Each year, MiniCo Publishing receives a substantial amount of submissions for Self-Storage Now!’s “Manager of the Year” contest. The magazine’s publisher and editors judiciously review the numerous nominations in order to select the three most impressive managers to name a winner and two runners-up. Although it is a time-consuming process, reading about all of the wonderful managers within the self-storage industry is indubitably a heartwarming experience.
Similar to other contests, there are times when a single person gets more than one nomination. As a matter of fact, all three of this year’s winners were nominated by multiple people. However, receiving six submissions for one individual is not a common occurrence! This just so happened to be the case for Tony Allen, the 2015 Manager of the Year.
2015 Manager of the Year Winner
Allen joined the self-storage industry in 1994 as an assistant resident manager, alongside his wife, Jennifer, at StaxUP Storage in Menifee, Calif. His dedication to both personal and professional growth resulted in his promotion to the site’s sole property manager. Moreover, Allen now serves as district manager for six other facilities in Riverside County that are owned and managed by Strat Property Management, Inc.
While Allen says that having dual roles is the most challenging part of his job, he couldn’t be happier. “The owners are great and allow us to climb the ladder,” he says. “It’s a wonderful team with good company culture. It’s a great company to work for and I’ll be here till the day I die.”
And Allen is held in high regards by Strat Property Management as well. “We are so proud to have Tony on the StaxUP Storage team,” says Lara Skinner, the company’s HR assistant. “He ensures that the Manifee property thrives, shows compassion to his customers and community, and inspires all of us to never stop looking for opportunities to improve. Thank you Tony; we’re a better team and company because of you!”
Of course there are many attributes that outstanding managers possess, but having excellent people skills is of utmost importance for dealing with customers and co-workers alike. According to Rick Davis, one of Allen’s colleagues, he is both friendly and well respected. “Tony is an exceptional manager in this industry,” he says, “and is a benchmark for the entire team that works for and with him.”
Allen is highly regarded by other co-workers as well. “I can’t say enough about Tony and the leadership he shows,” says Mark Lugo. “Tony doesn’t have a standard [that] he leads by, he is the standard. Tony will go out of his way to help another store that is struggling or in need of some help.” In addition, Michael Borg states that he uses Allen as a “barometer” as to how he should conduct business.
What makes Allen stand out above the rest? His colleagues claim that Allen’s customer service skills, approachable demeanor, and his willingness to help are some of the key factors. “He is always available to call at any time of the day, including weekends, to answer any questions or help in any situation that may arise,” says Davis, who adds that Allen has “exceptional work ethic” and shows tremendous customer service to each person he assists by greeting every customer with a smile as well as putting the customer’s needs first at all times.
In addition, Skinner states that customer service is Allen’s top priority. “He embodies our company value of ‘treat others the way they want to be treated.’ Tony is always available and really present for his customers,” she says. “His friendly, calming nature is a pleasure to be around. Tony is admired and loved by all of his team members for the patience and kindness he shows them.”
Jack Of All Trades
Allen, who describes himself as the “go-to guy,” excels in every aspect of his managerial role. First of all, StaxUp Storage in Menifee, Calif., holds steady around 95 percent occupancy throughout the year thanks to positive word-of-mouth marketing and referrals. To boot, the facility’s delinquency rate doesn’t exceed two to three percent, which he accomplishes by being proactive with weekly calls to delinquent tenants. These factors, in addition to his superb ability to adjust rental rates and curtail expenses, have resulted in a $6,000 monthly increase in income over a six-month period. “His success is demonstrated by the fact that he exceeds his monthly income budget on a regular basis,” Skinner says.
Along with rental income, Allen brings home the bacon with U-Haul rentals. According to Jennifer Hunt-Allen, the facility’s monthly commission for U-Haul rentals surpasses $10,000 per month—a dramatic increase from the original goal of $500 per month that he established when he started at the facility 13 years ago. It comes as no surprise, considering the numbers, that this is his favorite part of the job. “I enjoy working with the community,” Allen says. “I like helping the U-Haul customers when they first move here.”
Allen’s dedication to helping others and the community is evident through his annual charitable events and sponsorships. For the past 10 years, he has generously donated his time and a storage unit to the local junior all-American football team. With this sponsorship, Allen participates in the equipment handouts and drop-offs each year—a task that takes several days to orchestrate for team’s hundreds of players. Two years ago, he and his wife also implemented a back-to-school supply drive to benefit six of the community’s schools. “Now this annual event has expanded to companywide,” says Skinner, “with participation from facilities across California and Texas.”
His favorite event, however, is the company’s annual “Holiday Gifts of Love”. Each November, Allen’s team of facilities collects new, unwrapped gifts for infants, children, and teenagers who are part of two local foster care programs: KinCare and CFLC. Santa bags, which are filled with toys, personal care items, blankets, and games, are created for every participant. The bags are distributed in December during the photos with Santa. “It’s a really neat experience,” Allen says. “The kids’ faces light up when they open their Santa bags. It’s really special.” The facilities even give guardians the opportunity to select gifts from their toy shop to place under the trees for the foster children to open on Christmas morning.
Allen’s helpfulness doesn’t end there. He serves as the company’s makeshift maintenance man and IT guy, too. “Tony is the primary IT go-to manager for our team who helps in nearly every situation pertaining to any computer, power, wiring, Internet, programming, or security issues that any facility may have,” says Davis. “This also applies to maintenance problems we may experience as well.” In addition, Allen created how-to maintenance videos to enable staff to resolve some common issues involving doors, gates, and locks on their own. “The videos are for team members to review and do it,” says Allen. “They have been very helpful.”
Speaking of do-it-yourself, Allen also implemented a “self-help center” at StaxUP Storage Menifee by installing a computer with access to the company’s website in the lobby, enabling customers to make payments, search for sizes and pricing, and create reservations for storage or U-Haul trucks.
Last, but certainly not least, Allen recently overhauled the facility’s 15-year-old golf cart. It was given a fresh coat of paint, new upholstery, and two solar panels. “Tony’s ingenuity is so inspiring,” says Skinner. “The solar powered golf cart is a conversation starter that thoroughly impresses customers and team members alike.”
Congratulation to Tony Allen, the 2015 Manager of the Year winner.
2015 Manager of the Year Runners Up
Storage Inns of America
Troy, OhioWhen Jeff Leffel, manager of Storage Inns of America in Troy, Ohio, and the 2015 Manager of the Year first runner-up, left his sales job, he thought self-storage would be a perfect fit. Obviously, he was right! With nearly two decades of sales experience, his customer service skills are more than exemplary. As a matter of fact, according to the facility’s owner, Deborah Smith, his customer reviews are 4.9 out of a possible 5.0 for customer service.
“Jeff knows his customers when they walk in the front door. He greets them in a friendly and professional manner,” Smith says. “He listens to the customer and provides the answer to customer quickly.”
Sales To Storage
The move-ins are his favorite part of the job and it shows. “He knows the value of introducing a new customer to the property, which makes life easier for the customer, the manager, and the owner,” says Smith. “He is thorough in their introduction to the property.”
Leffel adds that he enjoys meeting new people and assisting repeat customers. He also takes pride in the tenants he obtains from referrals. “Jeff knows the power of a referral,” Smith says, “and he makes sure the customer is 100 percent satisfied so he gets the referral.”
On the flipside, as is the case with most managers, Leffel dreads storage auctions. “No one feels good selling people’s items,” he says. “I try to work with them, but it does happen. We have seven units going to auction right now, but we haven’t had an auction in almost three years.” Leffel stays on top of collections on a weekly basis in order to keep the delinquency rate at the property below one percent. He sends personalized letters to delinquent tenants, encouraging communication. “A lot of people will avoid you because they are scared,” he says, “but it seems to help if you offer to talk to them about their issues and try to work with them. You need to have communication.”
In addition, Leffel recognizes the importance of continual training and education for professional growth. He recently completed the CSSM training through the SSA and immediately put in place the tools he learned in the program. “Since completing the training earlier this year he has increased rental rates two times this year,” Smith says. “He reached occupancy of 90 percent and presented to the owner a plan that if we could add an additional building on the property he could increase revenue by a projected amount. We built the building and Jeff filled the building in a few short months.”
Smith adds that Leffel’s ambition to increase revenue didn’t stop there. He proposed adding climate control to a hard-to-rent office area, which he managed to rent up after the conversion. The property is now 97 percent occupied.
Leffel also takes the time to train and mentor his fellow managers. He holds training meetings and prepared a collections program as a tool for other managers. “Jeff has a lot of patience and makes sure that each day of training was very thought out for your learning purposes,” says Sherri Aveyard, manager of Storage Inns of America in Beavercreek and one of Leffel’s trainees. “After each task he would always test you on the steps after completing a task at hand to make sure that it was correct. He has always shown professionalism and courtesy with the customers and/or trainees when explaining any information.”
“Even now that I manage my own facility, I still will call Jeff to ask him questions if one arises,” Aveyard says. “He has always been a first-rate person as well as a first-rate manager. I am pleased that I was able to be trained by a well-qualified, caring, and knowledgeable person.”
Desert Gardens Mini Storage
From restaurant manager to leasing agent and property manager at Desert Garden Communities, Karyn Oliver possessed 25 years of experience and the necessary skills to become an accomplished self-storage manager before she even wanted the job. Oliver, manager of Desert Gardens Mini Storage in Glendale, Ariz., and Manager of the Year second runner-up, actually helped plan the facility prior to accepting the role as manager in 2009, working closely with the owner to develop ideas on how to market the storage facility to the neighboring apartment residents.
“Since accepting the role of on-site self-storage manager, Karyn has excelled in the position and taken my business to new heights,” says Cathy Oliva, owner of Desert Gardens Mini Storage and Desert Garden Communities. “Through her innovative advertising she has increased occupancy by more than 20 percent.”
Oliver has created and designed brochures, banners, and other marketing materials to get customers in the door, but it is her winning personality that converts them to longtime tenants. “She makes it a point to know people by name and she is friendly to all,” Oliva says. “Our mini storage clients know they matter to Karyn, so they have confidence in her to manage the facility with honesty and entrust her with their personal belongings.”
In fact, Oliver has been known to go above and beyond her managerial duties—even when she is off the clock. She recently took one customer to a job-related drug test because the customer needed a ride. “Don’t treat them like a unit number,” she says. “Treat them like a person!”
“I really like the customers,” says Oliver. “It’s been very rewarding.” She is fond of community service as well, spending ample time organizing various collection drives and other events. “She is always on the lookout for ways that she can give back to the community,” says colleague Kristen Lanzone, “and then invites her clients to join her in that.”
According to Lanzone, Oliver has collected everything from food and school supplies to jackets, gloves, and blankets for the homeless and care packages for the military. She recently held a “Shred-A-Thon” at the facility to collect monetary donations for the Christine Ostwinkle Foundation for Lupus, a charity established in honor of her late sister. In addition, Oliver donates storage units to non-profit organizations, groups, and the local dance academy.
Establishing great relationships with her customers has enabled her to excel in another aspect of her position: keeping delinquencies to a minimum. “She is stern but caring with her clients,” says Oliva, “and will take time to sit down with them to create a practical payment plan to help the payoff overdue amounts.” For example, one tenant, who was owed $2,000 in back rent, was finally able to pay it off this year. In addition to persistence, payment plans, and downsizing customers to more affordable units, Oliver states that conveying the importance of accurate contact information to customers has helped with reducing the amount of delinquencies.
“Karyn’s success in lowering delinquencies is also seen in the mini storage facility’s increase in income from late fees,” says Lanzone. “Instead of sending customers to auction, she actually is able to collect money from her clients.” Prior to Oliver, the facility’s income from late fees ranged from $1,500 to $4,000 per year. That amount has more than doubled since she took over as manager in 2009. In fact, the total for 2014 was $11,502.
Overall, Oliver has been able to substantially reduce expenses and increase income at Desert Gardens, from $268,982 to $304,355 in her first year as manager and to $419,014 in 2014. “The mini storage facility would not be near as successful without her leadership,” says Lanzone. “Karyn is what makes Desert Gardens Mini Storage what it is.”
Erica Shatzer is a freelance editor and writer based in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.