Great Help Wanted!

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Finding And Hiring The Right Managers

When the self-storage industry was in its infancy, the role of facility manager was little more than a caretaker position that may or may not have had set hours. Managers typically lived on site and would visit their “offices” only when customers needed assistance—a job that has been occasionally compared to that of a gas station attendant as both businesses made use of driveway bells. It was a simpler business model without technology, and facilities were merely single-story metal sheds with chain-link fences for security.

Oh, how the times have changed! Nowadays, self-storage facilities are multi-million dollar investments loaded with all the bells and whistles that customers have come to expect throughout the years. While technological advances such as online reservations/payments, 24-hour access, self-service kiosks, and mobile websites offer the conveniences that tenants desire, most storage owners would agree that nothing can replace a top-notch property manager.

The Search
There are many avenues to consider when it’s time to fill an opening. Even though some industry professionals, such as Carol Mixon-Krendl, owner and president of Tucson, Ariz.-based SkilCheck Services, Inc., still post “Help Wanted” signs on facility doors to attract applicants, the vast majority utilize various online job sites to generate interest. Although sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder were common choices in the past, two of the most popular websites these days are Indeed.com and craigslist.

“Our two main sources are Indeed.com and craigslist,” says John George vice president of operations for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Pogoda Management Companies, who adds that craigslist “works well in some towns” but not in others. In regards to Indeed.com, George likes that the website allows employers to search for resumes and email applicants.

Universal Storage Group and others have had success with job recruiter sites and job boards. “We have been very happy with ZipRecruiter,” says Tonia Fowler, human resources coordinator for Atlanta, Ga.-based Universal Storage Group. According to Fowler, ZipRecruiter posts job openings to several job sites at one time.

Another successful option is to ask current employees for referrals. “We have received great employee referrals,” says Daniel Higuera, vice president of operations for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Storage Pros Management, LLC. “People want to work here.” The company even offers compensation to its employees for fruitful referrals after 60 days of employment. Those making the referral receive $150 for maintenance positions, $250 for assistant managers, $500 for property managers, and $1000 for district managers. Higuera also uses LinkedIn to look for potential candidates.

In addition to all of these choices, Mixon-Krendl reminds owners to post job openings on both their corporate and facility websites. Placing job listings on your own websites is a great way to reach the candidates who already have an interest in your company.

As for the job posting, it’s helpful to provide as many specifics and details about the position as possible. “It’s very important to give a good preview of the job with details of the duties,” says George. “You don’t want to sell the job as something it isn’t. Don’t fool them. You want to try to avoid turnover.”

For example, Universal Storage Group’s job advertisements may include the company’s core values, duties and requirements of the position, the location, and the perks of full-time employment such as bonuses, health insurance, and 401(k).

Mixon-Krendl takes a slightly different approach. Her job posts don’t specify that the management positions are for self-storage. She states that public perception of self-storage can keep people from applying. Therefore, she leaves out that detail to garner otherwise interested individuals.

Key Qualities
Once you decide where to look for candidates, it is important to determine what type of manager you need for your self-storage property. Although there isn’t a specific list of attributes that a potential self-storage manager must possess, there are several certain qualities and traits that many storage professionals look for during the hiring process.

For starters, a successful candidate will have the ability to make a sale. “They should have a personality for sales,” says Lou Chippendale, senior district manager of Westport Properties/US Storage Centers. He adds that people with one-on-one sales experience typically have good transitions into the self-storage industry. Chippendale elaborated by stating that those within the health and fitness industry, those who have worked for car or furniture rental businesses, and restaurant managers are all good possibilities for property managers. George adds to this list as he looks for people with counter experience for their customer service skills and ability to work at a fast pace. This could come in the form of fast food experience or floor sales experience at places such as Home Depot or Lowes.

Then there is the storage industry’s golden rule: Hire for attitude; train for skill. “You can teach mechanics and procedures,” George says, “but you can’t teach personality.” The industry professionals interviewed for this article agree that the right candidate will have a friendly demeanor. Although their definition of friendly varies slightly, the overall consensus is that the person is upbeat and has the ability to put customers at ease.

“Don’t focus on items you can teach such as software and duties,” adds Mixon-Krendl. “They should have the gift of gab.”

Of course, you still need someone with the capability to complete the various and numerous duties of the job. Therefore, it’s wise to seek a candidate who has good time management skills and can effectively prioritize the tasks at hand. Moreover, due to the nature of the business, the ability to multitask and problem solve are two definite pluses.

A few other admirable qualities include being motivated and goal oriented. “Find the ‘doers’,” says Mixon-Krendl. “It’s best if they are motivated and want to do a good job.”

Higuera agrees, adding “high energy, dependable, and trustworthy” to the list. He also prefers candidates without previous self-storage experience to avoid “un-training” them of their old habits and set ways of doing storage business. 

On the flipside, there are several red flags to approach with caution or outright avoid. First of all, be leery of job hoppers. “Avoid resumes with job hopping,” says George. “It may indicate that he/she is not responsible or has a poor attitude. It’s best to see some longevity during jobs.” In addition to poor employment history, Chippendale suggests steering clear of candidates with a reluctance to change.

Interviews And Assessments
After thoroughly reviewing all of your applicant’s resumes it’s time to select the best of the group and set up interviews. Although there is no set order to the interview process, it is highly recommended to begin with a short telephone interview. Since self-storage managers spend a significant amount of time on the telephone with current and prospective tenants, this call serves as an initial filter. During the interview, take note of how well the interviewee answers questions and his/her listening skills, tone, and attention. Believe it or not, it’s just as easy to tell if someone is smiling while talking on the phone as it is to notice he/she is distracted.

While Westport Properties conducts telephone interviews, the company opts to do those following an email questionnaire. According to Chippendale, the questionnaire contains approximately 10 general interest/background questions. “It serves to show if they are willing to put forth the extra effort to complete the questionnaire,” he says. “It also shows if they can follow directions as well as their writing and computer skills.”

Typically, in-person interviews follow positive telephone interviews. Face-to-face interviews are crucial for determining if the candidate will be a good fit for the position and your company. And in-person interviews allow you to witness many unspoken “clues” about a person’s personality—even when they are trying to put their best foot forward. For example, an interviewee who shows up late with a disheveled appearance may be having a bad day. However, it could provide a glimpse into his/her personality; the candidate may be disorganized and didn’t plan ahead for the interview.

During both in-person and telephone interviews, Fowler advises to be wary of inconsistencies. Keep a copy of the interviewee’s resume on hand so you can compare what’s being said to what was previously submitted. In addition, be sure to make notes of any new information that wasn’t included in the applicant’s original resume.

On another note, George says to pay attention to the interviewee’s eye contact as well as how questions are answered. He feels that a lack of eye contact and short answers during interviews may serve as red flags. “They should be inquisitive about the job,” he says, adding that sticking to a set list of predetermined questions may not be the best route. “Let the interview flow naturally. Listen to what the applicant has to say and let the interview take its course. Try to get to know them and if they will be a good fit for both the company and the team as far as values and work ethics go.”

Pogoda Management Companies also asks applicants to complete an assessment test of approximately 80 questions with A or B answers. The test enables them to garner a second opinion about their personalities. “Some people are good at interviews,” George says. “It can be deceiving.”

Checks And Reviews
Candidates who “pass” the interviews and assessment tests still aren’t in the clear for a job offer. There are references to call, employment histories to verify, and backgrounds to check. Although these items are not mandatory, they can save you plenty of future hassle, especially if you unknowingly hire a seedy employee.

Mixon-Krendl spends between $100 and $125 on every candidate to check their history. As a matter of fact, she has a checklist for background checks that must be completed before someone is considered for a position. In addition to the standard background checks and drug screenings, she also checks DMV records; and those with an overabundance of tickets don’t get hired. “We stick to the checklist,” she says. “If they don’t pass, they don’t get hired.”

Mixon-Krendl also suggests requesting and confirming the applicant’s previous addresses. It’s in your best interest to make some additional contacts and calls if any of those addresses would happen to belong to a self-storage facility.

Train For Skill
Similar to the hiring process, most self-storage companies have their own unique training programs in place. For example, Storage Pros has a two-day course that covers the company’s policies and procedures. It will become a three-day course in the near future.

Universal Storage Group has a more extensive training program. “Our training consists of three phases that take place over two to three weeks,” says Fowler. “Phase 1 and 2 are broken down by day, where they learn all of the operations of their particular store; that includes everything from how to clock in and turning out the lights at the end of the day. These two phases are very detailed and step by step. Auctions and Marketing have their own segments. With auctions being so sensitive, attention to detail is critical to ensure all steps are taken to prevent any wrongful sales. Marketing, of course, is extremely important for the business, and we make sure each storage professional has a thorough understanding of what it takes to market their store.”

As for Westport Properties, its managers go through a one to two week “nuts and bolts” training to learn reporting, sales, marketing, operations, and other vital aspects of the job. Chippendale, who stresses the importance of having a good training platform in place, says, “You need to have a trainer so everyone is trained the same.” Westport also encourages its employees to participate in ongoing training through its online “academy” of courses. The courses and accompanying quizzes cover a variety of topics and can be completed as assigned or at an employee’s discretion.

Best Advice
When it comes to hiring the right manager for your self-storage property, the best advice you can follow is this time-honored saying: Trust your gut. It’s always wise to listen to the nagging feeling that something just doesn’t jive. More often than not, your gut is a good compass.

These storage professionals concur and have a few tidbits to add:

  • “Don’t ever settle when it comes to finding the right candidate,” says Higuera.
  • Mixon-Krendl says, “Hire slow; fire fast.”
  • “Take your time to review each candidate,” says Fowler. “Mistakes are usually made when the new hire is a ‘rush job’. Essentially, hire slow. Experience is not always needed if you take the time to train your new hires on your procedures.”
  • “Never hire out of desperation,” Chippendale says. “Don’t just fill a seat.”

Continued Education

Within the self-storage industry, there is no shortage of ways for self-storage managers to continue learning after their new hire training. Here are several of the most common educational tools, materials, and opportunities available:

  • MiniCo Publishing offers a plethora of educational resources such as publications, newsletters, webinars, blogs, articles, and workshops. Visit www.ministoragemessenger.com to browse “The Education Destination for Self-Storage”.
  • Industry websites such as Estoragetraining.com provide online storage training videos.
  • The national and state associations host tradeshows and conferences. Attendees benefit from the networking opportunities, round-table discussions, top-notch speakers/presenters, and informative seminars.
  • Peer guidance groups such as the SSA’s Young Leader’s Group create opportunities for growth.
  • Mystery shops, telephone surveys, and customer feedback all provide details about areas for improvement.
  • Many companies and associations within the industry offer webinars, seminars, and courses on a wide variety of topics. Check the calendar within Mini-Storage Messenger’s News section for a list of upcoming events.
  • Blogs, newsletters, social media, and online communities can provide valuable industry insight. Visit individual company websites to sign up, follow, or join.

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.

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