The Self-Storage Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

March 13, 2013 in Process

JunkThe popularization of the self-storage auction by television shows such as Storage Wars has created the image that “there’s gold in them thar hills.”  Anyone in the business knows this is highly unlikely.  People tend to keep their prized possessions with them.  If they’re downsizing temporarily, it’s the “extra stuff” that goes into storage.  Of course there are exceptions, but these exceptions are more often initiated by people that are more than capable of paying their bill.

So, we all agree that auctions are to be avoided.  How best to avoid them?  The answer, as you probably already know, lies with persistent effort to contact deadbeat renters.  We can all take a lesson from the collections industry.  They know that different people will be easier to reach at different times of the day — they just don’t know which when they start out.  So, they keep track of what time of the day they call each creditor.  Naturally, they are bound by the 8a – 9p calling limit (check your state for variances), but what portion of that time period that works best is unknown until you try them all.

The key is to put in your best effort.  Of course, this is probably the worst part of the job for most property managers.  The best way to make sure the calls get made is to keep records.  These records need to be maintained where central management can monitor them.  That’s where UnaPage comes in.  We can easily track phone call activity and with our exception reporting system, you can be certain that the right level of effort was put in before an auction takes place.  The self-storage business is not like other real estate ventures where you’re turning someone out of their home.  You may just be relieving them of some worthless junk.  In that case, you best weapon is psychological.

If your people know you’re monitoring their calls, they will make them (you can always use the phone bill to validate if you have suspicions).  We make the phone tracking process easy.  Give us a call or complete a contact form to find out how we can help.

Process Matters to Self-Storage Operators

February 20, 2013 in Process

Process Matters Graphic

Many self-storage operators own and operate more than one facility.  The more facilities you have, the greater the challenge to operate them all consistently.  You may think that if your marketing materials are consistent and the sign out front of each location is enough…and you are!  But, that’s not enough.

We all know that looks can be deceiving.  When a customer walks into one of your locations, what will be the average tenure of the employee they encounter?  If your employees have been around a long time, they know the ropes.  They have been doing the job for awhile and they’ve figured things out.  That’s a good thing IF what they have figured out is consistent with the way you want them to be working.

New employees are a different matter.  They definitely need help.  You probably hired them for their skills and you may even have gotten lucky because they have some knowledge of your business, but that knowledge is almost certainly incomplete.

Business operations are nothing more than a collection of processes.  Each process has one or more specific outputs that deliver some value to either a person or another process.  When processes are well defined and optimized, you organization CAN deliver maximum value in the most efficient manner.  They WILL only when your workforce is fully trained and has the tools to execute processes as designed every time.  To achieve this, you must provide the right knowledge, ensure that all team members have the right skills, and create a collaborative environment in which the full potential of your workforce can be tapped as needed.

This is a tall order, but it is one that UnaPage has taken on.  Our web based corporate portal solution provides all the tools necessary to support optimal process execution.  If you want to be the market leader that everyone else is chasing, you must empower your people to be at their best with every customer encounter.  We can help you make that happen.  Competition in the self-storage business is only getting tougher.   Contact us today to find out how.

Filling Units

February 12, 2013 in Process

Empty Storage UnitAs I continue to learn more about the self-storage and mobile home park industries, my perspective is evolving.  Some time back, I had a revelation that would be obvious to anyone in the business — it’s all about filling units (or pads).  Business owners usually bring their own background to the job.  If they started as a machinist, they will probably end up owning a machine shop.  If they started as an accountant, they will probably have an accounting service.

Real estate is a slightly different animal.  It’s different because you must find ways to make money from your properties while you hold them in hopes that they will appreciate.  The most important aspect for the owner is making deals.  Buy low — sell high.  If you can buy a property that wasn’t making good money for the previous owner and “fill the units,” you can succeed where they failed.  Okay, so far nothing new, right?

Here’s the thing:  EVERYONE is trying to fill their units.  The answer seems to lie in good marketing.  Social media, websites and other online marketing seem like the great untapped potential.  If you could just master that, all your worries will be over!  I contend that is just the beginning.  Clearly, it is essential to have a strong marketing program, but how often do you lose business that you could have had as a result of your marketing?

There’s a good possibility that you don’t know the answer to that question.  It’s almost impossible to track.  Yet, it happens all the time.  People have a bad experience.  They tell their friends and their friends go down the road to the other storage facility or mobile home park.  So what’s the fix?  Run a tight operation.  That means getting everyone to adhere to well-defined standards that are carefully thought out to create the image you want to create.

Here’s an example from another industry.  Today, I had lunch at Chipotle, a national TexMex food chain.  As I was conversing with my lunch partner, a young man stood near our table and announced, “my name is Adam.  Please let me know if I can do anything to help you today.”  He interrupted our conversation for that unnecessary bit of information, but it made me think that these people really care about my experience.  The owners were not in that store today, but…in a way, they were.  That young man was obviously properly trained and there were mechanisms in place to ensure that he behaved accordingly.

Are your customers getting consistent professional service?  How do you know?  Having the right tools to replicate and enforce good operating practices is essential to ensure that you’re not losing customers.  There’s more to filling units than meets the eye.  Just ask the big boys.  They know that replicating the right behavior requires systems and processes.

Distributed Accountability

January 7, 2013 in Process

153215main_hidden_blackholeHave you ever wondered what your organization would look like if everyone always did everything they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it? Could you imagine how productive and well run your company would be if nobody every dropped the ball?  Dare to dream!

Of course people drop the ball for a variety of reasons, some of which are quite legitimate.  And, sometimes people don’t get things done when they thought because priorities change.  Maybe the biggest problem isn’t employees being blatantly irresponsible.  The biggest problem is that those of us handing out assignments are likely to never find out why something didn’t get done unless we ask.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but even people who are good at managing their own activities are often bad at managing the activities they assign to others.  There’s something final about getting some work “off your plate” that causes you to assume it will take care of itself.  These tasks can fall into what I like to call the “black hole.”  If the person you assigned the task to doesn’t do it and you didn’t have a way of tracking the assignment, it’s gone forever…into the black hole.

One of the challenges of avoiding the black hole is noting the source of task assignments.  Most tasks are process driven.  Basically, they’re part of a routine.  Some tasks are driven by projects or initiatives.  These often result from a “meeting” in which tasks are generated.  Some tasks are just one-up items that don’t have a project and aren’t part of a process.  Most call these ad hoc tasks.   Since all these tasks arise from different sources, you need to have a way of capturing them regardless of their source.

Do you have a way to capture all the tasks that are generated in your organization?  Who can see them?  Both the assignor and the assignee?  There are plenty of tools out there to support this capability.  If you don’t have something to hold people accountable to the tasks assigned to them, you are still a prisoner of the black hole.

When it’s Not Smooth – Then What?

January 2, 2013 in Process

Mobile Home Park Tornado DamageAs business owners, we work hard to build an operating system that can handle a wide range of scenarios without disruptions. We fail. It’s inevitable. The environment that our businesses operate within are full of disruption and variation. Sometimes it’s intentional, like the guy who shows up in the wee hours of the morning with a pair of bolt cutters and a pickup truck. Sometimes it is just life happening, like a lightening strike that blows a hole in the roof of one of your units.

When you have a lot of locations, the rate at which life happens (intentional or otherwise) seems to be faster.  One of the most important things you can do is have a closed loop system to keep track of these issues.  People should be able to report an issue easily and provide sufficient detail for it to be properly addressed.  The people that need to handle it need to be alerted that there is an issue to be handled.

Meanwhile, the person that reported the issue in the first place wants to know what is being done about it.  Depending on the size and complexity of the issue, this feedback loop between the reporter and the handler can go on for some time.  It saves everyone a lot of time and effort if there is a mechanism in place to automate the tracking of this process.

A good corporate intranet portal can help handle the issue tracking process.  Whether you’re running a self storage operation or a mobile home park, this tool can be invaluable.  Of course, we know where you might get a good system if you don’t have one.

Reflect and Anticipate

December 27, 2012 in Process

ThinkerIt’s the end of the year again and so we all seize the opportunity to reflect on our performance for the year and try to anticipate what we will do in the coming year.  I recently read a very influential book called The Black Swan by Nassim Nicolas Taleb.  Taleb was one of those Wall Street guys with the job of predicting the future.

He points out that the problem with using the past to predict the future is unanticipated events that radically change the direction of history.  He calls them Black Swans.  Of course, on most days, there are no Black Swans.  On those days, the future looks very similar to the past.

So, as you plan for the new year, the changes you will be making are either designed to catch up on changes you should have already made because you have already comprehended the need for them, or they are in anticipation of something you probably can’t predict with much accuracy.  The reality is: we are usually playing catch-up.  The Internet has expanded our fields of influence and caused the spread of good ideas to occur more widely and much faster than ever before.  This makes ideas cheap and execution at a premium.  Ideas can appear at the flick of a mouse, but execution always takes time if it involves changes to your operating practices.

How do you roll process changes through your organization?  Do you have a “process” for process change?  At UnaPage, process change is our passion.  Our tools are designed to allow you to turn on a dime (maybe a nickel, but who’s keeping score).  We figure that if you can’t anticipate the future, you can at least have the tools to react quickly when it comes.  And, while you’re waiting for the future to show up, why not catch up on the implementation of some of those ideas already waiting in the queue?

Don’t Watch If You Don’t Like Graphic Images

July 27, 2012 in Technology

It’s Friday and time for some fun. I dare you to start watching this and turn it off before the credits start:

One More Job…Gone!

July 26, 2012 in Technology

Economists and politicians love to talk about how new industries create new jobs.  One case in point is green energy.  The government has been investing heavily in green energy for a few good reasons.  Creating jobs is just one of them.  Maybe new industries do create jobs, but new industries are subject to the same pressures to reduce labor as the old ones.  Here’s a case in point: solar panel installation has been a technical process that required skilled labor.  Not any more.  A German company has changed that.

Robots can now replace humans for the task of installing solar panels.  Robots will work 24/7 and they don’t care if it’s raining or not.  Solar panel manufacturing plants are some of the most automated as well.  New industries may be  creating new jobs, but they are creating them at an ever decreasing rate.  Maybe you could imagine this “female” taking your order at a McDonalds in downtown Tokyo?

This graph from a March 9, 2012 New York Times article says it all.  Each new recession in the 20th and 21st centuries have taken longer to recover jobs.  If one were to plot the rate of decay, it’s not hard to imagine that one of these recessions will result in permanent job losses.  Our economic system will need to be changed to manage that state of affairs.  Anyone have any ideas for the successor to capitalism?

Microsoft’s Eggs

July 20, 2012 in Technology

Microsoft is about to bet the farm.  As a company the relies on Microsoft’s continued success, we’re hoping they win — or at least not crash and burn.  Based on our early experience and what we’ve seen, there’s a lot to be hopeful for.  Microsoft is not only launching Windows 8, a new tablet (Surface) and an updated phone OS, but they are also launching a new version of Office (2013) and — most importantly to us — SharePoint (also 2013).  We are feeling much better about our future.  After a few minutes of pontification by Steve Ballmer, things settle down and we get a proper demo.  Take a look (feel free to scroll past Steve):

Adjust your EQ

July 19, 2012 in Process

Yesterday, I had harsh words for Dell’s service organization.  They had made a decision that was designed to improve the odds of minimizing their expense — at my expense.  I had a computer go bad and we (Dell tech support and I) determined what I had already suspected, I have a bad motherboard (the main control board in the computer).  No problem there.  I patiently allowed Dell to run through their diagnostic process.  I understand that they don’t know how reliable my diagnosis is.

So, they tell me a technician will be at my house within the next 1-2 days per their service agreement.  All is well.  One day goes by.  I get a call saying the technician will be coming to my home tomorrow and I can expect a call to schedule a specific time.  Two PM rolls around and still no call.  I decide to call them.  I learn that “them” is Unasys, the company that is being subcontracted to provide onsite services for Dell in my area.  They inform me that Dell has cancelled the service call.  They don’t know why and suggest I call Dell.  Things are starting to go badly.

I call Dell and a nice gentleman from India answers the phone.  I demand to know why the service call was cancelled.  He is very apologetic and says he will get it rescheduled right away.  Again, I demand to know WHY it was cancelled.  He puts me on hold for two minutes.  When he returns, he tells me that “one of the parts” that are needed is backordered.

“One of the parts?”  I only need one part.  He informs me that there is a connecting cable that could also be the source of the problem.  While I have not done any scientific study, I have been building and repairing PCs most of my adult life and I know that the odds of it being a bad cable are…small.  Why make ME wait?  Why not send the tech out with the part he/she has?  Easy.  Because if it is the cable, they will need to come out again and Dell will need to pay for a second call.  Is it my fault that they didn’t have a cable in stock?

I was not prepared to let it go.  So, after another two minute hold, I was told that they had found an “alternate part” that is in stock.  ”Not good enough, I say!”  I want them to bring out the motherboard TODAY like their service agreement says.  They can’t.  When the service order was cancelled, the motherboard was immediately sent back to Dell.   Talk about a process failure…

But I digress.  I rode that poor technician in India really hard.  A lot of people I know would have gotten defensive, but he stuck to his training no matter how intense it got.  Not surprisingly, Americans I have dealt with have not held up as well under similar situations.  One such incident would explain why I don’t have DirecTV anymore, even though it is my only content service option besides the Internet.

What is the difference between these two people?  The answer is emotional intelligence (EQ).  The DirecTV representative allowed her ego to interfere with the performance of her work and the Dell representative didn’t.  The Dell rep turned a bad experience into a bad experience and the DirecTV rep turned a bad experience into a nightmare.  We are all told to hire smart people because they will make our organization great.  Be careful!  IQ is not the only measure of intelligence.  People with a high IQ do not necessarily have a high EQ.  Unfortunately, a low EQ is far more disruptive than a low IQ.  In my limited experience, people with a high IQ and low EQ are the most dangerous people around.

This might explain why Google was known at one point for averaging 26 interviews before hiring someone.  If they failed one interview, they were out.  People can only hide a low EQ so long.  Once it has been exposed, there’s no point in seeing how long they can hide it again.  Do you have people in your organization with low EQ?  If you do, you know who they are.  They’re the people you or someone else is regularly “cleaning up” behind.  If you want to keep them, they will need to seek professional psychological treatment.  Changing your EQ is almost as hard as changing your IQ.  If you would like to learn more, try reading this book, written by the man most likely to have the highest EQ on the planet.