Management is the Key to Your Success
by Pamela Alton
The key to success is not just finding and hiring a good manager or what wages and bonuses you should offer, but you must also consider training your self-storage staff to be successful! Once all of this is in place, then there are other things to consider such as regular audits and inspections, site visits, employee reviews and "de-hiring" staff, all worthy subjects to touch upon down the road.
Obviously I can't possibly go into depth on each subject; however, I am going to do my best to try to give you some insight from my 26 years in the self-storage industry and hopefully I can get your creative juices flowing by giving you some ideas to help you be a better self-storage owner or operator and increase your bottom line!
FINDING AND HIRING MANAGERS
First let's talk about finding and hiring good managers. As we all know, the people you choose to manage your facility will make the difference between a highly successful operation or a mediocre one. Finding that perfect management staff is not always an easy task to accomplish! Where do you find them and what do you do with them once you have them?
To find managers, you can place an ad on any number of employment websites available today, such as Monster, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, CareerBuilder, Craigslist, WorkingCouples.com (if your position is for a resident manager team), trade magazines or use one of the placement services such as my company, Mini-Management Services, or Kelly Services. You can also ask for referrals from your current managers or other owners or operators in the industry. Getting people to respond may be the easiest aspect of your management search.
However, interviewing and matching the right manager with your facility is not so easy. Everyone can be on their best behavior for an hour, that is why it is important to interview your selection of candidates more than once. If they are currently employed at a facility close enough for you to visit them, you should consider that, providing you get their approval. Most managers seek new employment confidentially and don’t want to jeopardize their current position.
When interviewing candidates, consider their individual talents and match the management personality with that of the facility position you are trying to fill. Traditionally, if you have on-site housing, most full-time resident management staff consists of a husband and wife team. Just because the woman is usually the one that is behind the desk and the man is the one that is responsible for the maintenance, doesn’t mean that she is better at office work and he is better with repairs. Sometimes she is better at maintenance and he is better with the computer! Perhaps he is more outgoing than she is and would be better at outside marketing. Again, look at the talents of each manager and consider giving them job responsibilities that are best suited to their strengths.
REFERENCES AND BACKGROUND CHECKS
Once you have narrowed down the best possible candidates, then you must check their work references, and when I speak of "work references," I mean past supervisors or owners, not tenants or co-workers, friends or relatives. Do you think they will provide references from friends or family who will speak ill of them? Of course not!
Some large companies will not verify anything more than employment dates and job titles. I have been in this business for a very long time and know a lot of people, and thank goodness I am lucky enough to get a little more information than most because people know they can speak candidly with me about an employee and it won’t go any further than me!
I also suggest if a candidate is currently employed, have someone telephone shop them to evaluate their telephone skills. You want to make sure the person you hire answers the telephone in a timely and professional manner. In addition, you want to make sure the person you hire tries to close the sale by scheduling an appointment to visit the facility and rent a space. We all know how much it costs to generate a call, and we want to make sure it pays off by having a professional answer the phone!
Next, you will want to conduct a background check. There are numerous companies that specialize in background checks, personality tests, drug tests and credit reports. You can find these companies on the Internet or ask other owners for recommendations.
LETTER OF EMPLOYMENT AND APARTMENT LEASE
Once you have done your "due diligence" on the possible candidates and have selected your management staff, then you should have them sign a letter of employment and an apartment dwelling lease if you have a resident manager apartment on-site. Your letter of employment should spell out the manager’s typical job duties, their rate of pay and bonus structure as well as the goals you have set for the manager to achieve. This way, you and your manager are on the same page as far as what is expected by both parties. Most states are "employment at will," meaning you can give notice to the manager or the manager can give notice to you to end employment with your company.
If you have a resident manager’s apartment on-site, and yes, I still see new facilities being built with resident manager apartments, please make sure it is someplace you would live. If possible, have an outside patio or balcony so the manager can get outside with some privacy. No one wants to drag their BBQ out onto the driveway to grill a steak with moving trucks or tenants driving by! You will attract a better quality manager with a nicer apartment and amenities.
This is where the apartment dwelling lease comes into play! It should cover things like:
- Manager will reside in the apartment rent free as long as they are employed by the facility;
- Manager will vacate the apartment once employment ends;
- Apartment is to be used as a residence for the manager and cannot be rented out;
- Manager is responsible for any damage caused by themselves, their pets or children, etc.
The lease comes in handy for the eviction process if you fire a manager because things went south and they won't vacate the apartment. I personally have never had this happen. However, I have heard the horror stories of a manager who squats down and won't vacate the apartment. Will a lease stop this from happening? No, but it will make it easier to evict your ex-manager and get your apartment back.
MANAGER WAGES AND BONUS PROGRAMS
While I am on the subject of letters of employment and apartment leases, let's talk about manager wages and bonuses I see offered in the industry today. Please keep in mind that most managers do not contact me for placement to make more money, that is usually their third reason on the list of why they are looking to make a change. However, paying a good manager a few hundred more per month than the owner down the street is a drop in the bucket for a manager who can make you thousands more per month! When I mention wages, there are a couple of factors that need to be considered, such as on-site or off-site, team or single, hourly or salary and don't forget relief managers. I am going to be brief and to the point on this one.
Team salary: $3,400 to $5,000 per month
Single manager salary: $2,200 to $3,000 per month
Usually single, hourly employees: $12 to $20 an hour
Hourly: $11 to $13 an hour
*These numbers are general and based upon Pamela Alton’s experience in the industry.
These wages are general in terms. Some managers may make more and the size of your facility may come into play. I currently have an opening for a resident manager at a facility with 450 units north of the San Francisco Bay area. The position provides a single, two bedroom, two bath apartment. In addition to the apartment, it pays $17.00 an hour with some participation on medical and a bonus program.
People will say, yeah, but that's in the San Francisco area. Yes, it is, but a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread is still pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, it is probably higher to live in that area and rental rates are going to be higher as well. The point is, pay your people well for your area and keep in mind that you cannot use the cost of the housing to offset any minimum wage deficiency. In other words, you cannot say to a manager, “I am going to pay you $2,000 per month, but $600 of that is for the apartment, so I will pay you $1,400 per month and along with the $600 for the apartment, your wage package is $2,000 per month. Oh, and by the way, I expect you to work six days a week.” You can do that, but you may find yourself in a situation down the line with the labor department and owing your managers back wages! Not to mention having one heck of a time trying to find a manager to work for that.
Let’s move on to bonuses. Keep in mind, the best bonus program is one that motivates and is achievable. There is nothing more "de-motivating" to a manager than a bonus program that is over complicated and can’t be understood or achieved. Also, what motivates one manager may not motivate another. Money is always a good bonus, it is usually the right fit and color and will never be returned to the store.
Bonuses can be based upon different variables such as: increasing occupancy levels and monthly income, reducing delinquency and collecting bad debts, being paid for each signed lease, making or exceeding the annual budget figures, renting spaces at full price without discounts or free rent. They can also be based on cleaning up a distressed or dirty facility and office, by doing an outstanding job on the telephone when shopped by a telephone shopping service, by selling merchandise, packing and moving supplies, property protection or renting rental trucks, etc.
Bonuses can be paid in different ways. They can be paid annually, quarterly or monthly. Besides giving the manager a monetary bonus, bonuses can take other forms such as: vacations or mini-trips, gift cards or other luxuries such as a flat screen TV, video camera or stereo, etc. There is no black and white when it comes to manager bonus programs.
TRAINING YOUR NEW MANAGER
Now that you have hired your new manager and wages and bonuses are in place, it's time for orientation and training. If you don’t have a clear and concise policies and procedures manual, then you need to design or purchase one, or several, that are available today and customize them to suit your company’s philosophy. (You can even purchase one from TSSA.) Review the manual with the manager. Discuss job duties and responsibilities. Be sure to cover company policies and procedures, sales and marketing, daily operations, company forms, rental agreements, chain of command, etc. Make sure you are both on the same page.
It doesn’t matter if a manager has been in this business for 25 years or this is their first trek into the industry, all management staff needs to be trained, and in some cases, re-trained. Just because a manager has years of experience does not mean they are doing things the way they should be done, or how you want them done. Training is an essential part of your success in this competitive business. Remember, it’s the little things that will set your staff apart from the competition.
If possible, before the new management staff sets foot on the property for their first day, you should set up a week’s worth of training at your corporate office (if you have one). You both need to give each other your undivided attention in this training session. If you have relief staff in place, then have them run the office during your training sessions with new managers. Obviously, an experienced management staff will have more understanding of the operations of a self-storage facility than someone who has never managed a facility.
When it comes to training, please don't ignore your relief staff and leave it up to your site managers to train them. Yes, they can train the relief staff in the mundane day-to-day duties such as taking a payment or doing a move-in and move-out, but relief staff traditionally have been thought of as someone who will "hold down the fort" while the manager has their day off, but relief staff, if trained properly, can be a ready source of management staff ready to move up when you acquire or build your next project.
Things change rapidly in our industry, new lien laws, new ways to market through social media, call centers, etc. Your managers need to have "refresher" courses to keep up with changes. Get them a subscription to industry magazines. Send them to TSSA classes, seminars and conferences. Give them the tools to be successful.
If you show your appreciation and support by paying them well, rewarding them with obtainable bonus programs, patting them on the back for a job well done, or sending a hand written "thank you for your hard work" note, those things go a long way in showing your appreciation for your manager as part of your team. After all, they ARE your operations manager, and without them you could not be successful. Good management is the key to success!
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