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. 

Natural Disasters and Casualty Events—Now What?

by TSSA Legal Counsel

Texas weather has always been a little unpredictable, but the in the last five years we have seen some devastating natural disasters and casualty events. Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the coast, the ice storm of 2021 basically shut down the entire state for almost a week, sporadic hailstorms and most recently, tornadoes, devastating winds and flooding affected many parts of the state. It's important to create a natural disaster plan so that you and your onsite staff know exactly what to do before the unexpected happens. Click here to read an article on developing a disaster plan for your facility.

In this blog post, we will provide links to helpful Self-Storage News magazine articles written by members who have been impacted by casualty events, TSSA Goldbook© legal articles on natural disasters and TSSA forms that you may need if your facility is affected by severe weather events.

First Steps

The most important first step in the wake of a casualty event or natural disaster is communication—communication with your tenants, your insurance company and the appropriate authorities if necessary. Click here to read a Self-Storage News article on how communication can help save your business.

There is an article in the TSSA Goldbook© that details step-by-step instructions on how to handle a plethora of casualty events, including fire, windstorm (ripping roof off), flood/water penetration and more. Click here to read a legal article detailing emergency instructions for onsite managers after a casualty event has occurred. 

Many of the steps listed in the legal article above are appropriate for several different types of natural disasters, but depending on the damage your facility sustained, additional steps may be required—such as securing the scene to ensure no one is injured. It may be more than putting an overlock on an unsecured unit—it may also include bringing in a rented fence to help secure an area where a wall or roof has blown off (often insurance will pay for this). Some of the other challenging issues to address are:

How long should we wait before letting tenants in to look for their things?

The answer to this question depends on the extent of damage at the facility. If the facility has been so damaged that allowing tenants in would potentially be unsafe, check with the police department or fire department for their recommendations and follow them. If the police or fire department have no recommendations, use your own judgment, but if there is the potential for harm (any potential for structural compromise), you should try and have all tenants sign a release prior to entry. At the very minimum, you should have a sign at the facility so that when tenants who demand to enter will see it. The sign should be very conspicuous and should say something like: “Danger, enter at your own risk. Due to [Tornado, Flood, Structural Damage, etc.] this facility has sustained extensive damage, including extensive potential structural damage. Hardhats are available in the office, and you are encouraged to wear one.” Consider having a supply of hardhats on hand for tenants to borrow. Also, photograph the sign in place, and document the date it was posted.

How do we get the tenants out of our facility so that we can bulldoze the whole thing and rebuild?

Paragraph 9 of the TSSA lease gives you the right to terminate the lease if the space is “substantially damaged” by a casualty (in your sole judgment) by emailing, mailing or hand delivering five days advance written notice of termination to tenant. Click here to download TSSA Form BUS-22, Five Day Notice of Termination Due to Casualty. 

Also, if you are using a TSSA lease version dated 2006 or later, paragraph 26 of the lease provides that a unit will be “deemed abandoned” if, due to a casualty, the unit contains nothing of value to the ordinary person and the tenant fails to remove his or her items from the space within 10 days after you mail the tenant TSSA Form BUS-11, Notice of Abandonment Due to Casualty. This can greatly assist you if a casualty “wipes out” the facility or several units and it is clear that there is nothing of value left to retrieve from the unit(s). Having a unit be legally abandoned according to Paragraph 26 of the TSSA lease gives you the right to consider all of the tenant's rights to the space's contents terminated, and gives you the right to dispose of all contents. Click here to download TSSA Form BUS-11.

How long must we wait for a tenant’s response before we can bulldoze?

If the tenant’s contents are still identifiable (if the tenant’s unit still exists and it is feasible for them to come and retrieve the contents but they just haven't after you've made a request, you can send them TSSA Form E-1, 15-day Notice of Termination of Storage Space Rental Agreement. Click here to download TSSA Form E-1. It's always preferable to be understanding of the circumstances, but you will probably have to give a specific date for tenants to respond and to retrieve the items they want. If the tenant does not respond, then give the tenant a 15-day notice of lease termination. If in your judgment there is nothing that is potentially recoverable from the tenant’s space, then we recommend sending the tenant TSSA Form MISC-3, Notice of Abandonment, informing the tenants in question that new rent ceased as of the day of the weather event, that all of the contents of his unit are either lost or damaged beyond any potential use, and that within a certain number of days the contents will be deemed abandoned and disposed of unless the tenant can immediately come to the facility to look at and claim any contents that are wanted.


How should our facility handle delinquent tenants now that we don’t have any collateral due to the damage that a natural disaster caused?
If tenants were delinquent prior to the casualty and if any of their items are left behind, you can go through the standard Chapter 59 foreclosure process. If there are no items left behind, or if what is left behind has been destroyed to the point of having no value, you may either sue the tenant in small claims court for the delinquent balance or turn the tenant over to a collection agency after giving the tenant 10 days notice as required by paragraph 11 of the TSSA lease. Check your lease to make sure it has this language; some of the older versions of the lease do not. Click here to download TSSA Form BUS-10, Final Notice Before Collection Agency Fees Charged. Once you verify that your lease contains this language and you send this 10-day notice and receive no response, you may turn the matter over to a collection agency, which will collect the fees on your behalf, and the tenant will also be responsible for any charges the collection agency requires. For example, if the tenant owes you $500 and the collection agency charges you a 50% fee for collection, the tenant will then owe you $750.


Regardless of what you do and how you contact your tenant, document with photographs and video in as much detail as possible. This video will be your proof that items were damaged beyond any potential value.

Additionally, if you have items that are salvageable, but you do not hear from the tenant after your communications are sent, don’t forget that under paragraph 18 of the TSSA lease, you have the right to relocate the contents of a unit if relocation is needed to protect the contents or space from loss or damage from casualty or theft. Presumably all security at your facilities has been compromised, so theft or looting may be an issue. If this is your situation, I recommend relocating the contents to a more appropriate place. If you do relocate the contents, don’t forget that per paragraph 18 of the TSSA lease, the tenant is no longer liable for rent but is liable for reasonable storage charges only. Check your lease version (TSSA lease paragraph 18)—some of the older lease versions required different tenant notices after entry than the newer versions do. In closing, a little pre-planning for natural disasters and casualty events can greatly minimize potential hassles and liability exposure. Hopefully this has outlined some ideas for you to consider when determining the best protocol for your own needs.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Natural Disasters and Casualty Events—Now What?

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, 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.


It 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.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Everything You Need to Know About Online Auctions

Your Sales Tax Questions Answered
From Tax-Exempt Customers to Sales Tax Permits
by Connie Heyer, TSSA Legal Counsel

Some of the more frequently asked questions I receive are about sales tax, including sales tax on parking. To assist you in your sales tax dilemmas, I have included those FAQs below.

Why do I have to charge sales tax when a storage space is used for parking? 

The short answer is, “Because it’s the law.” Sales tax is not due on the rental of most self-storage units. However, sales tax must be collected if the rented space is used to park a vehicle. A vehicle includes most anything required to be registered—everything from passenger cars to trailers and RVs. The size of the vehicle does not matter—the tax treatment is the same.

What is the general rule?

Your facility has the duty to collect sales tax on all rents and charges received for vehicle or trailer parking or storage. Your facility needs to collect the monies from the customer and remit them to the state.

What if I just rent a whole area of my facility to one tenant for parking, and don’t know how many cars are parking in it?

You need to pay sales tax on the total rent received; it does not matter how many cars are parked in the field. If you rent an area of your parking lot for $100/month, then you simply pay sales tax on the basis of rent of $100/month.

What kinds of things do I have to collect this parking sales tax on?

In other words, what is a “motor vehicle” subject to tax? Namely, it is cars, trucks, RVs, motor homes, truck trailers, boat trailers (without a boat on them), travel trailers (but not mobile homes), pop-up trailers, golf cart trailers (but not golf carts), tow dollies, tractor trailers and motorcycle trailers. Just about anything that moves on a highway or is attached to something that moves on a highway qualifies.

What if I collect rent for parking but don’t collect the tax?

Your facility is liable for payment of the parking taxes if the customer pays the rent but not the tax.

What if the customer pays nothing, including rent?

If the customer pays nothing (defaults on rent payments), no tax is due. Your tax duties relate to rent collected.

There are always exceptions, what are they?

There is no duty to collect and remit tax on an occupied boat trailer (trailer with a boat on it), or golf cart trailer with a golf cart on it, or unlicensed off-road motorcycle trailers with an off-road motorcycle on it.

What if the car in the rented storage space comes and goes?

In my opinion it does not matter; you have rented the space for parking and sales tax is due on the rent.

Does it matter whether the vehicle is stored inside or outside?

No, sales tax is due no matter whether storage is indoor or outdoor.

What if a vehicle is stored in an enclosed unit, and there is other stuff stored in there, too?

Sales tax must be paid on the dollar amount of all rents actually received by the parking/storage facility operator for the service of parking or storage. If the car takes up half of the unit, and other stuff is stored in the other half, you could in the lease say $X rent attributable to parking storage, and $Y attributable to non-parking storage. But, that may be more trouble than it’s worth, and may cause confusion with the comptroller. It is a business decision for you, and you should consult your own lawyer or accountant, but it might make sense just to charge tax on the entire rent and not open the door to questions in that regard.

What if I don’t know a vehicle is stored inside a unit?

Once you find out, start collecting and remitting sales tax. The TSSA lease expressly prohibits storage of motor vehicles without your express consent, so legally there should not be vehicle storage that you don’t know about. If you do allow vehicle or boat storage, it is strongly recommended that you use the TSSA Vehicle Trailer and Boat Self-Storage Rental Agreement.

What about a large mobile barbecue pit?

Mobile barbeque pits are considered to be motor vehicles (and subject to storage tax) or not based on the following test: Barbeque pits that have been mounted on flatbed trailers are motor vehicles and the charge for storage are taxable. Barbeque pits that have had wheels and axels mounted on them are movable specialized equipment and charges for storage are not taxable.

What if my customer is tax exempt?

Exemptions from the sales tax include: (1) parking or storage charges paid by governmental entities, and (2) parking or storage charges paid by religious, educational, or charitable entities that sign an exemption certificate and give it to the parking facility operator. Such exemption certificates must be kept on file for Comptroller audit purposes in case the sales tax reports are ever questioned.

Can I pay the tenant’s tax? Do I have to note in my ads or my lease that tax is due?

Your lease can state (you could insert into TSSA lease paragraph 6, special provisions, for example) that the “rental price includes sales tax.” But your lease must contain this language if this is your practice. And if your price includes sales tax, obviously you must remit the sales tax to the comptroller. For example, say your rent is $50/month and your lease says that this includes sales tax. You must back out the 8.25% tax. So, your rent income is really $46.19, and you must remit $3.81 to the comptroller. If you’re passing the sales tax through to your tenant separate and apart from the rent, you don’t have to include special language in your lease. If you provide an invoice or receipt to tenants, then you must separately state the sales tax amount on the invoice or receipt unless it contains a statement that the price includes sales tax. Parking signs, parking advertisements and other promotional information for parking cannot say that the parking facility operator pays the sales tax. However, they can (a) be silent on the tax; (b) say the price includes sales tax; (c) say the price is “plus tax.”

How do I get a sales tax permit?

If you allow vehicle storage, you must obtain a Comptroller’s sales tax permit and begin to make monthly, quarterly or yearly sales tax payments to the Comptroller. As a general rule, if you have less than $1,500 in sales tax per quarter you may file quarterly. If you have less than $1,000 sales tax per year, you may file yearly “upon authorization from the comptroller.” Authorization will depend on historical sales tax filings. You may call the comptroller at (800) 252-5555 to discuss this.

If I have a sales tax permit, what if I don’t have any taxes to report for the reporting period?

Even if you don’t have any taxes to report for your reporting period, you must submit a return for that period to the comptroller.

What other parts of my business are taxable?

Boxes, tape, snack foods and other products for sale. Also, you must collect and remit sales tax on all proceeds from your Ch. 59 auctions (with the exception of sales of vehicles and boats, outboard motors and buyers with exemption certificates or resale certificates).

What about free rent or other “giveaways”?

If you occasionally give away free rent, a disk lock, boxes or other taxable items as part of a promotion, sales tax is still due. You must pay sales tax at one “end” of the transaction, regardless of whether you give the items away. In this instance you would pay sales tax on the items given away such as boxes and tape, based on their purchase price from the wholesaler. For free rent, you would remit sales tax for the full rent. The “giveaway” items should be categorized as a “taxable purchase” on your sales tax return, reportable on line three of your sales tax return.

Is sales tax due only on rent, or on late fees and other charges related to default under the lease?

The Texas Comptroller’s office appears to have recently changed its long-standing position on this matter. The Comptroller as TSSA understands it is now taking the position that sales tax must be paid on all fees of any kind collected under a lease that contemplates parking.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Your Sales Tax Questions Answered

Winter Storm Provides Opportunity to Prove Grit, Help Tenants

by Holly Barr and Ginny Sutton, TSSA Staff
February 19, 2021


Texans are known for their grit. We pride ourselves on persevering through heat, drought, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

And now we’ll add “ice and snow super storms” to the list. This 2021 weather event will be noted in our state history and will surely earn a footnote in future farmer’s almanacs. Heck, this storm even warranted a name—Uri. We aren’t used to having names for our little ice events.

Usually, our ice storms are short lived and for most of us, staying off the roads while they are happening is the only impact we experience. Snow is even rarer, but this event didn’t provide the fluffy white stuff of our dreams. Our typical ice storms don’t threaten the power grid for the state or leave thousands without power through rolling blackouts or even for three to four days. They also don’t leave the multitudes without water or scrambling to deal with water leaks from burst pipes. Those are typically isolated incidents, and sometimes we know one or two people who experienced that. This time, it’s all around us, or we are in the midst of it ourselves.

Experts are predicting that this event will break records for insurance claims totals, surpassing claims from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Events like this have at least one silver lining—they give all of us the chance to see what we’re made of and how tough we can be when it’s needed. Numerous times during the past week as our power was off—sometimes for more than 8-hour stretches—I found myself thinking, “Can you imagine what it was like to experience this kind of weather back when houses weren’t insulated, and electricity wasn’t in the picture?” Anytime I felt a bit whiny or was cold I would picture pioneer mothers with their children hunkered down inside of timber homes with gaps between the logs and my pity party would quickly dissipate.

In addition to being tough, our members are givers. A few of you have shared with us what you’re doing to help those in your communities, but we know there are countless others who’ve helped, too. Send us your stories, so we can continue to share and encourage each other. We sent out an email to members earlier this week with resources available on our website, in case you didn’t see it, you can go to our home page and you’ll find our link to disaster resources.

So, what’s next?

  • Busted pipes
  • Flooding
  • Clean up
  • Food and water needs
  • Drinking water
  • Waiting for plumbers or insurance adjustors
  • Communal contempt for ERCOT (kidding, kind of)…

Maybe you’re wondering how you can help your tenants during this time? Some ideas…

  • Do you have an extra case or two of water in storage? Can you share with your tenants when they come to the facility?
  • Be prepared for people bringing in potentially wet items and have a script planned for how to tell them they need to dry them out before storing. Help your managers with resources.
  • Do you have a plumber in your network? Can you ask them for advice to give your tenants while they are waiting for repairs? Anything to prevent further damage?
  • Have numbers on hand for your city’s water and electric emergency numbers to share with tenants if they seem unsure.
  • Homeowners and renters are encouraged to reach out to FEMA online at www.disasterassistance.gov or 800-621-3362 if they are in need.
  • If you have the capacity, can you become an information hub for tenant needs and resources? Even a bulletin board outside? (“I have” or “I need” labels with notes and pens for posting, or business cards for contractors can be helpful.)
Did your office experience water damage? If you lost your printed leases or Goldbook©, reach out, as we will replace those lost TSSA resources. If TSSA can help at this time, please call or email and let us know what you need. We are still answering the phones at 888-259-4902 during regular business hours, or you can email us at info@txssa.org. We also continue to post helpful items to our website and social media platforms.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Winter Storm Provides Opportunity to Prove Grit, Help Tenants

When Storms Strike: Key Takeaways to Help You Prepare

by Taressa Dominguez
11/18/2020

When disasters strike or hurdles arise, they can be unpredictable. And though you may not know the timing or extent of impact, you can prepare your facility and staff to tackle whatever comes at them by creating a plan of action that is precise enough for your staff and tenants know what to do and expect, but is also flexible enough to adapt to the situation. At the Bigger Ideas in Storage Conference, the Move It Self Storage team of Tim Springer, Tom Maxfield, Katie Cowen and Jesse Munoz shared their expertise on how to respond to disasters. With about half of their properties within 30 miles from the coast, preparing for a storm is a constant and top priority for Move It. Here are some key takeaways from their session for when a storm rolls in.

  • Plan ahead and prepare for the worst so you can make the best decisions possible while evaluating your risk.
  • Prioritize communication with your staff and tenants. If you have advanced warning of a storm, plan on frequent and regular communications so that staff and tenants are kept apprised of details and your disaster plan as the situation evolves.
  • Notify vendors/work crews before the storm that you may need help to get up and running after the storm.
  • If you have time when preparing for a storm, file a “notice only claim” with your insurance so that you have a claim number ready in case you need it.
  • Power down important mechanical features at your facility, like gates and elevators. This will help ensure a tenant does not get stuck in an elevator and that the gate doesn’t become a safety hazard.
  • Make sure to notify tenants via phone, text, email and website of your evolving plan so that they can make their own plans. Tenants may be storing their emergency supplies and need to know when they can access them.
  • If you anticipate an increase in demand after the storm, evaluate your marketing spend. You will likely be able to save money by decreasing your Pay-Per-Click (PPC) if you know your demand is about to increase organically.
  • Ensure that you can do business, even in a basic way, after the storm. Consider having an “office in a box” at hand with a hotspot and TSSA paper leases included.

There is a process to responding to each stage of the storm—before, during and after. Above, we’ve focused on preparing before the storm hits, but in every stage, communicating your plan to staff and tenants is vital. We thank the Move It team and invite you to watch their full presentation, “When Disaster Strikes: Will You Flounder or Float?” on the TSSA website. If you missed the annual conference and want access to this recording and many more, you're in luck.  With the Post-Conference Pass, you will have access to 12 conference session recordings for a full year, so you can dive deeper into disaster preparedness and so many additional self-storage topics.  


Read More Blog Posts » 

When Storms Strike: Key Takeaways to Help You Prepare

Turning a Property Around

by Tom Maxfield, Move It Management

March 31, 2020


It is all too common to hear about a particular facility not succeeding in its market, or, perhaps the facility was once successful but has since declined. For an owner or manager concerned about falling performance, rehabilitating a facility can be a daunting and often perplexing undertaking. However, most of the time, the keys to a successful turnaround program are right under your nose. So, don’t panic about the situation. Instead, become purposeful about identifying the problems and implementing a turnaround plan.

The first step is to simply recognize doing “something new” requires you to stop doing “something old.” It can be difficult to organize.

Your priorities as an owner or manager after years of “we have always done this way” procedures.  The primary goal is to always increase NOI. A troubled facility is always failing in that goal, and as a result, alternative ideas, strategies, and processes are necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Any owner or manager, regardless of the size of their facility, can, and should provide a safe, clean, pleasant environment for tenants and employees. Doing so will almost always add value to the storage experience, generate additional income, and prolong the life of your asset.  Over time, some owners get these priorities out of order or take shortcuts causing poor customer satisfaction, declining staff morale, deferred maintenance, and underperforming financial results.

Consider Your Facility’s Appearance

“Curb appeal” is a frequently used term to describe the aesthetic appeal of your property when first seen by a drive-by customer. We know that term refers to a fresh-looking image including neat landscaping, quality signage, and exterior lighting.   However, imagine what prospective tenants are sensing when they enter the office, and they see dirty windows or flooring, stained ceiling tiles, faded painting, and a messy desk. And, if you show them a unit, what if they see litter around the property, filthy hallways, or rodent droppings in the unit? The solution is to roll up your sleeves or hire a cleaning team and clean up your property. Your property may not be fancy but it can be clean. Once done, you can proudly proclaim, “We are the cleanest facility in our market.” Customers will love and appreciate your hard work and commitment.

Assess Your Facility’s Security

Customers want to know you care about their safety and their stored property. That does not mean you assume responsibility, either real or implied.  Rather, in this area, the level of trust with your customers is proportionate to your maintenance of access and surveillance equipment.  A customer will quickly lose faith in you if half of the video cameras are not working or the manager has no training in operating the DVR. While modern systems for access, surveillance, alarms are recognized added value features for most customers, it is essential to maintain the functionality of the security systems in your facility, regardless of the sophistication of the equipment. Doing so will create peace of mind and goodwill with your customers.

Analyze Your Marketing Program

Troubled facilities are not keeping pace with the market.  The reason is generally due to complacency.  Getting out and visiting the competition provides immediate feedback as to your level of curb appeal, cleanliness, professionalism, and customer service compared to your competitors. Prospective customers already know the differences from their comparison shops. It would seem obvious managers would be knowledgeable and proactive to these differences, but generally, you will find they do not. Even if prospective customers drive by your facility, most of them seek additional information online. Having an informative website is important, of course, but having free listings on local search directories is one of the quickest, effective strategies for generating more inquiries from prospective tenants. Registering the facility on internet directory or aggregator sites (including TSSA’s Facility Locator) can also produce significant new traffic but recognize most of these prospective tenants are price oriented in their decision-making process. They are using an aggregator site to easily compare deals or prices.  If this strategy is used, be prepared to offer a rent discount to the new customer while paying a commission to the internet site.

Employ Revenue Management

Underperforming facilities generally do not change their asking rates on vacant inventory because of fear of losing a new rental or lack of knowledge of market rates.  If a unit category has not leased up over a period of time, it clearly indicates potential tenants don’t believe that unit type has value at the existing rent rate.   Correspondingly, if a unit category has a high occupancy for a period of time, it indicates potential tenants not only find the rent rate attractive but they might also pay a bit more due to the general demand.  Many companies use their management software to analyze these trends to decrease rent to stimulate sales or to increase rent to maximize income.  Similarly, satisfied existing tenants recognize moderate increases in rent from time to time. For the customer, the acceptance of the increase is tied to their perception of fairness.  If an owner or manager is providing a high level of service and maintenance of the facility, the customer is more tolerant and accepting. To be successful, it is advisable for owners to correct facility or personnel problems prior to implementing an aggressive rate increase program.

Review Processes and Procedures Commonly, troubled facilities have inadequate daily, weekly, and monthly operations.  As a result, management control is inconsistent.   Site related duties for the manager, including daily security checks or bank deposits, are often not defined. Importantly, many poor facilities have no defined procedures for collecting delinquent rent or conducting lien sales.  With their lease, TSSA has provided members with the most complete lien sale procedure in the nation, and there is no excuse for not using this statutory tool to collect past due rent and free non-productive inventory for new rentals.

Evaluate Your Property Manager

How “good” is that person for your property?   Even though there are a variety of assessment resources, it is rare for owners to make minimal investment in personality and skill profiles when hiring their employees. As a result, many facilities do not perform because the wrong hiring decision was made.  The majority of these managers did not receive adequate training when they were hired nor were they afforded training on an ongoing basis.  If the facility has deferred maintenance or a lack of organizational structure, it should not be a surprise that the manager has lost motivation and instead copes with just maintaining a job.  Often, these situations are not salvageable.  How- ever, high expectations of the owner carry the responsibility of providing a supportive atmosphere for the manager to succeed. A defined job description regarding duties, competitive compensation, benefits, working environment, and training are essential to developing great managers. In a relatively short period of time, a bad manager can ruin a good property, but conversely, a good manager can improve a bad property.

Turning around a troubled property requires a commitment to create a new atmosphere and experience for the customers and employees. It also requires capital and organization to implement a defined plan for improvement. It normally takes six months to complete the plan, but the improvement and pay-off can be inspiring.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Turning-Property-Around

Turn Your Slow Season Around

by Tron Jordheim

The “slow season” is upon us. That time when the winter holidays are approaching and cool weather is blowing in is usually not the time when you see peak demand in self storage.


Slow Season Marketing Tips

Rent as many units as you can, however you have to rent them, so you start with maximum physical occupancy when the spring busy season comes. Maybe you are feeling pretty full and happy. That is great. Why not challenge yourself to see how much you can grow your net operating income next year?


Test Demand

You have only two factors to consider: demand and supply. Big surprise, right? So first, test demand. Don’t change your rental rates, but if things are slow, advertise aggressive move-in specials. First-month-free, or first-month-for-a-dollar specials are hard to beat.

These strategies have been proven over and over again to be successful. Run your special, in combination with market rates, for the first month of slow season. Advertise it with some gusto. Spend a few bucks getting it out to the marketplace.


Measure Your Success Rate

Was your pace of rentals better than last year for the same month after running the special, or about the same? Were your conversion rates 60 percent or better? If you got 10 inquiries, did you rent to at least six of them? If you did not rent to someone, was it because of something other than price?


Review Your Supply

How did it affect supply? Still plenty of units? Or, getting tight on supply? If you are tight on supply, repeat the same special for a second month. Repeat the analysis each month during the four or five months of slow season.

I know owners hate giving the first month free. But if you are giving a free month to people paying market rate, what are you complaining about? When you start month two, you’ll be large and in charge, so get aggressive with first month free. If your month-end tests show you are not getting tight on supply and have plenty of units still left to rent, and your conversion rates are not 60 percent or more, cut asking rates. Yes, I said it, cut asking rates.

However, you must make it plain to people when they rent at reduced rates that these rates will discontinue on March 1, April 1 or May 1, whichever day correlates best with the start of your demand season.


Bring Rates Back to Market

Present the reduced rate as 20 or 30 percent off market rates until March. This makes it easier to go back to market rates when it is time, and fewer tenants will move out when you take them to market rates in anticipation of strong demand.

Empty units don’t help you in the slow season. Any income is good income if the other option is no income from an empty unit. The more physical occupancy you have at the start of high demand, the better position you are in to move market rates up early in the season. Many of your discounted renters will accept the increase to market rate and will not move out because they are expecting it. Some will move out, which will give you more units to rent at market rate. If they do move out, they will do so without bitterness or remorse because you made it clear to them from the beginning when their rates would go up to market rate.

You may have local conditions that won’t allow you to implement this strategy or another situation that will make this the wrong strategy for your site. You’ll need to decide for yourself.

But in the vast majority of cases, this will result in additional income for the last month or two of the year, which is always helpful. It will also result in additional income for the first few months of next year. And most importantly, it will be like rocket fuel for your efforts to maximize the high demand next spring to build maximum income for each quarter in 2018. This all means a big gain in net operating income.


Advertise Your Specials

What are the best ways to advertise this? Put it on your website. Put it in your social media. Use Google Ad words. Put a yard sign in front of your site. Get a big teardrop banner and set it out front by the curb. Put it on your main sign. Say it in your on-hold messaging. Say it upfront on the phone. Put out fliers in the areas of your neighborhood that are most likely to bring you some attention.


Reassess in the Spring

You may adopt a completely different strategy for move-in specials come April or May. You may be full enough and may have raised rates enough that you don’t have to offer any move-in specials next summer. You may want to tweak the specials by unit type. See how things look in the spring and decide as you see what your local conditions look like as the season develops. In any case, I’d be glad to hear from you next spring regarding how this slow season strategy was a winner for you.

Tron Jordheim is the business development manager for Store Here Management/ RHW Capital Management Partners, and a consultant in sales, call center practices, marketing and management. Tron has writ- ten three books, is a frequent speaker, and is a contributor to industry trade journals. Tron was a pioneer in search engine optimization, digital marketing and social media. Tron’s clients and employers have gained billions of dollars in asset value from what one self-storage industry icon described as his “quirky brilliance.”

 

Read More Blog Posts » 

Turn Your Slow Season Around

Turn Your Neighbors Into Loyal Customers
6 Tips to Earn the Business of Your Community

by Aytcha Katun-Williams

Do you know where your self-storage customers come from? Most of your customers are located within a seven mile radius of your facility. Given that the majority of your customers are local, you will need to know how to attract local businesses and residents to pick your local storage facility over your competition. Below are six quick tips on how to gain the business of the community that your facility is located within.

1. Get the Attention of Your Neighbors

Self-storage property owners and managers have been utilizing community involvement to create a working relationship within their neighborhoods for a long time. While charitable giving is not a new concept to the self-storage industry, let's look at some creative ways to take your community involvement to the next level:  

  • Many storage facilities allow a small percentage of their units to be used rent-free by local charities, churches, schools and alike. In return, these organizations spread the word by mentioning this charitable giving on their website, during their events, but most importantly by word of mouth.
  • A storage facility in North Bethesda, Maryland has each drive-up unit door painted with unique artwork. The facility owner hosts a community art day every few months where artists come and paint the storage doors with an art theme of community charitable events. The event is an open house, food and drinks are served while the residents and businesses of the area view the artwork created by local artists. Not only does the facility support local artists, but it also increases its curb appeal while bringing new traffic to the storage facility.
  • How about allowing your facility to be a collection point for a charity organization or for electronic recycling? You can opt to collect for your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army or another organization. Most charity organizations have containers that they deliver to your location and do pick-ups on request. They then advertise your facility through all their marketing channels as a drop of location. Electronic recycling companies will need you to allocate one 10’ x 10’ drive up storage unit but they will do the rest of the work to advertise your storage facility as a drop of location and will schedule pick ups at your request. All of these community activities bring further visibility and new customers to your facility.

2. Know Your Local Businesses

Some owners prefer business customers, as they stay longer and are less price conscious. And, all businesses from dental offices to insurance companies need storage. Understanding how and when each different business could utilize storage will allow you to cater your sales pitch to the needs of that business. Becoming a member of local business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or the local Rotary Chapter is one good way to get to know local business owners. Attending the weekly meetings of these organizations and asking the right questions is crucial in finding out how you can help these businesses. What are all the different types of local businesses in your neighborhood and how can you serve them? It’s important to be able to think outside of the box. Your facility may be near multiple retirement communities with new residents who will need storage. Building that relationship with their management may mean steady and long-term storage rentals for your business.

3. Support Your Local Businesses

Giving back to your business community is one of the best word-of-mouth marketing methods. Offering storage units to local businesses at a discount or renting storage units to use as a workshop, selecting a local moving-supplies vendor for your point-of-sale items are all great ways of showing your support. Have you considered selling locally made ancillary products at your storage facility? You can sell scented car fresheners and other locally made products to show that you keep everything local.

4. Cross Marketing to the Next Level

Cross marketing is a tested and proven method for local marketing. Your local restaurants, insurance and real estate brokers and other businesses will gladly exchange business cards and flyers for cross promotion efforts. How about combining your next community event as a networking opportunity for the local businesses? Consider inviting several of your local businesses to be present at your next community event to network with the community and to advertise. Local business involvement will be key to a successful property-hosted event, with the incentives being self-evident.

5. Let Your Managers Get Creative

Leaving some lead room and allocating a small “local marketing” budget for the managers are key. When visiting local apartment buildings or retirement communities, take a basket of muffins or cookies. People love treats, and treats will help you to stand out above your empty-handed competition.

6. Grass Roots Marketing Via Social Media

Are you utilizing social media channels as a form of grass roots marketing? Social media is a free way to reach your target market and take your community relationships to the next level. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels to announce new local business tenants, to publicize your support of your local businesses or your next community event. Data shows that the ever-increasing number of social media users are checking their accounts several times a day. What better way to announce your support of local businesses, discounts to local residents and more! If you think about it, when working within our communities we go back to the basics. Whether it is a person or an organization, having their best interest in mind and finding creative ways to help results in their appreciation of what you have to offer, and brings new business.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Turn Your Neighbors Into Customers

Storage Essentials Manual

Back to Basics—Industry Fundamentals

by Jennifer Jones, JKJ Marketing

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.” 

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.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Storage Essentials Manual

Stop Interruptions to Recurring Payments Due to Out-of-Date Card Information

Sponsored by CardConnect
April 21, 2021


Enabling a service on your merchant account to monitor customer payment accounts on a continual basis, to determine if the saved card data has become obsolete, will help you get in front of potential problems with expired cards and other causes of payment interruption. Some of the most common reasons that cause a customer's card data to become obsolete include:

  • A new card is issued due to suspected or confirmed fraud,
  • A replacement card is issued with an updated expiration date,
  • The account transitions to a different class or tier of card that requires a change in account number.

Whether you offer a subscription service or use recurring payment solutions for your business, you know how frustrating it can be to see transactions decline. Using an automatic updater to retrieve new card data can help your business to:

  • Update stored customer payment details with new data, without ever involving the cardholder
  • Stabilize and maintain cashflow by reducing late and declined payments
  • Reduce involuntary churn caused by expired cards or new account numbers
  • Reduce efforts and costs associated with merchant outreach due to outdated payment information
  • Improve customer satisfaction by avoiding interruptions in products and services as a result of nonpayment


Ready to take the headache out of cardholder updates?


Card Account Updater Is Your Solution

Card Account Updater is a feature embedded directly in CardPointe that automatically identifies Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards that have been replaced with a new card number or expiration date and updates your stored customer payment details with the new card data – helping you avoid failed transactions or gaps in services provided to your customers.

When the Card Account Updater service receives updated card information from Visa, Mastercard, or Discover, stored customer payment information is automatically updated with the new details, and can be used for any individual payments made using the CardPointe Virtual Terminal, or used for any upcoming scheduled payments that are part of a billing plan.

Sponsored by:
CardConnect provides seamless credit card payment integration services for all businesses, protected by powerful security solutions. Click here to learn more. 


Read More Blog Posts » 

Stop Interruptions to Recurring Payments Due to Out-of-Date Card Information

Setting Sale

Questions to Consider Before You Jump on Board to Sell Your Facility

by Michael Johnson, Bellomy & Co.

What should an owner look for when he/she is interested in selling?

The owner should seek the advice and feedback of a self-storage broker on pricing conditions based on the current market. Brokers can walk an owner through the marketing process and explain what goes into selling a self-storage facility. Other items an owner should look for include estimated closing costs and an overall timeline. After getting this information, owners should consider if it fits within his or her investment goals and expectations.

When should an owner sell?

This answer comes down to many individual characteristics. Several market factors can make it an attractive time for an owner to sell. A few examples of these market factors are favorable cap rates, interest rates and supply/demand within the facilities sub-market. When cap rates are low, prices are high. When interest rates are low, there are more buyers willing to take advantage of the lower cost of capital. However, the majority of sellers are often forced to sell because of life events, such as relocation, health problems and divorce.

What are the peak conditions for selling?

Several factors determine peak conditions for selling (also known as a seller’s market).

Examples are:

High demand combined with a shallow inventory of properties for sale. In this type of environment, there are more buyers than sellers. Many of the large operators and REITs have been aggressively buying in the top 50 MSAs to build up scale/efficiencies in those markets.

Low cap rates and financing readily available with rock-bottom interest rates.

Historical occupancy and NOI growth with little new construction within five miles.

Buyers using pro forma underwriting standards to determine the value.

Do you need to be fully stabilized when you sell?

Short answer: No. At certain times in the market cycle, buyers give the owner credit for unleased units. However, it is more advantageous for an owner to be stabilized when he or she decides to sell. This is an income-based business, meaning the higher the income, the higher the purchase price.

How do you get your facility ready to sell?

When getting a facility ready to sell, it is important for owners to focus on three areas that can pay off in the long run:

Improving revenue

Owners should look at their rent roll to determine how long it has been since raising prices for both existing tenants and street rates. This is an easy way to pick up additional income. A five to 10 percent increase every 12 months is standard. Getting delinquent tenants current on their rent or getting them to move out is also important to maximize revenue.

Reducing expenses

Owners should take the time to identify and clean up expenses. Have real estate taxes been appealed? Are marketing costs in line with market averages? It is important to identify personal expenses such as cell phone, car and health insurance payments. Owners who can identify their facility expenses make their income statement more appealing.

Improving facility appearance

Quality sells, so an owner should focus on the general aesthetics of the facility. In residential real estate, it’s called “curb appeal” and it’s no less important with your facility. Dusting hallways, cleaning doors, cutting grass and removing weeds are a few small things that make a difference in the overall appearance. Repairing lights, replacing damaged doors and adding a fresh coat of paint are larger items the seller should focus on. A coat of paint goes a long way.

How do you structure a deal?

Owners should consider working with a professional self-storage broker who has a proven track record selling storage facilities. Brokers can use their expertise to help structure a deal with the highest price and best terms. An experienced broker who specializes in this unique market has a database of qualified, interested buyers.

How can you buy in a seller’s market?

Over the past decade, the self-storage industry has evolved dramatically, and keeping up with the change can be difficult for some facilities/operators. Even though prices can be at all-time highs in a seller’s market, buyers take advantage of their large amounts of capital with low interest rates. Buyers tend to look for value-add opportunities to increase their bottom line. A few examples include raising prices on existing tenants, investing in online marketing and expanding the facility to add more units. Buyers who understand the operating fundamentals of the business can effectively purchase properties in both seller’s and buyer’s markets.

How can you sell in a buyer’s market?

Prices in a buyer’s market often suffer due to economic conditions and less favorable financing terms. Of course, all owners prefer to sell for the highest price possible. Whether it is a life event or other factor causing an owner to sell in a less-favorable buyer’s market, it is important that he or she focus on the following:

Revenue management

By keeping apprised of competitor pricing, owners can ensure their units are being rented at a price the market bears. The value of the property directly relates to the income the facility produces.

Property inspection

Owners should complete any minor deferred maintenance items and make the property as presentable as possible. Owners should let potential buyers know of any outstanding maintenance items on the front-end, so they do not have a reason to reduce their offer during their due diligence.

Pricing

Owners should seek out a professional storage broker who will give them pricing feedback based on current market conditions. There are more properties for sale than purchasers in a buyer’s market, so

it is important not to have unrealistic pricing expectations.

Is it better to build or buy?

This is always a popular question. Loans are readily available for people looking to build a new facility or acquire an existing facility. Both options have their own pros and cons. Take a closer look below to help determine which may be a better fit.

Building new

Ground-up construction gives you the benefit of creating and customizing everything from start to finish, or from the initial design to the way the property is managed. Overall, it is a riskier investment to build new because you will be starting at zero percent occupancy with expensive carrying costs and negative cash flow. However, there is greater profit to be made on the back-end when the property is stabilized. The overall timeline of building new is another potential drawback. Finding the right land, getting permits and approvals, having design work done and experiencing unexpected site conditions and other unforeseen issues can delay the project.

Buying existing

The immediate cash flow from a stabilized facility is a major benefit for individuals looking for a turnkey investment. A potential con for buying an existing property is the time it can take to find that opportunity that fits all of the individualized investment criteria—size, price, location, cap rate, etc. The success of the self-storage industry has been well-publicized for some time now, and competition is very strong from the self-storage REITs and other large private equity group that have been able to pay more than the average investor can because of their lower borrowing costs.

Read More Blog Posts » 

Setting Sale

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