Make Lists And Check Them Twice!
Everyone will have worked hard to get a new facility open and ready to show off for the public, but with all the details needed to make this happen how does one achieve a smooth seamless opening with all the necessary items in place on time and in budget? With a checklist of course!
Operators can create a new store checklist by working backwards from the start date and getting the whole team involved in the details. It’s essential to make sure all the various items are covered and done in an orderly manner. Pre-opening activities will include the following:
- Establishing unit prices and facility hours of operation.
- Performing competitive survey of comparable facilities.
- Outlining marketing programs for unit lease-up including lease specials by month with specific goals to include all first year on-site events and outreach programs.
- Joining the national and state self-storage association.
- Establishing fee structures for late and other charges within your state specific rental agreement; check with your state association for the latest version of the state’s lien laws.
- Creating facility policies and other rules and regulations.
- Hiring and training employees and staff including office, site, and relief managers.
- Establishing a printed form package specifically designed for property.
- Designing and ordering staff uniforms.
- Establishing facility delinquency and auction processes.
- Designing advertising/marketing items and collateral materials and determining placement and implementation.
- Creating facility brochures, flyers, business cards, and operational signage as well as assistance with the main signage.
- Setting up computer systems for data input of units and prices and choosing a software vendor for the operating software.
- Preparing market surveys, demographic information, and standard revenue/expense projections.
- Projecting negative cash requirements to carry the store through lease-up and to include in loan.
- Determining the design, layout, and specifications of facility office and/or apartment.
- Identifying and specifying equipment and hook-ups required for telephones, flat screens, computers, and security monitoring systems.
- Developing store logo/identity to be used throughout image programs.
- Getting a web presence that is a responsive site per Google’s latest algorithm and can interface with your storage operating software; use a reputable storage web designer.
- Configuring retail area and ordering boxes and supplies.
- Determining if a truck rental dealership is needed to build traffic to your new site and if adequate parking is available.
- Ordering all the promotional items needed to execute the marketing plan for the first six to nine months.
- Joining your neighborhood business association, which is often the local chamber of commerce, and then participating in the activities and hosting some of your own at the store.
- Choosing which units will be ADA compliant and ordering kits for each unit.
- Subscribing to Mini-Storage Messenger magazine and other industry publications.
To begin, make sure your plans have taken advantage of the gaps in services that exist within the marketplace. Your feasibility study should have noted these deficiencies in the market, and you want to make sure that those gaps have been included in your new store office and unit design. Examples would include a conference room accessible 24/7, coffee bar, free Wi-Fi in the office, electronic locks from Janus International, contractor units, covered-open-enclosed RV/Boat storage, or other services.
There are many storage consultants who can assist in maximizing your new site from feasibility studies to operations and start-ups, but it is important to remember to use someone with operating experience for their unique viewpoint on all items related to set up, operations, and the latest industry trends.
In order to effectively complete these duties, assign each task to someone with a timeline or goal to be completed date; as each task is completed, simply initial and move on to the next.
Order Before You Open
Before you place your furniture order, which should be done so that the items arrive one week prior to opening, think about who will use each area of the store and how those areas will be utilized. Are there adequate chairs for managers, customers, or guests if you have a reception seating area? With reception seating you will need end tables and lamps; you will also need file cabinets that lock to protect your customers’ information. An additional file cabinet will be needed to be stored in a company unit for all the move-out files; they should be organized by unit number and maintained for at least 10 years due to the various statutes of limitation in different states.
Office supplies and retail supplies for the showroom floor will need to be ordered as well. I would estimate this initial order for our average new store showroom runs about $3000 for all items needed. Your local office supply, Office Depot/Office Max or Staples can usually provide the office supply items. The binders included in this order are for our typical store set up and include our Red Book, a comprehensive document with all passwords, bank location, utility cut offs located on a map, and other emergency procedures. Each store manager and relief manager will be responsible for having on hand and maintaining the following binders or in many cases online or downloaded forms and updates:
- Employee Handbook – This belongs with each employee. Sign receipt of handbook and give to human resources.
- Operations Manual – You may print out a copy of this online document; if so, maintain updates. Issued online and updated frequently; it is the store team’s responsibility to ensure all team members have seen any updates as issued.
- Redbook (three-inch binder) – To be maintained at each store and utilized for quick reference for property specifics and communications between manager and reliefs.
Managers are responsible to keep this book updated and ensure all team members are using the notes section.
- Auction Workbook (two-inch binder) – To be maintained at each store to keep track of the delinquent customers as well as past and future auctions. Memos are in the front pocket.
Sections include: I. Current Month Prep Sheets and Legal Ads;
II. Current Auction Letters with Certified Mail attachments (once sale is complete the letters go with the customer’s move-out file);
III. Upcoming Auctions Prep sheets, letters, and legal ad;
IV. Prior Auctions paperwork with 12 monthly tabs and the most recent is shown first;
V. Bankruptcy and DMV issues.
- Rent Increase Workbook (two-inch binder) – Contract or Tenant Rates: Start with 12 tabs by month. Show the most recent month on top. Print monthly Occupied Units report sorted by Days Rent the Same/Unchanged (print this report again after increases and effective dates are show in that report); put a copy of the actual rent increase or discount reduction letter that is mailed in each customer’s file. Keep two years active in this book sorted by month. After two years, move the old sections to your storeroom “old files”.
Street Rates: Insert Rental Activity Report by Month Showing New Rates. Suggestion:Print before and after to show the differences. Double-check to make sure no size code shows up twice or more with a different Std. Rate as this indicates someone has changed the standard rate on singular units.
- Annual Comparable Survey (one-inch binder) – To be maintained at each store to keep abreast of the area competition. To be included are photos from the street of each comp’s street view/sign and gate entry area. Gather all materials given to prospects and complete Competitive Survey Report for each. Create a customized cover suitable for display. Due annually on July 1st along with the Comparable Handout Sheet and Chart to mount on the store easel in the lobby area or on nearby wall.The goal of this document is to have each of you see firsthand what the competition has to offer and what they don’t have. Use this book to show prospects your professionalism and market knowledge; to compare rates and offerings made to prospects by others and to provide exceptional service to all prospects. To be kept at each store and updated monthly on Comp Survey form to keep abreast of the competition rental rates and specials, including hours and days, amenities, occupancy.
- Marketing Workbook (three-inch binder) – Contains all completed marketing call reports, business cards, and follow-ups as well as copies of all promo flyers/ brochures, newspaper and print ads, online ads, Constant Contact emails sent out with Constant Contact reports for each, etc. Provide tabs for each of these sections; keep current items on top. Another section would have your current Marketing Plan and PMG updated monthly.Additionally, keep 8-by-10 color prints of your store in photo sleeves to show while at marketing calls, expos, group luncheons, realtor meetings, etc., with blank Marketing Call Reports ready to go for marketing days.
- Maintenance Log (three-inch binder) – Contains preventative maintenance programs, office/shop/site detailed inventory with warranties, and a log of work done by each vendor indicating that you signed them in and out and confirmed the work completed as indicated on invoice. This should be a record of filter changes, paving sealed dates, painting of bollards or OSP numbers, etc. Record fire equipment inspections or changes, door cleaning, and/or painting. Insurance forms are required for each onsite vendor and these should be kept here as well.OSHA Green Sheets can be kept in a separate tab of this book.
- Training Workbook (three-inch binder) – Issued to each manager (maintained at the store) and each relief manager to be maintained in their possession. These manuals reflect the latest communication regarding goals/current focus/latest procedures. These are all online now and updated frequently and for some it is recommended that they print these out and maintain accurate up to date records of all distributions.
- Daily Management Summary (three-inch binder) – Insert each day’s Management Summary on top.There’s no need to keep Mgmt. Summary with Daily Deposits (Daily Deposit binders or file should show the current and prior month’s activity. Once a month ends, purge the oldest month to your storeroom “old files”).
- Supply Order Requests, Petty Cash, Unusual Incident Reports, Check Requests (two-inch binder) – (if space is limited you may have files instead of a binder for these items; if so, keep plainly marked and up to date with the most current item on top.) Divide into the above four tabs with current items on top. Suggestion: Most of us attach the check stub to each check request and petty cash request. This allows for an at-a-glance method of problem solving and tracking of unpaid or incomplete actions.
- SSA Emergency Preparedness Manual – Memo is due within 30 days of receipt of manual. This critical document and manual can save lives, property, and minimizes confusion during a disaster.
By now the office should be set up, the managers trained and plans are in place for all store marketing and advertising along with all other income and expense targets or budgets. Managers need to have copies of the budget and feedback each month via a cash flow statement down thru Net Operating Income or NOI that measures the actual monthly results against the goals. This will ensure continued operating performance and that the onsite team knows exactly where they are going and what is expected each month.
The Grand Opening
Plans for your grand opening will have been part of your overall planning and budgeting mentioned earlier. By joining the local chamber of commerce or other local business association you will have access to many small business people. These small business contacts are excellent for getting referrals and commercial storage business for your new facility. Often with your membership you will have access to the membership database to which you can market your property. Invite these contacts and any other lists you have available from your current contacts. The chamber will do a soft opening with a few ambassadors for your ribbon cutting ceremony. Make sure to use photographs of this event to announce your grand opening or to use in a local media press release.
Do not hold the grand opening until you have been open for at least 30 to 45 days to ensure everything is ready to show off and all construction is completed and cleaned up. Opening before you are ready can be a big mistake as you need to begin as you intend to go forward; even if there are only a few things remaining, others will judge you and your store by what they see right now not what you intend to do later on. Don’t move customers in or host events until you have everything completed. Many have tried and have taken shortcuts in order to get to the leasing of the units; it is always a bad situation and you are only going to get one opportunity to be brand new and make a good impression.
Your guests list should also include all your vendor contacts as these also make great storage customers. From your total guest list, you will have about 10 percent attendance for your event if you have emailed the invite several times, mailed it at least once, and called and visited as many as possible as well. We use Constant Contact for our email programs, event RSVPs, and tracking the guest lists.
The property has to be meticulously cleaned first, stocked, and set up for business. A plan will need to include the locations of food, beverages, registration, give away bags for each attendee, and how the event will flow.
Here is an example of the party flow and details:
- Register each guest at check in for a door prize (you need to put together a few door prizes and display them to encourage registration); on each you will get the email address and phone number.
- Once registered, give each guest a “treasure map” of where they can find food and drinks as well as any special itinerary such as “Prize drawings at 7 p.m. in the lobby”. You can use the map in your software you’ve already set up to show what can be found in which unit, i.e., shrimp remoulade in unit 1203, prosciutto and melon in 1107, etc. This will get your guests touching, hearing, and seeing all of your amenities and getting the full experience of your offerings.
- Each guest should be given a goodie bag with some of your promotional items, not just printed material, but should include your referral cards, business cards, and perhaps your company pen.
- Establish a special offer you are not making anywhere else to showcase that night and encourage rentals during the event. Someone needs to remain at the front desk during the event.
- Decide which staff person will be in which location during the event; you will need a greeter to get them signed up and direct traffic, someone behind the desk, someone floating to all set up locations during the event, and someone to make sure each person leaves with a goodie bag.
- Display a sign or placard at each show unit describing the size, price, and approximately what it will hold. Example: 10-by-10, $209, holds an average one-bedroom apartment.
- Tell everyone where and when prizes will be drawn; remind them they must be present to win.
- After you choose the winners, make sure to get photographs to use on your website, in press releases, and in your marketing emails.
- We typically choose a theme for this party such as movie stars or a trip around the world using “passports” that get stamped as they visit each unit with a different nationality of food, for example.
- Make it fun and have music or musicians, someone to take pictures, and the owner to make a welcome announcement.
Follow up after the event via email to your contact lists showing the prize winners and describing the event for those who couldn’t make it.
From all of this you can see that planning makes perfect, so take time to plan out all your store details and budgets then share them with the team responsible for achieving these goals. Together you can have a well thought out product, message, and opening event.
M. Anne Ballard is the President of Marketing, Training, and Developmental Services for Atlanta-based Universal Storage Group. She is the author of The Hat Lady Speaks, published by MiniCo, and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences around the globe. Anne is also a regular contributor to Mini-Storage Messenger and other industry publications