A Good Fit

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Finding And Keeping Good Employees Without Breaking The Budget

Vince Lombardi once said, “The achievements of an organization are the result of the combined effort of each individual.” This is true no matter if you’re talking about football or the success of a self-storage facility. Neither can run–or a make a profit–without everyone who is tasked with a job being a good fit.

The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that it costs six to nine months of wages every time a company replaces a salaried employee. Those recruiting expenses can add up, so it’s important to hire the right people and cultivate your investment.

So, how do you hire and keep good employees without spending a fortune? According to business experts and self-storage companies who are doing it, a lot of the formula doesn’t have to do with salary and huge benefits packages. While those factors certainly are part of what motivates employees, what keeps them with a company has a lot to do with communication, respect, and recognition, which translates into overall happiness, which then results in more profit.

Hiring The Right People 

“When hiring, I always advise to scrutinize and not take the ‘warm body’ approach,” says Charlie Fritts, partner/COO of Storage Investment Management, Inc. (SIMI) in East Amherst, N.Y. The company has 100 employees and manages 31 properties.

Fritts states that the company has less than 10 percent in manager turnover each year, and managers stay an average of five to seven years. “We think that’s really good in an industry where most managers only stay one to two years,” Fritts says. “We have several who have been with us 20 to 25 years.”

The first thing SIMI looks for in potential managers isn’t experience in the industry. “A lot of people with experience with other companies have a lot of bad habits,” says Fritts. “We do hire some, but many of our new managers come from other industries.”

Those industries include hotel and hospitality, apartment leasing agents, restaurant, and other retail, where customer service, sales, and working with people are main requirements.

“It’s part of a process, and we’re always out looking for great team members,” says Todd Amsdell, president/CEO of Amsdell Companies in Cleveland, Ohio, which manages 77 properties and has approximately 300 employees. Using another sports analogy, Amsdell says it’s like having a good sports team. “Like with sports, when a good player might sign with another team, people in retail move on, and we like to be ready and have a good bench ready to go,” he adds.

Everyone, even store managers, are on the lookout for people to refer to the company; in fact, the district managers even have special recruiting cards they pass out. “The cards are given to people we find who have provided great service at hotels, restaurants, while shopping,” says Amsdell. “The cards thank them for their service and invite them to give us a call if they ever want to move on to something else. You’d be surprised how many people pull out those cards and call us even after a year.”

The most important thing when hiring is finding people who are not only personable and outgoing, but who will fit in with the culture of your business, notes Brad Deutser, president of Deutser LLC, a Houston, Texas-based business consulting firm.

“We make sure to tell our clients to hire people whose behaviors and values align with that of the company,” says Deutser. “You want to hire someone who is proficient in skill sets, but go the extra step and make sure their way is ‘the way’ for your business.”

Stacie Maxwell, vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group in Atlanta, Ga., which manages 50 facilities and has 130 employees, agrees that finding people who fit the culture is important. “We know we can train anyone to do the job, but we can’t train people to have a good attitude, customer skills, or work ethic,” says Maxwell. “People who come to us for service come because they’re most likely facing a trauma in their life, so we have to have people who are easy to talk to and who will help our customers figure out the best solution for their situation.”

Fritts adds that the key to hiring the right people for the culture of the company also applies to hiring the right people that fit the culture of the facility and neighborhood in which it sits. “If we’re hiring for an upscale facility, we look for people who can speak to those customers,” he says. “If we’re hiring in an urban area, we might be looking for someone a little more street wise.”

The Key To Retention

Salary and benefit packages absolutely play an important part in helping retain employees. All the industry experts interviewed for this article believe their company pays an above average salary, and they all provide some level of benefits that include health and other types of insurance, 401(K) plans, and paid time off.

“I know some people have the idea to pay a cheap wage,” says Fritts, “but if you have a $5 million property and pay fast food wages, you put that property at a risk if they don’t treat it well.”

As for properties that come with on-site apartments, Amsdell mentions that his company doesn’t offer that as part of the benefits package in case the right person isn’t looking for a move. “We offer a salary and then offer to rent the apartment to them,” says Amsdell. “It helps frame the situation better in case they don’t want to live on site.”

All the companies also offer some level of bonuses based on rental percentage for newer properties, prior year performance for more mature properties and/or hitting budget goals. Those are the tangible benefits it takes to retain employees; what’s just as important, say the experts, are the intangible benefits, and many of those cost little to nothing extra.

Maxwell notes that once an employee is hired at Universal, the employee enters a three-phase training process. The first two phases are one week each. The manager is then paired with a mentor. The third phase of training lasts three to four days on site and is conducted about 30 days after hiring.

Making sure communication is open starts from the beginning, but the employee gets some one on one time with a trainer during that third phase. “I always make sure to take them out to lunch while I’m there and find out what makes them happy and what drives them,” says Sarah Beth Johnson, client development director. “It gives me a chance to get to know them as a person instead of just an employee.”

Making employees feel as if they’re part of a team or, even in some cases, part of an extended family is a theme that runs through man of the self-storage companies culture that have unlocked the key to retaining good people.

“Gratitude” for employees is a keyword many use. In fact, Deutser describes it as the driver that navigates how well everything in your organization runs. “Of all the things organizations do, gratitude is very critical,” says Deutser. “Gratitude starts inside and resonates out to the rest of the organization; when leaders express gratitude, it leads to more happiness and optimism.”

That gratitude might be expressed monetarily, in the form of bonuses, but can also be expressed by recognition during webinars, annual conferences, on-going training workshops, or through an individual phone call or writing a note acknowledging an achievement. “When clients write good reviews for a site, we even recognize that,” says Shannon Morales, human resources manager for Oz Moving & Storage, Inc., which is based in New York City.

Deutser says never fail to recognize a chance to celebrate. “We live in an environment where the news is overwhelmingly negative,” he says. “Find ways to bring your team together and find ways to move them forward week to week.”

Maxwell mentions that Universal recognizes birthdays, anniversaries, births, and other significant life events during the company’s regular webinars. “We put them in a slideshow and it brings us all together,” she says, adding that 54 percent of the company’s employees have been with them more than five years.

While many of the companies in this story have several long-term employees celebrating 25 and even 35 year anniversaries, even they realize they can’t keep all their good employees forever. “When it’s time for them to move on, we always want what’s best for our team member,” says Amsdell.

Bottom Line

Direct, open, and honest communication is key throughout the entire hiring and employer/employee relationship. Rex Conner, author of What if Common Sense was Common Practice in Business, says to make sure not to use fuzzy, subjective language when dealing with your recruits and your employees. In the hiring process, this means if you’re looking for someone with “good customer service skills,” you must define that. “Tell them what that means to you such as introducing yourself to customers, having a positive voice, smiling,” says Conner.

In the training phase, Conner states that  removing subjectivity means training them for the skills they will need in the management systems and other duties required. Finally, in the development phase, removing subjectivity means helping the employee map out their career and providing clear and concise goals.

“It’s very important for your employees to know that if they do X, they will receive X,” says Conner. “People join the company, but they leave the boss, usually because of subjective evaluation processes. The root of all workplace evils is subjective work processes.”  

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.

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