The Complete Guide on How to Manage a Self Storage Facility for New Owners
Small operators own over 50% of self storage facilities in the U.S., according to the Self-Storage Almanac (2021). Many of these business owners (possibly you included) are new to the self storage industry and don’t know where to start.
Being confident that your self storage facility runs well means you need to begin with a focus on the fundamentals and grow your skills from there. We’ve broken it down into three stages so you can approach each on its own.
The Three Stages of Self Storage Facility Management
At the bare minimum, running a self storage facility requires the ability to organize, analyze and roll up your sleeves. By educating yourself on everything involved, you can find what you’re good at and maybe what you need to outsource or hire someone else to do.
Before You Launch Your Business
Learn About the Industry You’re About to Join
Make sure you’re prepared to live up to the new role your business will put you in and learn all you can about it by:
- Researching online: There is no shortage of information on the internet, but you can start with a few trustworthy resources like the Inside Self-Storage blog.
- Becoming a card-carrying member: Joining your state’s or regional self storage organization has many advantages. You’ll not only be able to meet other managers or owners in the business, but you’ll also have plenty of resources made available to you.
- Checking out the competition: Checking out your competition is just smart. Why not find out what they have to offer and see if your pricing compares fairly? You should also sniff out any other companies in your area to make sure your pricing compares fairly.
AD Storage - Hanna City, IL
Understand the Market
Last year, the percentage of U.S. households that rented a self storage unit was 10.6%. That’s about 13.5 million households, according to the SSA Self Storage Demand Study, 2020.
You can benefit from that growth by making sure you’re visible in the market. In some cases, that may simply involve being seen from the road. In other cases, it might take creating a marketing plan to ensure your occupancy stays as close to 100% as possible.
Develop Your Marketing Plan
There are many marketing plan templates available online. Some of them are more complicated than others. You’ll want to choose one that focuses on your objectives. You could just start with a simple plan. It doesn’t need to be overcomplicated, but it should take into account:
- Budget: The rule of thumb for a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, is to spend 7 to 8 percent of your gross (or projected gross) revenue for marketing and advertising. Sorry if that made you spit out your coffee! You should start with what you are comfortable with and scale up as you find what works.
- Goal: Be specific on what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure success. Do you want to retain the customers you already have, or do you want to attract new ones? Maybe both? How will you track the results?
- Timeline: Define a clear timeline for implementing your plan. Usually, a 12-month window is a good one to shoot for, but be flexible enough to adjust the plan as needed along the way.
Put Together Your Team
Depending on the size of your facility, you may want to hire outside help, or maybe you’re just going to keep it in the family. Either way, you’ll want some support.
Be clear on your business strategy and what type of culture you’re creating. Your team should have the skills needed (or be able to be trained) for the way you want your business to run. The essentials include basic computer skills, sales experience, excellent customer service, and a professional attitude.
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides fantastic resources for hiring and managing employees. Start with this article, and then seek out your local SBA for more information as needed.
Choose a System to Manage Your Business
There’s more than one way to collect and retain critical information. Your customers, however, don’t care how you do it, only that you don’t make them do it.
Remembering who needs to renew or when someone needs notifying, among many other details, is information that ultimately sits with you - don’t forget!
In addition to knowing who is in what unit, you’ll need to track accounts received, including those that are delinquent. You can use a paper ledger system or consider a dependable management software package to make the job easier.
Understand the Laws and Risks
By learning the laws that govern the self storage industry, you’ll not only be protecting yourself, but you’ll be protecting your customers too. Renters should know the rights of both parties, including:
- Tenant protections
- Insurance requirements
- Facility and property regulations
Your local chamber of commerce and self storage association can help educate you on what laws you need to follow in most cases.
Love the Work You Do
Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” That definitely rings true when it comes to operating a self storage facility. You don’t have to like every minute of your day, but being enthusiastic about a job well done will go a long way.
You’re open to learning new things when you feel good. Look to grow your knowledge base by turning to more experienced industry veterans. You can find like minds by joining a self storage forum like https://www.selfstoragetalk.com/.
Make Customer Service a Top Priority
Managing your customers will be one of the most important aspects of the job. As the public-facing part of the business, attitude towards the customer makes an impression that lasts and gets around.
Being friendly, confident, and, most importantly, patient means you’ll not only attract new customers but retain the ones you have.
These three steps will get you started in offering exceptional customer service:
- Know your customers’ names (get to know them)
- Respond as quickly as possible (don’t leave them waiting)
- Accept accountability (fix your mistakes)
This goes for your employees too. Get on the same page with how you manage your customers, and you’ll avoid misunderstandings and potential headaches.
Consider Facility Maintenance and Upkeep
People and their stuff bring a slew of issues you’ll need to attend to as a self storage facility owner. Be prepared to pick up a broom and possibly a mop (maybe a forklift?) to help or clean up before or after a renter occupies a unit.
You’ll also have to handle the upkeep of the facility as a whole - painting, driveways, locks, maybe critter removal? There will be days your “to-do” list will be very long. The rolling up your sleeves part comes in handy here.
Be Both Reliable and Adaptable
Your job entails everything from snow removal to facility security. A self storage owner doesn’t have the luxury of turning down a task because it wasn’t written into their job description.
You need to be someone your renters can rely on. However, to truly be reliable, a self storage owner must also be adaptable and find a good balance between structure and flow.
Types of Tools to Improve Your Efficiency
Customer Feedback Tools
Even when you begin to feel more confident as a self storage owner, you still can’t rest on your laurels. In fact, that’s the time to tune in and listen to what your customers (and potential customers) are saying based on their feedback.
Acting on constructive feedback will be invaluable to your growth and building relationships in the community. There are a few ways you can receive and respond to customer feedback:
- Set up a business account on social media and being active on it
- Request it with any regular communication (payments, renewals, etc.)
- Send out a monthly email newsletter with requests for replies
- Use a feedback box outside the office
- Reach out directly through a survey tool like SurveyMonkey
Payment Collection Tools
Even the best renters forget a payment from time to time. You’ll need to have a process in place to remind them of their overdue payment gently. Some ways to get ahead of this problem are:
- Have a strict due date, and make sure all your renters are aware of it
- If a renter does fall behind, notify them as soon as possible and often
- Offer several payment options (check, visa, cash, etc.)
- Charge a late fee (no one wants to pay more than they have to!)
- Make it easy by offering online automatic rent collection
Trends in technology are constantly evolving. You may not want to embrace every trend that comes along, but it’s worth investigating what’s out there and how it can help your business. Currently, some of the leading technology being used is:
Video Surveillance - Your customers want to know that their belongings are safe. Reassure them by having excellent physical security and the presence of an effective surveillance system. They’ll feel better, and you’ll also have peace of mind knowing your facility is being watched 24/7.
Electronic Access Control - Your self storage units can be secured using devices like electronic keypads or magnetic stripe cards. Choose a solution that you will be comfortable working with and meets your customers’ security concerns.
Management Software - Self storage management software will allow you to work remotely and decrease the time spent on management tasks. Consider software that’s within your price range but gives you tools for electronic leasing, document storage, tracking unit availability, and of course, auto payments.
It’s About Making Your Business Better
A self storage facility, in most ways, is like any other small business. How you manage it is a crucial determinator of its success. From managing employees, finances, customers, or simply daily tasks—the decisions you make as an owner matter.
So, whatever stage of self storage management you are in, have an open mind. Exploring the changing trends and learning from others could save you money, help prioritize your time, and make your business better.
Unit Trac’s self storage management software can help. Register for a free trial or demo → no credit card required.