Texas Self Storage Association has served its self-storage industry members since 1986.  Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, TSSA is the leading expert in self storage in the state of Texas.  Whether you're an owner, operator, manager or employee,  TSSA's blog will provide you with the latest tips, advice and knowledge for running your self-storage business. 



Everything You Need to Know About Online Auctions
by Sarah Cole, Oakcrest Management

As technology continues to advance, the self-storage industry is advancing with it. One of the most recent changes is with online auctions. Thanks to the hard work of TSSA, Matz & Co. and Connie Heyer pushing new legislation through last year, online auctions are now part of the Texas Property Code. Many companies started making this switch over the last few years, but the rest have been watching the industry to find out what is going to benefit their facilities the most. One of the best ways to figure out what will work for your facility is to weigh the pros and cons of both in-person and online auctions.

The concept of online auctions has been around for quite some time. Online auctions started with individuals selling and auctioning personal items on sites such as eBay. Now we have the ability to utilize online platforms to auction off the contents of storage units.

Online auctions are not just another fad or trend.

When the TV show “Storage Wars” aired, self-storage auctions started get- ting some publicity and now the general public finally knows storage unit auctions are an actual thing. So why did the market start shifting to online auctions?

“Online auctions seem very interesting,” says Ashley Montessoro of Lockaway Self Storage. “It is something new, gets the property name out to a new group of people and seems like it may be easier on our managers.”

Lower attendance at more rural properties is the reason Ryan Rogers, managing partner at Store  Here Self Storage, started looking into online auctions. Online auctions open the door to more potential bidders, the bidders have more time to view the items in the unit and they have more time to bid.

Another reason is the amount of time it takes to conduct an in-person sale on auction day. “It is a disruption of the property’s normal business day,” says Rogers. “Especially if you have more than one location to visit, it takes up your entire day.”

April Young of Ultimate Properties says, “When traveling from property to property on auction day, the number of bidders dwindles and by the time you get to the last property, you’re lucky if you still have one or two people show up for the auction.”

Liability, liability, liability is what we hear at every legal session we go to when it comes to onsite auctions.

I
t is the overall liability of a group of people walking the property on auction day. What if someone trips and gets hurt?

“With online auctions,” Montessoro states, “There is also the bonus of not having a large crowd walking around the property once a month.”

Also, the worries we have about having to handle altercations are now gone when you use online auctions. “You also don’t have people coming onto the property and causing a stir with the customers,” notes Ann Parham of Joshua Management Corporation.

Buyer collusion can also be a problem with onsite auctions. “The people who follow the auctioneer know each other and they start to negotiate with one another before the unit is even up for auction. It causes price setting,” explains Parham.

Online auctions seem to solve a lot of potential concerns and issues we face every month, but still many of us are hesitant to make the switch.

“I’m not so sure it is hesitation that has kept us from switching as much as it is us wanting to keep those hands- on, face-to-face relationships with our bidders,” Young explains. “There is also a sort of comfort in knowing all of your paperwork is right and the auction was processed correctly.”

Even though they have only been doing online auctions a short time, Montesorro has noticed, “There is the potential to make simple mistakes when setting it up online. Your managers really need to pay close attention to detail or the auction may have to be cancelled.”

Some locations have a great auction crowd. Some of us like using an auctioneer who has their own following, which also gives us a second pair of eyes on our lien paperwork to ensure the sale is conducted properly. And some of us like to just get these auctions done and over with. Instead of waiting several days for online auctions to run, and then potentially another 24 to 48 hours for the highest bidder to come in and pay (unless they pay online); in-person auctions are all over in one day.

“Buyers not showing up to pay after bidding” is an issue Rogers has seen with online auctions. “With in-person auctions,” Rogers says, “We know right away if a buyer does not have the money and can sell it again quickly.”

Once you’ve weighed all the options and you’ve decided online auctions are the way to go, where do you begin to look to find the right online platform? When looking at all of the different options, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What is most important to you? Is it price or customer service that is the deciding factor? You want to know that the platform you use will back you up if there is a mix up or any issue with the auction. Here are a few of the platforms available to you (some of this information is taken directly from the company’s website).

IBID4STORAGE.COM

According to their site, iBid4Storage. com has managed self-storage locations and been involved in the self-storage auction process in Canada and the United States for the past 22 years. “We continue to be innovators and leaders in the self-storage industry and have created a marketplace where both sellers and buyers of storage auction units can benefit and prosper.

“If you’re a storage unit owner or manager who is looking to recover your losses, online storage auctions are a great way to find bidders and to advertise your auction without the crowds and inconvenience that come along with having a physical storage auction at your facility. Research has shown that owners get three to five times more for foreclosed storage unit contents with an online sale.”

“We chose iBid4storage because they were friendly, acted like they were interested in gaining our business, were willing to negotiate rates and followed up consistently, even after gaining our business,” says Rindge Leaphart, COO of Oakcrest Management, Inc.

SELFSTORAGEAUCTION.COM

From the founder of Storage Battles, SelfStorageAuction.com is ready to revolutionize the storage industry. From their site: This new website for online and live self-storage auction listings is built to “provide the most safe, manageable and efficient platform for online self-storage auctions to be held.”

Most self-storage auctions are now being held online. “Our site not only speeds up the sales process, it completely eliminates the need for live, on-site auctions. Facilities can easily prepare auctions in advance and increase profits by expanding their customer base.”

STORAGEAUCTIONS.COM

Owned by Lonnie Bickford, StorageAuctions.com is a robust online auction site for foreclosed units. According to the StorageAuctions.com site, you can find the best storage unit auctions as a bidder and reach a faithful audience of bidders as a seller.

Storage facilities can also streamline their auction process by listing their inventory in one place for both live auctions and online auctions. Storageauctions.com reduces the hassle and you can list with confidence knowing your unit will be viewed by a much larger bidder base than those who might show up in person for a live auction.

STORAGESTUFF.BID

According to their site, StorageStuff.Bid is made up of a combination of self- storage owners, licensed and experienced storage auctioneers and a team of technology partners who specialize in internet marketing and web design. “Together, we have more than 50 years of experience in the self-storage industry.

“We understand the needs and goals of storage owners and operators. We understand the consequences of accounts receivable and bad debt. We also know that storage operators are in the business of renting storage units, not selling them. We offer storage operators a quick and easy way to empty units that have gone through the lien and foreclosure process.”

STORAGETREASURES.COM

StorageTreasures is a free, social site to find live onsite storage auctions or online auctions at any self-storage facility across the United States and Canada.

StorageTreasures.com was founded by SSA members and self-storage professionals who have more than 60 years of experience in the self-storage industry.

StorageTreasures has revolutionized the way in which the contents of self- storage units are marketed and publicly auctioned after the tenant has failed to pay rent. The site fills the gap between the operational systems that the industry currently utilizes and the public buyer who may be interested in the contents of a unit going to auction. The tools StorageTreasures provides allow the storage industry not only to comply with, but also exceed the intent of state laws governing the self-storage industry, protecting tenants and bidders alike.

“We use storagetreasures.com,” says Montesorro. “Another branch of our company has been using them for a couple of years now. Plus the customer service response, we have received from them is really nice.”

TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING TO ONLINE AUCTIONS

You’ve decided to give online auctions a try. You did your research and picked the online platform that suits your business. Now you ask yourself, how am I going to transition this new process?

What procedures should I follow to make sure I don’t miss selling a unit? Since several of us have been doing them for a while now, we have some suggestions. Remember everything up to your notice of sale and auction ad are the same:

1. Seize the unit

2. Send out the Notice of Claim

3. Inventory the unit for the auction ad

Now this is where the changes come into play.

4. When you publish the Notice of Public Sale in the newspaper, it must contain the following:

  • Statement that property is being sold to satisfy a landlord’s lien
  • Address of the facility (where the unit is located)
  • Website address for the auction
  • Start date/time and the end date/ time for bidding (and any other terms of sale)
  • Tenant’s name
  • General description of the property

5. Mailing a printed Notice of Public Sale to the Tenant is optional and not required by statute.

Next, list your units on the auction website. Most people take additional photos for the online auction in addition to the standard lock cut photos. Some supervisors find it easier to wait approximately five to 10 days before the auction starts to go back to the facility to get the additional photos they need.

“This is a great time to thoroughly review the auction file and make sure all of the notices were sent correctly,” says North Texas district  manager for Storage Depot Jay Hoger.  “The week before the auction starts is a great spot in the timeline to take the additional photos and upload them to the auction site because there are a lot of tenants who pay between lock cut and auction. Therefore, the closer you wait to the auction date to take the photos, the fewer units you will need to photograph.” Uploading the photos to the site a week before the auction is supposed to start will give prospective bidders the opportunity to preview the unit.

Double check… no… triple check that the photos match the unit you are listing. You don’t want to have an upset buyer come in and pay for a unit and then open the door to find out it does not contain the items pictured. Nor do you want to have to pull a unit from auction because you didn’t upload the photos or forgot to schedule a unit online for the auction.

When the auction ends, the auction site will notify you as well as the highest bidder with all of the pertinent information on the sale.

We have found it is best to wait until the buyer comes in to pay before closing out the sale. There is the occasional no-show and most of the auction sites will give you the second-place bidder’s information, so you can contact them to purchase the unit. However, TSSA legal counsel  Connie Heyer’s opinion is that the bidder is not required to pay at the facility—they  can simply pay online. It is important for your auction rules to list all terms, including what will happen if the original bidder defaults on the sale. It is also important that the online auction site rules don’t conflict with your facility’s auction rules.

There are pros and cons with online auctions and a lot to consider when you are switching to a new procedure. As self-storage advances into the technological age, are you ready to advance with it by making the transition to online auctions?

Sarah Cole joined Storage Depot seven years ago as the audit manager. In addition to overseeing the audit process for the entire organization (32 stores and growing), she provides support to the management team regarding auctions, process improvements and general day-to-day operations. Sarah is also a degreed paralegal.

Everything You Need to Know About Online Auctions

Preparing to Use Your New TSSA Rental Agreement 

by Kristy Breaux, TSSA Deputy Executive Director

One of the most important benefits of membership in TSSA is the right to use the renowned TSSA Rental Agreement. Having a basic understanding of the contract’s terms, as well as the decisions you as the business owner must make, is a great place to start. With this blog, we will focus on Page 1 of the lease, which includes all the items that are not simply defaults (in other words, things that will need to be filled in at the time of rental or decided in advance.) 

The TSSA Rental Agreement is a lease contract between you and the tenant outlining all fees and responsibilities. The agreement informs the tenant of your policies and protects you from damages, lack of payment, or other circumstance that may arise. If this is your first time using the printed TSSA Rental Agreement (or e-Lease if using electronically), this guide will help you get started. For a more detailed look at the terms of the lease you can read this blog or watch this short video
 
The first section, Tenant Information, collects the contact information for the tenant. The customer will need to identify who should have access to enter the unit and who should be notified in case of emergency.  That can be the same person or two different people. It’s important to note that the emergency contact (unless named as having access rights) is not authorized to enter the unit unless there is legal reason for such. Additionally, anyone listed as authorized to enter the unit may be given account information. If the person listed as authorized to enter does not have a key, facility staff may assist by cutting the lock. It’s helpful to explain these things to the tenant during the lease process. In either case, neither the person with access rights nor the emergency contact have a financial responsibility. This falls solely on the tenant listed.  

TSSA recommends that only one person or business be listed on Line 1. Spouses or significant others can be listed as having access rights. That way, you are only obligated to deal with one tenant, who makes all decisions regarding the contract.  

 

Paragraph 2 asks the important question about military service. (Special rules apply to foreclosures and evictions of military personnel because of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, so you need this answer.) Form ADD-4 may be used as an addendum for lease agreements with service members.  

This paragraph also explains the tenant’s obligation to keep information updated. If the tenant moves or is unreachable, the burden is on them to make you aware of current contact information so that any communication you send reaches them. 
 


Paragraph 3 is the space commitment. The minimum lease term is the minimum number of months the tenant is obligated to the terms of the contract. Most members use a default of one month, but you can use a longer minimum if your customer agrees to it. After that initial period, the tenant leases from you on a month-to-month basis. The obligation to pay rent stays in place until the tenant provides a 10-day move-out notice as outlined in paragraph 9 of the lease. 

You can use forms ADD-10 or ADD-11 if the tenant is storing a vehicle, boat, or RV, in addition to renting the unit. Or, TSSA does offer a rental agreement specifically designed for storage of vehicle, boat, trailer or RV when the tenant is renting a parking space or enclosure rather than a regular self-storage unit.  If your facility offers exclusively boat and RV storage, you’ll want to consider using the Vehicle, Boat and Trailer Rental Agreement.  

 

Paragraph 4 details the rental rates, late fees, and all charges for non-compliance. While the rental rate may change based on the unit size (if you offer a variety of unit sizes or amenities), the remainder of the fees are generally the same for all tenants.  Checking to see what neighboring facilities are specifying for each of these charges is usually a good place to start. Things like charges for the newspaper ads you must run in the event of a foreclosure requires a little research on your part, as you’ll want to cover your costs. Only fees outlined in the contract and accepted as terms by the tenant may be charged, so it’s always better to have these dollar amounts filled in, even if you don’t intend to charge them on a regular basis. There is not a guideline on setting these rates, but we can help you understand each line item so you can make an informed decision. 

A. This is the dollar amount the tenant is expected to pay in rent each month until the tenant notifies you of move-out and vacates the space. 

B. What date is the rent due? Some facilities have all customers pay rent on the 1st of the month while others use the anniversary date of the tenant’s move-in and collect rent throughout the month. The 1st of the month is the most common due date. Be sure to check your management software for your options on rental due dates. 

C. This is the date and the amount charged if the rent is not received. You will need to decide if you will give a grace period and then choose either a date or number of days. For instance, on the 5th of the month a late fee will apply, or 4 days after the 1st a late fee will apply. If you are using the e-Lease, it may be helpful to see what your management software offers as default process for late fees. Some require a specific day of the month and some use a sequential number of days before a late fee kicks in. 

D. In the same format as above, complete this if you will charge a second late fee if rent remains unpaid. 

When determining what fee, if any, to charge for E through O you will have to decide what pass-through costs may apply—staff time, and other required resources, etc. PLEASE NOTE: You do not have to apply a fee to these specific line items, but if you choose not to, you cannot charge the tenant later for these specifics.  If you never intend to charge a fee for an item, you should indicate $0 as to not have any empty blanks on the agreement.



Paragraph 5, Payments and Notices, allows you to indicate what payment methods—cash, check, or credit card—you will or will not accept.  Please note that you can change the method of acceptable payment in the future after giving notice to the tenant. 



Paragraph 6, Special Provisions, allows you to add any pertinent facility rules that may not be addressed in the lease. This may be guidelines for parking, notice of a required lock type, gate access rules, etc. 



If you have a lengthy list of rules, you will want to consider using an addendum, indicating that rules addendum in Paragraph 7. 

Paragraph 7 is the place you’ll indicate any addendum you use on an ongoing basis.  If you generate a particular addendum with every lease, you can have this hard-coded into your e-Lease so this remains checked and ensures your facility manager has communicated this to your tenant. Some software programs will require the addendum to be sent to the tenant separately from the lease. In any case, if any addendum is checked on the lease, the tenant is signing off that they have received and agreed to the terms, so you need to provide the tenant those documents.



Signature block—To e-sign or not? 
Lastly, the signature block completes the agreement between the lessee and the lessor. If you are using the e-Lease you will need to understand how your management software processes the electronic signature. Some will have a fully integrated system with a digital signature option and others will generate a PDF that may require the tenant to insert a signature and send back to you for completion. 




If you have further questions on setting up your new TSSA Rental Agreement, please contact us at 512-374-9089 or elease@txssa.org. 

Additional Resources:

Blog: Lease Essentials

Video: Rental Agreement Overview   

Additional Forms and Addenda (Requires Membership Log In)

Read More Blog Posts » 

Preparing-to-Use-Your-New-TSSA-Rental-Agreement

Cultivating Leadership in Sales

How to Create a Sales Training Process to Propel Information Into Action

by Cody Reynolds

Fundamentally speaking, we are in business to rent self-storage units and collect money for those rented units.

When it comes to standard operating procedures, there are dangers looming in the form of potentially processing something to death. So how can we give life to these mechanisms and achieve balance in the face of our over-processed world we live in?

I believe the solution is for the information to move from knowledge into action! Sounds simple, but hearing is not necessarily doing and knowledge is not exactly the same as putting that knowledge to use.

I first want to express the philosophy behind what it takes to excel in sales, plus I will cover what it takes to teach the art of conversions from both a trainee and a trainer’s perspective.

When I approach training and mentoring at any level, from novice to advanced, it is imperative as a trainer to understand the language of the trainee.

Roll out a solid training program that involves as many learning styles as possible. Think about it for a second. Everyone has different learning styles: visual, aural, verbal and physical. If we introduce an on-going educational training program on various topics, it can be easily absorbed. A good training process will facilitate memorizing the facts, discovering how the facts relate and applying those facts in real situations.

I personally like to encourage my staff to have some type of training resource in a binder that is supplemented with follow-up verbiage from me on the information I just covered that day with the employee. This way it will be received in both an audio and visual format. Support your employees with tangible reference material. Information overload is common no matter how good a teacher you are and having systems and processes to refer back to will be extremely beneficial. I also like to segment my training programs in evolving phases that can take up to several days (and sometimes weeks) rather than all at once.

Let’s dive into the sales process and take the table above as a sales training example. This tool is a great way to introduce the five parts of a sale and the dynamics between phone leads and straight walk-ins. Put this in a table, leaving room for note taking as you expand on all of the bullet points, and cover the material in various ways until the dots begin to connect.

Here is a rough template regarding the five parts of a sale:

  • greeting,
  • inquiry,
  • consultant,
  • invitation, and
  • close.

One will flow right into another in a natural progression when conducted smoothly, so keep in mind that the approach will vary as it relates to walk-ins versus phone leads.

GREETING

What does your initial encounter look like with your customers when they walk through your doors? The customer is always judging with their five senses and there are certain aspects within your control to help give you the cutting edge in sales as it pertains to sales.

What is the customer seeing as they pull into your driveway and walk up to the front door?

Are the fire lanes painted and trash picked up from last night’s wind debris?

Are cigarette butts swept off the pavement?

Walk-in Example:

This is your moment to set the stage for a professional tone or lack thereof. Is the glass on the door clean or smudgy? Is the lawn well-manicured and are the weeds pulled throughout the facility? Do you stand and greet every single customer to show respect as they enter?

Be upbeat. Don’t drag your personal life into work or be a “Debbie Downer,” especially if the customer is moving. Elevate positive morale in your environment by letting you and your work shine!

Phone Example:

Seize the opportunity right off the bat and ALWAYS capture the most essential element of the sale: A name and number.

You: Thank you for calling Super Self Storage this is Cody, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with? Customer: [Susan]

You: Hi Susan, may I please have your phone number in case we get dis- connected? Customer: 499-955-2122

Key Take-away Insights: Remember, some of the people who are calling you and/or walking through your doors are going through some of life’s most challenging situations. Your ability to be professional and properly identify their needs with a solution really does help them in their transition! Always track your leads in an organizational spreadsheet or software to optimize the skill of follow-through.

INQUIRY

Fact: The customers who call you or walk into your facility inquiring about storage space are already in the market for space. This should be a huge confidence booster. One way or the other, they are renting space from someone, and it might as well be you.

Be secure in your ability to respond to your customers with bold solutions and take the lead by actively listening. Draw them out of their shell if they lack detail in their response, by asking the right questions directly after the greeting:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How long?

Example:

You “Thank you for calling Super Self Storage this is Cody, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Customer: “Susan.”

You: “Hi Susan, may I please have your phone number in case we get disconnected?”

Customer: “499-955-2122.”

You: “Thank you Susan, how may I help you today?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Customer: “I need storage.”

You: “In order for me to best identify your square footage needs, may I ask how many bedrooms worth of furniture you will be storing?”

Avoid at all costs the question, “How much space do you need?” after the customer inquires about a storage unit. In many cases the customer may not know how much space they will need. You are the expert ready to help!

CONSULTANT

You are the self-storage professional. Display your ability to provide a solution in the consulting stage by flowing into this phase with positive assurance.

Mention a couple of features and benefits as an upside to storing at your location at this point in the conversation.

Example:

“Susan, based on what you are describing, you will need up to 200 square feet worth of space, or a 10x20. We have a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that is gated with wide drive-up aisles. I would love to show you our property! When would be a good time for you to come by today and look at the space to see if it would be a good fit for your needs?”

INVITATION

The invitation is such a natural progression from the last step in the sales process.

  • Invite all of your phone lead customers to visit the store by scheduling a set appointment
  • It is easier to make a sale in person versus over the phone
  • This is key to a successful phone presentation

Example:

“Susan, based on what you have described, you will need at least 150 square feet up to 250 square feet of space.

Our storage units range in five-foot increments and the best way to assist you is to invite you to the store so you can actually see the size difference on these two suggested unit mixes in or- der to determine what will best fit your needs. When would be a good time today to come by so I can give you a quick tour of the facility?”

CLOSE

The closing encapsulates the sales process by simply asking for the rental.

Remember, the customer is already in the market for space. The battle is half won from the get-go because they are reaching out to you. This is not out- bound sales. They are actually coming to you with a need for space.

If you become knowledgeable and intentionally practice courtesy, then your ability to serve the customer will exponentially succeed! Obviously, you need to do your part and keep the facility polished with good old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease, but this produces confidence in the product you push and builds character!

Honestly, I have discovered that customers are more apt to buy from you as a person than they are the product.

The facility manager has an extraordinary power to connect with the customer on an entirely different level and create the most value out of any tool the business attempts to deploy as a means of marketing!

Implement these five steps in the sales process, harmonized with the other points mentioned above, and you will most definitely serve your clientele well.

Applying a solid sales training program naturally leads to an increase in your conversion rate, enhances the quality of your customer interactions and will build overall value to your infrastructure.

Furthermore, it is also important to support your staff if you are an owner or an area manager by being more systems-driven in the way of broadcasting good training programs for your business model.


 


Leadership In Sales

Storage Essentials Manual

Back to Basics—Industry Fundamentals

by Jennifer Jones, Managing Editor of Self-Storage News

Owning and operating a facility is an enormous responsibility. Some of our members have one facility with a few units while others own multiple facilities in many states. While the needs differ from facility to facility, there are core business practices that make sense for all.

Getting back to the basics of what makes the self- storage industry great is a good way to ensure the core focus of the business is still being realized.

For this series, we spoke with several members in third-party management positions who have a wide variety of experience. Together, they have 88 years of experience in the industry, have managed more than 550 facilities and worked with around 400 owners. All of those owners had different measures of success and goals for their facilities, with some in lease-up and others well established. Within the Storage Essentials Manual, you'll find numerous ideas and best practices that can be used whether you have one small facility or multiple large ones.

BEST PRACTICES

There are so many things to consider when running your facility. If you’re in a major urban area like Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio or Houston, you’re probably seeing a lot of competition. What used to work may not anymore. Many of you are facing competition from the REITs, which report they are increasing their marketing budgets around an average of 25 percent.

So how can you set your facility apart? Do you spend money to make money? Do you increase your marketing budget, or make capital improvements? Knowing the right way to move forward and where to invest your time, money and energy is key to competing in an overbuilt market.

“On one hand, this business is incredibly straightforward: rent units, make money (lots of it at that),” laughs Sarah Cole with Oakcrest Management. “On the other hand, if you invest the time, training and money to ensure that you and your staff are properly trained and have the needed tools to be successful, the investment pays for itself many times over and allows you to sleep better at night.”

“We recommend setting a clearly defined standard or procedure for maintenance, operations, leases, etc.,” says Katie Cowen with Move It Storage. “If you have a clearly-defined process to guide your staff, you’ve set a standard that they know they have to adhere to. “You need to stay on top of things much more than you did in the past because it’s much easier for tenants to find storage now than it ever has been before. I saw a statistic this week that there are more storage facilities in the U.S. than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. I have no idea if that’s actually accurate, since you can’t trust Internet memes for news, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.

“Competition is fierce now, and you can’t get by with ‘good enough’ anymore. You have to be great to succeed in the overbuilt market that we’re currently in, and this can mean needing to make significant physical improvements to your location if you want to keep up.

“Another factor now is the cost of hiring good help is getting steeper every day. The strong economy is creating a scarcity of entry-level workers and the days of a $9- or $10- per-hour property manager seem to be well behind us. We’re seeing major metro area salaries in the $13-16 hourly wage level lately, with or without an apartment onsite to offer.”

“Agility is key,” says Monty Rainey of RPM Storage Management. “People tend to think of self storage as a static industry, but you really need to be ready to change tactics at a moment’s notice. What worked a month ago may not work today and what works at one facility may not work in a different demographic.”

Some additional tips:

INVENTORY

Keep a rolling inventory of clean units, preferably two of each size, so you have ready-to-show units of every size in which you have a vacancy. Highlight the units on your vacancy report so all employees can easily reference available units.

MAINTENANCE

The most important maintenance tip is setting a schedule and adhering to it.

  Clean air filters on HVAC units every 30 to 60 days, depending on time of year.

  Set your HVAC thermostats to cool to 80 degrees and heat to 50 degrees. The objective is to keep the temperature in the range to protect stored contents, but not the same range you would keep an apartment or office. This saves energy and money.

  Keep the unit door tracks (and any exposed springs) lubricated to make the doors easy to open and prevent broken springs.

  Change the rubber gasket at the bottom of the door when it gets brittle to allow it to seal out dust.

  Keep the hall floors dry mopped weekly and wet-polished as needed to keep the halls bright and shiny.

  Perform daily walk-arounds/lock checks for security and to be visible to customers. A "nice but nosy" manager can help prevent problems before they happen and should always work to establish good rapport with customers.

  Keep up your property’s curb appeal. If kept clean and well-manicured with professional, friendly signage, it can help generate leases from drive-by traffic.

  Consider using a support ticket system if you have several facilities or a large facility. This allows your maintenance professional to know what tools might be needed before heading to the store. It also allows tracking of high-priority items.

  Keep the office area and the approach to the office looking fresh and clean. Often, owners who have had a facility for years let it look less than its best. Look at your facility with a fresh set of eyes.

  Keep signage as friendly as possible. Don't go overboard on rules signs.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

  Treat others the way you want to be treated.

  Respect everyone; it goes a long way.

  Use scripts to develop managers’ communications skills.

  Prepare a general escalation or upset customer document for dealing with difficult customers later in the customer life cycle.

  Role-play difficult situations with managers to teach them the best responses, practices and reactions.

LEASE

  Use a standard lease, standard addendums, and a scripted lease explanation. It is helpful in getting customers to understand and adhere to their lease agreements.

  Perform regular lease audits to ensure that you have 100-percent lease compliance at your facility.

OPERATIONS

  Have a clearly-defined operations manual—it is essential. If you don’t have one, TSSA has a very good basic operations manual that can be purchased. With minimal effort, you can make additions/revisions to make it your own.

  Perform a very comprehensive audit every month that includes property inspection, inventory, lease reviews, auction file reviews and a review of the financials.

  Have managers shop competitors by actually driving by the facilities to see what is new/different.

  Have a third party conduct telephone and in-person shopping to see how your facility is being represented.

  Focus on rental rates just as much as occupancy—both are important.

  Take time to have meaningful, unrushed conversations with your managers to let them know how much they are appreciated. A good manager makes a huge difference.

MARKETING

Marketing is really about staying on top of things and finding what works for your property.

“Marketing self storage is inherently different than most businesses,” says Rainey. “You’re not going to have much luck convincing someone who doesn’t need one to rent a storage unit. The key to marketing a facility is to put your name in front of that potential customer so that in six months, when the decision is made to clean out the garage, your storage business is the one they automatically think of. They’ve already been to your property when you had that event (car wash, garage sale, food drive, etc.) and already know your facility is well-run and maintained.”

Ultimately, as Tron Jordheim with Store Here Management says, “Every market is a bit different, and every facility has its own characteristics and quirks. There is a ‘right mix’ of people and technology for each site. The trick is to find the right mix for your particular needs.“

Processes are very important. If you have solid processes that are well suited to a particular site, and you follow those processes, things will run more smoothly and be easier to track and audit.

MARKETING

Getting it Right, from SEO, Technology to LED Lighting

One of the key things that helps people find you when they need you is marketing. There’s digital marketing, social media marketing, grassroots marketing and traditional marketing. The REITs are increasing their digital marketing budget by around 25 percent this year to dominate online searches.

So how on earth can you compete with their scale and budget?

SEO (search engine optimization) is incredibly important when someone Googles a term like “self storage near me” and gets a search return with ads (at the top of the page), location results with maps (next) and organic search returns. Improving SEO is a long-term strategy; gains do not happen overnight and it takes consistent effort. However, if you do it correctly, you can make significant gains in moving your facility to first page results instead of being hidden on the third or 10th page in a digital ghostland.  As an example, Tiger Self Storage in Porter, Texas moved up to the No. 3 and No. 4 spots on page one from page two on Google for two top search terms using a combination of SEO and PPC, so it can be done with the right strategy and tactics depending on your market. This was accomplished by a new faster website that was optimized for SEO, relevant and optimized content and backlinks in a few short months.

PPC (pay-per-click) is a form of internet marketing, the most common of which is search engine advertising, which you may have heard of as Google AdWords. For example, if someone types in “storage facility near me” and you bid on that keyword, then your ad may show up on their Google search. It’s referred to as “pay-per-click” because each time someone clicks on that ad, you are charged a fee (the amount depends on how competitive that search term is and how relevant and targeted your ad campaign is). Ads chosen by Google are chosen based on the amount of the keyword bid and the advertiser's quality score which is determined by how relevant your site is to the search term, your click-through rate and the quality of your landing pages. When you are working on SEO, which is a slow process, PPC is a great way to get quicker results. In effect, you are buying visibility.

Gately says, “Every facility has a website, hosted by a third-party website marketing company. We believe SEO is very important. We evaluate results monthly and track the number of website visits and eventual leases we get to determine the return on our investment.

“We use tracker numbers on our website and for most advertising to be able to identify the number of calls from any source. The tracker number forwards the caller to your facility, keeping track of each call.

“We use PPC for most properties, especially new facilities in lease-up. We adjust the PPC depending on results and the recommendations of our website provider.

“For new facilities, we invest in prominent LED signs with the capability of changing messages/ graphics. For all facilities, we invest in the largest signage allowed by local code, including banners to promote specials. We schedule our managers to do off-site marketing about two hours per week, targeting area apartment managers, retirement communities, competitors (to promote cross referrals) and major area employers.

“In late spring or early summer, we will send out a postcard mailer for properties in lease-up. Most of our marketing is year-round to keep consistency.”

Rainey says, “Keep it local and know who your customer is. Ninety percent of your customer base either lives or works within a 3-mile radius. Don’t waste time and money marketing to people who live far outside that radius. Limit your promotional giveaways to items people will use over and over and not end up in a junk drawer somewhere, never to be seen again.” This would include items like stainless steel water bottles, magnetic grocery list pads, letter openers and staple removers, and of course the standard items, such as ink pens and keychains.

Cowen says, “We focus a lot of effort online, but we focus just as much effort on the facility itself. All of the online marketing in the world won’t help a run-down or trashy-looking facility succeed. We consider maintaining the curb appeal of our facilities as a key item in our marketing program. Depending on the area, we may also do local marketing in the form of print ads, billboards or local sponsorships.”

Cole says, “You can’t just pick one marketing avenue, you need to do a little of everything to stay visible. We aren't an industry that people are shopping for daily, like a restaurant or grocery store. However, if you keep a visible presence in your community, when they need storage, they'll remember you and come to your facility.

“Therefore, we do online (Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+), grassroots (flyers, tote bags, mugs, pens) and take them to different businesses, and we host charity events (pet adoptions, car washes, BBQs).”

At the end of the day, you have to know what you want to accomplish with your marketing. Tie your marketing with your overall business objectives and set realistic goals to be successful. Digital marketing with re-targeting ads, website analytics and more can help lead people down a buyer’s journey to your facility. One of the keys with any marketing strategy is knowing your audience (potential customer pool) and developing a marketing strategy that is targeted to them.

TRAINING

Tailoring to Your Facility

When you consider what a manager can and can’t do for your business, you realize how important training and hiring really are. A manager is part of your brand—the personality of your facility, the person who makes sure things are working properly. Depending on the size of your facility, they can wear many hats from marketing and maintenance to operations and revenue.

Trusted Self Storage Professionals has new assistant managers work with an experienced manager for two to three weeks before being scheduled to work alone. New managers work with an experienced manager for several weeks before being assigned their property. “We have one site that does most of our training, which makes for consistency,” says Gately. The manager doing the training is a strong manager who likes training others and uses a written checklist of all tasks to be trained that must be completed and sent to the property supervisor. Good training is critical to achieving operational excellence and to have confident, competent employees.”

“Move It is larger than some of the other operators, so we’ve used our benefit of scale to set up an online learning management system (LMS),” says Cowen. “Our managers get a combination of live, one-on-one training, training via review of an operations manual, and training via modules in the LMS. The LMS modules can include written lessons with a test afterward, video lessons with a test afterward, or a combination of both items. We also utilize training resources and certification from our software provider (SiteLink) and our ancillary truck rental services (U-Haul/Penske).”

Cole says that at Oakcrest Management, each new manager gets one week of training with a seasoned manager, two days of customer service phone skill training and one week in their store with a seasoned manager/ supervisor. “By the third week, they should be able to handle day-to-day functions on their own. On lien process days (NOC, cut lock, etc.), a supervisor will be with them to make sure notices are done properly and the new manger is learning how to do them properly. Oakcrest Management also has quarterly training webinars on various topics, such as collections, closing the sale and auction process.”

So, what do you do if you don’t have multiple facilities or don’t want to hire third-party management? You can write your own training manual. Each day you are performing a task, write down your thoughts and start creating checklists. Implement some of the tactics used above at your facility. You may only hire a new manager once in a blue moon or you may have higher turnover. Creating a training manual, although a time-consuming process, can ultimately save time when you hire a new manager.

Creating checklists for leasing, maintenance (as well as schedules), operations, procedures, new hire orientation, marketing and more will ensure your new manager is aware of your systems and expectations.

At RPM, training never ends. They have a designated trainer who gives personal, interactive training following a two-week program. At each subsequent store visit by a district manager, time is set aside for ongoing training for the entire staff. RPM also provides employees with paid tuition for online business management related courses.

PRICING

Finding and Setting Value

While pricing is certainly covered in other articles, it’s a big topic. So we want to call special attention to it. Be sure to look at the other articles for revenue management and how to use software to improve your rates.

Many things should be considered when determining unit rates. “Price should be based on a combination of market rates, quality of the facility and amenities offered,” says Cowen. “Price alone is no way to judge a storage unit because a 10’ x 10’ climate-controlled unit on the fourth floor with no elevator access has a completely different value than the same unit on the first floor right next to an entrance door.”

Cole says, “We base it off of availability and competitor pricing by size. If we are below 70 percent occupied on a size, then we may price it a little under a competitor, but if we are 100 percent occupied on a size, we may price it above other competitors.”

Gately concurs, “We have found on existing facilities with stabilized occupancy, the most important factor in pricing is your property's occupancy on each unit type. We keep pushing rates higher on any unit type that has an occupancy of 90 percent or better. Even if a competitor is $20 cheaper on the same size unit, we will keep inching our rate higher, so long as our occupancy on that size is holding 90 percent or better.

“We also use premium location pricing on certain units. For example, say $10 higher on first floor than upper floors or $5 higher to be near the elevator.

“Manager training on setting rates is very important. A well-trained manager understands that most prospects are looking for overall value (not just low price), so the manager emphasizes the benefits when talking prices.”

“Don’t use a broad scope for pricing,” says Rainey. “When a store is struggling with occupancy, you may have a tendency to lower prices. While this may be needed for some unit types, you may have other types that are more than 90 percent occupied and those rates may even need to be increased. Each unit size and type is its own product and should be based on supply and demand, not on overall store occupancy.”

AUTOMATION

Why You Should Consider Automating at Your Facility

Understanding what technology can do for you and your facility can make a difference in your bottom line, bring you money that may be left on the table and streamline your operations. If you’re still using spreadsheets, they may work for you to some degree, but automating and updating your processes will allow you to have a better idea of where things stand with your facility on a daily basis and free up time to devote to other functions. The difference is like trying to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together versus using a match. Both get the job done, but one is much more efficient.

“I am a strong believer that automation makes for efficiency,” says Cowen. “Your benefit in automating everything that you can is that you know it gets done, and it frees up your manager’s time so they can focus on serving their customers and renting units.”

COMMUNICATION

“We automate functions having to do with tenant communication and revenue management,” says Gately. “We use a texting service to remind delinquent tenants about payments, which has been very successful. It saves the manager time and the tenants appreciate its convenience. We make sure our managers use it as a reminder for tenants, but not as a substitute for the manager making phone calls or sending emails on the more serious delinquent situations.

“We also use automated tenant surveys that can be scheduled to go out within a few days of move-in or move out, which are emailed to the tenant and can be sent to the manager or to the corporate office. We keep the surveys short and easy to complete and use the information to make sure we are creating a positive customer experience.”

“Our management software automates the delinquency process, late fees and automatic lien letters that are generated and emailed,” adds Cole. “All new move-ins receive an automated email welcoming them as customers and inviting them to take a survey.”

 “We automate our collection calls,” says Cowen. “Robo-type calls are used as our first call to alert tenants that units are past due. These aren’t the only calls made, but a good portion of past due tenants pay after the robo call but before our managers make their ‘live calls.’

“We have an integrated SMS [text] program that is scheduled to send tenant messages for certain events on pre-defined dates. These can include past-due notices, or notices that something is happening at the location. This has been especially helpful during weather-related closure events to keep our tenants updated with issues on the property. These aren’t completely automated due to a software limitation in SiteLink, so someone has to actually hit ‘process’ to send out the notices, but once that’s done, the system generates a text to every tenant who is set to receive that particular message.

“Nothing zaps a manager’s will to live like stuffing hundreds of envelopes with letters. We use an automated mailing service that’s integrated with our software to process paper notices to our tenants. This is also an option for sending auction notices without having to go to the post office, which saves a ton of time for our managers.”

Reviews can help a facility’s reputation drastically by showing your potential customers that your current customers love you. Cole says, “Use Google Review QR codes to allow tenants to leave reviews while at the store. We created a QR code that will take tenants directly to our Google Review page for each location. When the customer is at the store renting a unit or truck, or making a payment, we ask them to scan the code and leave us a review. Because we made it so simple, our number of reviews have gone up quite a bit.”

LEADS

There’s also something to be said for instant communication and striking while the iron is hot. “We don’t have missed call leads because they automatically roll over to our call center rather than going to an answering machine,” says Cole. “When a customer makes an appointment to come to the store to rent a unit, there is an auto- mated text message that is sent out two hours before their appointment.”

Cole’s website automatically emails completed and incomplete reservations to the manager, district manager and home office to follow up with the customer and track the reservation lead.

REVENUE MANAGEMENT

“Most management software programs now offer a revenue management feature, which we have found to be a real money maker and time saver,” says Gately. “For example, you can program the software to raise rents on vacant units by a set percentage when the occupancy on any unit type exceeds a defined target (e.g., raise rents by 6 percent on any size that is 90 percent occupancy or higher). During the busy leasing season, this can really be a big help to the manager, as the software will automatically raise the rate without the manager having to even notice that the occupancy target has been achieved.

“This revenue management feature is also very helpful in prompting rate increases on occupied units. For example, you can instruct the software to raise rents on any occupied unit after 12-months’ tenancy by a certain percentage. You can allow the rate increases to be limited to the current street rate or not. The manager can get the proposed list of rent increases each month for review. The manager can be given the authority to approve the rent increases or modify as deemed appropriate.”

“We use a website scrubbing soft- ware to monitor our competitors’ rents and specials and any changes. The software is inexpensive and provides regular prompts of any rate changes with comps in your defined market trade area. The pricing is laid out in an easy-to-use grid, showing rates by competitor and unit type. In addition, we have the managers contact their counterparts on five or so comps each month by phone to trade notes on the occupancy, rates, specials and market info. The managers should drive by their comps at least quarterly.

Cowen also uses software to help with competitive pricing. “We use a revenue management program that ‘scrapes’ online rates for our competitors and compiles them into a list so we’re able to easily see our low, high and median competitor rates in any given market.”

PAYMENTS

“We have an automated payment prompt that customers can use to make their payment over the phone,” says Cowen. “This saves our managers or call center agents from having to talk to multiple customers who are just wanting to make a payment and frees them up to handle other customer issues or new inquiries.

MAINTENANCE

“We even use automation for maintenance internally,” says Cole. “We have a maintenance ticket system where the manager creates a ticket and it sends it to the maintenance personnel. They repair what needs to be repaired and the manager receives a notification when the job is done and the ticket is resolved.”

Technology has come a long way and continues to allow us to streamline things that we previously handled manually. A lot of times, the use of technology can give us an edge on competition as well by giving us data at our fingertips to help us make smarter and quicker decisions.

 

 

Storage Essentials Manual

Pricing

Finding and Setting Value

by Jennifer Jones, Managing Editor of Self-Storage News

While pricing is certainly covered in other articles, it’s a big topic. So we want to call special attention to it. Be sure to look at the other articles for revenue management and how to use software to improve your rates.

Many things should be considered when determining unit rates. “Price should be based on a combination of market rates, quality of the facility and amenities offered,” says Katie Cowen. “Price alone is no way to judge a storage unit because a 10’ x 10’ climate-controlled unit on the fourth floor with no elevator access has a completely different value than the same unit on the first floor right next to an entrance door.”

Sarah Cole says, “We base it off of availability and competitor pricing by size. If we are below 70 percent occupied on a size, then we may price it a little under a competitor, but if we are 100 percent occupied on a size, we may price it above other competitors.”

Mike Gately concurs, “We have found on existing facilities with stabilized occupancy, the most important factor in pricing is your property's occupancy on each unit type. We keep pushing rates higher on any unit type that has an occupancy of 90 percent or better. Even if a competitor is $20 cheaper on the same size unit, we will keep inching our rate higher, so long as our occupancy on that size is holding 90 percent or better.

“We also use premium location pricing on certain units. For example, say $10 higher on first floor than upper floors or $5 higher to be near the elevator.

“Manager training on setting rates is very important. A well-trained manager understands that most prospects are looking for overall value (not just low price), so the manager emphasizes the benefits when talking prices.”

“Don’t use a broad scope for pricing,” says Monty Rainey. “When a store is struggling with occupancy, you may have a tendency to lower prices. While this may be needed for some unit types, you may have other types that are more than 90 percent occupied and those rates may even need to be increased. Each unit size and type is its own product and should be based on supply and demand, not on overall store occupancy.”


Pricing

Training

Tailoring to Your Facility

by Jennifer Jones, Managing Editor of Self-Storage News

When you consider what a manager can and can’t do for your business, you realize how important training and hiring really are. A manager is part of your brand—the personality of your facility, the person who makes sure things are working properly. Depending on the size of your facility, they can wear many hats from marketing and maintenance to operations and revenue.

Trusted Self Storage Professionals has new assistant managers work with an experienced manager for two to three weeks before being scheduled to work alone. New managers work with an experienced manager for several weeks before being assigned their property. “We have one site that does most of our training, which makes for consistency,” says Mike Gately. The manager doing the training is a strong manager who likes training others and uses a written checklist of all tasks to be trained that must be completed and sent to the property supervisor. Good training is critical to achieving operational excellence and to have confident, competent employees.”

“Move It is larger than some of the other operators, so we’ve used our benefit of scale to set up an online learning management system (LMS),” says Katie Cowen. “Our managers get a combination of live, one-on-one training, training via review of an operations manual, and training via modules in the LMS. The LMS modules can include written lessons with a test afterward, video lessons with a test afterward, or a combination of both items. We also utilize training resources and certification from our software provider (SiteLink) and our ancillary truck rental services (U-Haul/Penske).”

Sarah Cole says that at Oakcrest Management, each new manager gets one week of training with a seasoned manager, two days of customer service phone skill training and one week in their store with a seasoned manager/ supervisor. “By the third week, they should be able to handle day-to-day functions on their own. On lien process days (NOC, cut lock, etc.), a supervisor will be with them to make sure notices are done properly and the new manger is learning how to do them properly. Oakcrest Management also has quarterly training webinars on various topics, such as collections, closing the sale and auction process.”

So, what do you do if you don’t have multiple facilities or don’t want to hire third-party management? You can write your own training manual. Each day you are performing a task, write down your thoughts and start creating checklists. Implement some of the tactics used above at your facility. You may only hire a new manager once in a blue moon or you may have higher turnover. Creating a training manual, although a time-consuming process, can ultimately save time when you hire a new manager.

Creating checklists for leasing, maintenance (as well as schedules), operations, procedures, new hire orientation, marketing and more will ensure your new manager is aware of your systems and expectations.

At RPM, training never ends. They have a designated trainer who gives personal, interactive training following a two-week program. At each subsequent store visit by a district manager, time is set aside for ongoing training for the entire staff. RPM also provides employees with paid tuition for online business management related courses.

 


Tailored Training

The Why's and How's of Online Auctions: Webinar Takeaways
by Taressa Dominguez, TSSA Director of Education & Marketing
June 15, 2020


You may be familiar with auctions, but there is still a lot to learn about online auctions.  Some of you may be practiced at using the new auction format, but for many there is still some mystery to the process and the results it can bring your self-storage business.   TSSA hosted a webinar with Lonnie Bickford, StorageAuctions.com; Cassie Dodgen, Pinnacle Storage Properties; Ann Parham, The Parham Group/Joshua Management; and Ross Pfiefer, Hixon Properties, to discuss the basics of online auctions and how they use it to benefit their businesses.  Here are a few key points we learned: 

  • More eyes on your auction.  On average in Texas, StorageAuctions.com reports that units will receive 150-500 online views. Units with more valuable contents can get much higher than 1,000 views. 
 
  •  Schedule online auctions in advance.  Having a clear, set schedule allows your managers to communicate clearly to tenants that the auction is on a predetermined date, and the unit will go to auction if payment is not made prior to that date.
 
  •  Use the power of photos.  Pictures of the unit are incredibly impactful in auctioning off units.  StorageAuctions.com recommends submitting at least seven photos—one main photo of the overall unit, a few closer-up images of the unit, and up-close shots of valuable items that will bring in bidders. 
 
  •  List out the contents of the unit.  Online auction platforms allow you to list the contents of your unit. With newspaper ads, you may be limited by space to only describing the unit contents as “household goods” but the online platform allows you to list “washer and dryer” or “sewing machine.” It helps bidders search and gives you the chance to highlight items you know will gather interest.
 
  •  Your auction, your way.  You can still set your own auction rules using online platforms.  If you want a 72-hour clean-up with a deposit and no dumpster privileges, then you can set those rules for your auction. 


To learn more about online auctions, visit the TSSA Resource Library  to watch our webinar recording. If you would like to post your auction on TSSA’s website, in addition to the legally mandated newspaper advertisement, visit here.

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Why's and How's of Online Auctions