It’s no secret that 2021 was a difficult year for employers. Besides ever-increasing wage expectations, ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, and shifting work environments, more than 47 million American employees quit their jobs for seemingly greener pastures or other ventures that better aligned with their aspirations. This unusual occurrence quickly became known as The Great Resignation or The Great Reshuffle.
Regardless of the term, finding and retaining employees has become more challenging for most employers. According to Manpower Group’s 2021 Talent Shortage Survey of 42,000 global employers, 69 percent of those companies were having difficulty finding top talent. That survey also claimed that one-third of U.S. companies were struggling to locate candidates for their job openings.
While some employers may simply need to make a switch from posting jobs in a newspaper’s classifieds section to an online forum to better reach job seekers, there are plenty of positions that are tougher to fill and keep filled. And unfortunately, like all other expenses, the costs associated with turnover continue to climb. Work Institute’s 2017 Retention Report estimated that it costs as much as 33 percent of a worker’s annual salary to replace one employee—a rate that could potentially cripple a company with several high-turnover positions on its payroll.
In March 2021, Indeed.com, a job search website, posted a list of the 12 positions with the highest turnover rates. Although self-storage property manager didn’t make the list, several of the positions coincide with the routine duties of a property manager, including customer service, sales, cleaning, and bookkeeping. Here’s the list:
- Fast-food worker
- Hotel receptionist
- Childcare teacher
- Hotel housekeeper
- Retail sales associate
- Technology support specialist
- Customer service representative
- HR specialist
- Software developer
Way Of The Future
While the self-storage industry has been debating the viability of unattended self-storage facilities for several years, with mixed emotions on its suitability, as well as varied levels of acceptance, Terry Campbell, CEO of Copper Storage Solutions, whole-heartedly believes it is the “way of the future.”
Despite the fact that Campbell had a preference for in-person (or “live”) interactions with customer service employees in his personal dealings for certain situations, he acknowledged that more and more consumers prefer technology-based exchanges over ones with humans, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And those who don’t favor technology have at least become comfortable with using it to complete a multitude of day-to-day tasks. “There’s been a paradigm shift,” he says. “Most people prefer contactless now.”
Campbell goes on to say that a “personal touch” may no longer be a selling point. “Most people just want ease of use, convenience, or the lowest costs available. The unattended model can provide these.”
This growing tendency of choosing contactless transactions is one of the main reasons that the self-storage investment group that he was part of started seeking an alternative kind of self-storage property management for their investments.
“We saw potential in the unattended storage model,” Campbell says, adding that they also wanted to avoid the hassle of finding, hiring, training, and retaining good self-storage managers.
As Campbell points out, even when you do find a good manager, life happens. They get sick, take vacations, experience emergencies, or decide to quit—sometimes with short notice, if any—all of which can put an owner in a tight spot if there’s no relief manager on board to cover the facility’s set office hours. Moreover, he also feels that, with the exception of high-traffic facilities, most self-storage properties do not have enough work to justify full-time employment.
Therefore, Campbell, an industry veteran who had been with Live Oak Bank for seven years after two decades at BETCO, requested a detailed financial analysis from Copper Storage Solutions for one of the self-storage facilities that he is a partner in. At the time, a third-party management company was managing the property and keeping 100 percent of its tenant insurance profits, whereas Copper Storage Solutions only retains half of those proceeds. With that boost to the bottom line, as well as the reduced management fee, Campbell’s facility stood to experience a $4 million increase in value with Copper Storage Solutions and its unattended storage model. This was the final factor in his decision to join Copper Storage Solutions as CEO. He saw the potential to help a lot of people realize more value in their facilities with reduced costs and fewer headaches.
The Modern Model
With Copper Storage Solutions, full-time facility management is replaced with call center coverage and a “boots-on-the-ground” employee who tends to a property’s needs once a week (or more frequently depending on facility size). According to Campbell, the call center staff is referred to as the “property manager;” the call center is open at least 12 hours daily, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (EST), to handle inquiries and issues, as well as take payments and arrange rentals for customers who prefer to avoid the online rental process or cannot scan the QR codes (featured on facility signage) that direct them to the rental website.
“With the call center, we have a whole stable of managers available,” says Campbell, who also mentions that call center representatives request feedback from customers through online reviews and handle any negative reviews that may arise. Of course, Copper Storage Solutions’ makes keeping the call center fully staffed with well-trained employees a priority. For quality assurance, the company utilizes district managers (DMs) as well. Each DM oversees 20 to 25 self-storage facilities.
The “floating manager” or “boots-on-the-ground” person is utilized for routine maintenance, cleaning tasks, and facility upkeep. While Copper Storage Solutions is responsible for finding, hiring, training, and managing these employees, facility owners are required to pay their wages. “We tell them to put aside about $600 per month in most cases,” Campbell says, to cover that expense. He adds that this has been a reasonably easy position to fill as many retired or semi-retired folks who are “handy” and “mechanically inclined” are happy to have an extra source of income. “Sometimes it’s filled by the landscaping person who’s already on site.”
As for marketing, Copper Storage Solutions’ unattended storage model takes those responsibilities off what would have been the manager’s plate. The company oversees all aspects of digital marketing on behalf of the facilities it manages and arranges for signs to be made for each property (excluding main/monument signage). The boots-on-the-ground person then hangs the signs at the property. Social media will be managed by Copper Storage Solutions’ new director of sales and marketing.
Public relations, on the other hand, is left to the facility owners; they are free to support their local communities however they see fit. This includes making decisions about charity auctions, food/clothing drives, complimentary units, and donations, as well as grassroots marketing efforts.
Currently, Copper Storage Solutions’ services are available to facilities within the continental United States; travel expenses and time zone differences are the two factors keeping Copper Storage Solutions from expanding into Alaska and Hawaii. Though the company’s services are suitable for self-storage properties of all shapes and sizes, Campbell notes that some smaller facilities, say maybe 50 units or less, may not produce enough income from their limited number of units to make it feasible. Conversely, larger facilities may require extra hours from the boots-on-the-ground person and/or additional signage to provide optimal assistance to customers.
Time To Upgrade?
New technologies that can streamline operations and create efficiencies are continually entering the self-storage industry. Simultaneously, consumers’ expectations continue to rise. More often than not, those expectations include the ability to conduct business at their own convenience, and contactless rentals fit the bill. Then, when you take into account all the previously mentioned employee woes, an unattended storage model may be the formula your facility needs to flourish in the present and well into the future. Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, Self-Storage Canada, and MiniCo Publishing’s annual Self-Storage Almanac