interviewee detail examples of where they have provided exceptional customer service; times they have bent rules or flexed company policies to exceed customer expectations. Challenge them with questions that perhaps catch them off guard and illustrate attitudinal traits. For example: Describe a time when your sense of humour helped you get out of a sticky situation, or what is your personal motto?

3. Induct, train and performance manage.
Give your new employee the best chance of success in their new role. Provide them a solid induction, reinforcing the importance of converting initial sales enquiries and the revenue benefit of selling customers packaging materials and boxes. Train them how to use customer management systems like Sitelink, Storman and Winsen. Don’t keep them guessing as to how they are performing; give regular feedback and address any issues as soon as you become aware of them.

4. Consider ‘personality fit’ not just ‘experience fit’.
Technical competence for a job doesn’t guarantee longevity of employment for the benefit of both the individual and your company. What are the chances that the person you are considering employing will simply come to work to collect a pay check? Will they ‘fit’ the culture of your business?

Previous work experience has traditionally been given a disproportionate weighting in job interviews by employers, whereas a person’s attitude has been considered secondary. Convention suggests that this is important. Whilst not to be discounted, it’s useful to consider the employment mantra of some of the world’s most enduring companies. For instance Southwest Airlines has been operating on highly competitive American flight paths for the past 42 years. The airline has forged an enviable reputation as a carrier that continually differentiates on customer service as many of their competitors falter. Their employment mantra can be summarised as follows:
– Character before credentials
– Attitude over aptitude
– Hire people based on who they are first and what they know second

History suggests this mantra has service Southwest Airlines well; perhaps it could od the same for your self storage business? Food for thought at least!

Amended from ‘Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill’, Peter Carbonara

5 Lessons in Overcoming Crisis

I have been asked to write this to tell you of the lessons learnt and my experiences during the Christchurch earthquakes.The most significant thing for me was the effect these events had on my staff, family and customers. You can never understand this without living through it personally but these tips may help you prepare in some small way.

1. Be safe
The most important thing to remember in a natural disaster is to stay safe. This includes caring for those around you. Think very carefully before entering building and do not allow your staff to put themselves at risk either. Evaluate carefully before taking any action that may put anyone around you in danger.

2. Stay calm
Easer said than done I know, but as a manager or owner of a self storage facility you must remember that your staff and customers look to you for guidance in a time of crisis. Take a methodical approach to every action and simply keep moving (with caution) onto the next task at hand.

3. Be Compassionate
Those around you will perhaps react very differently to yourself and will have their own concerns about their families and possessions. I know myself that it was almost 5 hours before I could get to my son’s school which was in a very badly affected area. The pure joy of seeing him safe was overwhelming and his needs to be with me was the same. Remember, your staff will have these same concerns for their loved ones also.

4. Be realistic
It makes no sense to complain about the lack of phone coverage etc during a natural disaster. Essential services will be either stretched or damaged, so getting upset about it will only put you in an emotional state that is of no use to anyone. Do the best you can with what you have around you. It is your only sensible option and those around you will thank you for it. As a leader you need to try not to get caught up in things you have no control over.

5. Be prepared
We all moan and complain about checking our first aid kits etc, but please take it from me that these things are essential to getting you through a disaster. I suggest that you should have the following things at your facility, just in case:
– Stocked first aid kit
– At least 5 litres of drinking water
– Hard hats for you and your staff
– High visibility vests for you and your staff
– Torches with spare batteries
– Some simple packet food items like muesli bars, biscuits or similar
– A cheap gas cooker so that you can boil water if necessary

None of the above items are expensive and trust me when I say that you will need them. We had an elderly diabetic lady stranded at our facility on the day of our February 11th earthquake who desperately required food and water. Fortunately we were able to assist her because we had the necessary items on hand and readily available.

Talk to your staff about the possibility of a natural disaster event and even talk through their individual responsibilities. You never know when you may need it! I was very lucky to have great staff around me who, as luck would have it, had done personal training in this area. I would suggest that you will not all be that luck and at some point, may need to rely on your preparation and reserves.

On a brighter note, Christchurch is slowly getting itself together again. I firmly believe that in the years to come this city will be ‘the place to be’ in terms of a modern and well designed green city. Peoples houses are slowly being repaired now and the infrastructure is slowly being put to rights. It is a massive job though, for a city so small and of course there are a lot of (and in some cases, valid) disgruntled residents. It is fair to say that planning a route around this city is a hazard in itself, as the amount of closed roads and detours changes almost daily.

It is important to remember that ‘it is what it is’, and by being a little prepared and using some common sense you can get through.

Geoff Adams
Manager Storage King, Ferry Road – Christchurch

In Review – Inside Self Storage World Expo

The aura of Las Vegas proved irresistible for self storage facility operators and suppliers to industry who gathered at the Paris Hotel recently for the Inside Self Storage World Expo, run from March 31st to April 2nd. A contingent of Australian self storage operators and SSAA Service Members made the lengthy trip across the Pacific Ocean to attend the Expo and hear first-hand about the latest industry developments in America.

Opening Keynote – Systematic and Dynamic Self Storage Pricing
A training seminar conducted by Sitelink on the Sunday afternoon prior to the Expo’s commencement was followed by an informative opening session on the power of systematic and dynamic pricing to increase revenues and profits of self storage facilities. The session was presented by Dr Warren Lieberman, President of Veritec Solutions, a consulting and software development firm focused on helping companies optimise their pricing and revenue management capabilities.

Dr Lieberman spoke of the fact that when using price to stimulate demand, it’s important not to send incongruent messages about unit pricing to current and potential customers. By understanding current demand for different unit sizes and availability of same, an operator is less likely (for example) to offer a 50% discount on a unit size in scarce supply. He demonstrated that modest price increases can lead to significantly larger positive impacts on facility profits.

Dr Lieberman also challenged facility operators to monitor price sensitivity and length of stay of their customers, reiterating that many may not necessarily terminate storage agreements when prices are increased. In doing so, he reinforced the benefit for a facility to use descriptive and predictive analytics tools that consider likely changes in demand and occupancy as pricing structures are altered. Ultimately, Dr Lieberman endorsed open communication between a corporate head office and local storage facilities regarding price setting, appreciating that managers operating these stores will likely have an intimate knowledge of local trends and competitor activity.

Expense Management and Cost Reduction – Collin Duncan, Extra Space Storage
Collin Duncan, Senior Director of Operations, Extra Space Storage, presented a thought-provoking session on how self storage facilities can minimise variable costs. He spoke of how the group’s advertising budget had been cut by 23% in a move from traditional Yellow Pages advertising to predominantly internet based marketing initiatives. Mr Duncan also described how, through analysing time and motion studies of facility staff, Extra Space were able to determine that 28% of their time was spent engaged in direct customer facing activities (e.g. renting units and foreclosure activities).

He demonstrated how a conscious move to paperless, electronic processes has afforded a significant reduction in paper and toner costs, from $75 per site, per month in 2010 to $21 in 2013, as documents are instead scanned into self storage software programs. From an energy use perspective Mr Duncan described $50 savings, per light fitting, per year in a move from 150 watt lights to 35 watt LED lights, that come complete with a five-year warranty and have three times the lamp life of traditional non-LED fittings. He detailed a delamping project where the number of lights (and resultant costs) were reduced, given replacement LED lamps had greater lumens (brightness). Mr Duncan also advocated taking advantage of available rebates on alternative energy sources like solar power.

Managing Self Storage Collections – Tried and Tested Techniques
Brad North is an internationally renowned self storage facility owner, operator, consultant and trainer, having been in the industry since 1989. He presented an informative session on developing a collection system that works, including collection tips and techniques and how to create urgency among delinquent customers to take action. Unsurprisingly, he reinforced the importance of documenting all interactions with customers during this process.

Tried and tested techniques he described included:
– Calling delinquent customers from a blocked number to generate a better answer response rate
– Courtesy reminder phone calls – tomorrow is the day your late fee is imposed. Pay now to avoid it.
– Waiving a late fee in the event a customer agrees to set up an automatic monthly payment
– Cross reference different communication methods – e.g. call to ensure customers received an e-mail
– Promote a ‘No late fee program’ for customers who sign up to a credit card auto-payment scheme
– Creating urgency when making an appointment for a customer to pay an outstanding bill. “Would 11am or 4pm work better for you?”
– Immediate follow-up if a customer does not keep their payment appointment to maintain accountability!
– Demonstrate compassion – “I’m on your side. I’m trying to assist you to avoid a late fee!” “I don’t want an outstanding payment to impact your credit rating.”
– Finding days and times that ensure more likely direct contact e.g. making calls on Saturday AM
– Show appreciation and thank people who make payments
– Keep abreast of when credit card expiries occur and advise customers, in advance, of forthcoming dates
– Know customer pay days and contact them in the days prior to ensure they can make the payment
– Ensure customer contact information is up to date – address, phone number and e-mail address

Training Self Storage Staff to Create a High Performance Team
Frank Certo, Director of Property Management with Guardian Storage in the US presented a comprehensive appraisal of steps to undertake in developing committed, capable employees. From the outset he spoke of the distinction between making the ‘right hire’ vs. the ‘easy hire’ and the need to hire a different skill set based on the profile of the facility i.e. in a mature facility hiring a manager well versed in relationship and revenue management and in a new store one who is a sales orientated ‘go-getter!’

He reinforced the importance of providing the employee with a comprehensive overview of the self storage market and competitive environment in which the facility operates; its ownership and management structure and an explanation of self storage specific jargon like ‘gross potential rent’ and ‘economic occupancy.’ Mr Certo also endorsed providing three weeks of initial structured training, where each week the training concentrates on six specific aspects of the self storage business and is signed off, as completed. Between 45-90 days of employment he suggested it was timely to fill in any apparent training gaps for the new employee and reassess progress to ensure both parties (employer and employee) were well suited to one another. He also emphasised the Facility Manager should act in a manner consistent with how the owner of the business would think. Finally, Mr Certo encouraged the setting of KPIs that not only consider metrics specific to the business, but also comparisons against ‘like’ businesses in the industry. This included a motivational tool for site managers that ranks them based on such key metrics and is attached to a bonus structure that is challenging, attainable and consistent.

A summary of other informative sessions delivered at the Inside Self Storage Expo will be presented in part 2. These include: “Planning your Self Storage Exit Strategy,” “Self Storage Facility Maintenance – from A to Z,” “Owner/Operator Executive Workshop,” and “Self Storage Management Workshop.”

dhollis
Dougal Hollis SSAA CEO

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