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Storin’ Ain’t Easy … A Day in the Life of an Independent Self-Storage Operator

Outsiders to the self-storage industry might think facility operation is simple, but those who manage facilities know every day can be a challenge, full of unexpected tasks and incidents. To prove the job is anything but “easy,” one operator shares a day in his life.

When people outside the self-storage industry find out I work in the business, I often hear, “That must be an easy job.” Yeah, sure. After all, we just sit around and rake in the money, right? Those of us who manage facilities know that’s not the case! To illustrate my point, I chronicled a recent workday. Is it anything like yours?

  • 7:30 a.m. It’s Monday. I head into the office to get an early start. I want to make sure I’m ready to greet clients at 8 a.m. when we open.
  • 7:35 a.m. I observe damage to the rental truck that was returned last night. Uh-oh. Then I spend the next 45 minutes on the phone with the leasing company.
  • 8:15 a.m. Three people are in the office waiting for me to finish my call. Two are here to make payments and the other is interested in renting. I try to maintain a positive sales approach even though my day is now completely upside down.
  • 9:15 a.m. Go start the coffee pot—finally! I then review notes from the weekend staff and call for further explanations.
  • 9:45 a.m. I start balancing the cash drawer so I can make a deposit.
  • 10 a.m. The customer who returned the damaged rental truck returns my call. Unsurprisingly, he claims it wasn’t damaged when he dropped it off. I refer him to the leasing company.
  • 10:15 a.m. Our maintenance person comes into the office and tells me about three mattresses that are piled by the small dumpster, the one with the large sign that reads, “No Dumping!” I spend the next 60 minutes reviewing security-camera footage to determine who left the mess.
  • 11:30 a.m. I pop my lunch into the microwave. A minute later, I return to the cash drawer to start counting again.
  • 11:40 a.m. Three tenants rotate through the office to pay their bill and chat. Lunch will have to wait.
  • 12:30 p.m. I tell the maintenance person to go ahead and take a lunch break. I ask him to hurry! I return to the cash drawer and start again.
  • 12:40 p.m. The phone rings. It’s a salesperson who says he can revolutionize our results from social media for just one small monthly fee!
  • 12:45 p.m. A tenant enters the office to let me know his unit door is broken and he can’t shut it. The maintenance person is still at lunch, so I put a sign on the office door and go to repair it. I spend 20 minutes shoving the tenant’s boxes and furniture away from the door so it’ll close.
  • 1:15 p.m. When I return to the office, I find an annoyed person wishing to rent a truck and pay with cash. I explain he must have a bank card. He swears. I suggest he leave.
  • 1:30 p.m. Lunch is cold now, so I take it back to the microwave to warm it up. I view our business Facebook page while I wait.
  • 1:35 p.m. The phone rings. A tenant is calling to explain why his payment is late.
  • 1:40 p.m. It’s time to start on the daily morning activities, even though it’s now afternoon. While eating lunch, I print the lock-out list, run through the auto payments, apply overnight payments and review e-mail.
  • 2:30 p.m. The maintenance person and I spend 30 minutes reviewing an online-auction website to help him understand what pictures he should take to show unit contents.
  • 3 p.m. It’s time to return to the cash drawer again! I finally complete the count and can now start the deposit paperwork.
  • 3:05 p.m. A client comes in to rent our “smallest” unit. I explain what and how much can be stored in the space. He says he doesn’t have much stuff, so the smallest will be fine. The paperwork is complete, and the new tenant leaves the office happy.
  • 3:35 p.m. Return to deposit.
  • 3:45 p.m. The formerly happy new tenant returns to the office and indignantly states the unit is too small and he can’t possibly fit all his stuff in it. He indicates I should’ve known better than to rent him that unit. I start the process to transfer him to a larger, more expensive unit. The tenant leaves the office slightly annoyed with me.
  • 4 p.m. A long-time tenant comes into the office frustrated because the automatic gate is broken. I immediately call the maintenance person and tell him. I start chatting with the tenant as I look up his account. I discover he’s 12 days past due on rent, which means he’s been locked out and can’t gain entry until he makes a payment. I call the maintenance person and tell him to never mind.
  • 4:30 p.m. I finally complete the deposit and put it in the drawer. It’s now too late to take it to the bank.
  • 4:58 p.m. A customer comes in to rent a truck. We complete the transaction. As she’s walking out the door, she remarks that she probably should get some packing material. Ten minutes and $130 later, she leaves and I lock the door.
  • 5:25 p.m. I look at the list of my goals for the day and realize none were completed. I was busy all day but didn’t accomplish anything!

I have a unique way of measuring my time. I don’t put value on renting units, taking payments or answering phone calls—I value business development. If I do a good job of that, all those routine tasks will be multiplied. If I focus on routine tasks and slack on business development, I’ll find myself with lots of time to rent units and no one to whom to rent!

On this particular day, I did very little to improve the business. I did no marketing, networking or promotions. I did a little team development, but I did nothing to improve the facility. I just maintained my business. On my scorecard, the day wasn’t a success.

The beautiful thing about self-storage operation, though, is it’s never the same. Every day is different, and I appreciate that. After all, self-storage is so doggone easy!

Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at gary@getstoragehere.com.

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