Matt Van Horn
Creating & Enforcing Operational Procedures at Your Self Storage Facility
When I was younger I used to read a comic strip called “The Family Circus”. The comic strip revolved around a family of six which included a mother, father, and four young children. Now obviously with that many children in a home, crazy things are bound to happen. Broken dishes, baseballs through windows, and muddy dogs running through the house are just a few incidents I remember from the comic. Every time the mother or father would investigate an incident they would receive the standard kid response: “Not Me”, “I Don’t Know”, or “Nobody”. Bil Keane, the creator of Family Circus, created little invisible ghosts to represent these “other people” in the comic. If you’re a parent, then I’m sure you have had several experiences just like those described in the comic strip. Well as funny as it is to represent these “other people” as little ghosts in a 1970’s comic strip, these same ghosts are still alive and well in your self-storage operations. Phrases like “I didn’t know we were supposed to send this report to you”, “Nobody told me to take the deposit to the bank today” or “Who installed this software on the office computer...Not Me” are just a few examples of conversations that happen in our industry every day. To combat this, we need to install specific policy’s and procedures at our self-storage facilities. Think of this as a book of recipes containing all the ingredients, measurements, and baking times necessary to create the perfect self-storage facility. So where do we start this process? Let’s start with a pen and paper, it’s time to make an outline.
First, we need to start by reviewing all your facility’s day to day operations from the moment your facility manager arrives at the facility, until the moment they leave for the day. As with any business, there quite a few moving parts in the operation of a self-storage facility. Don’t take anything for granted. Turning on the computer, taking out the trash, and turning the lights on and off should all be part of this sequence. The great part of making an outline is that you can do two things with it. The outline can be converted to a check list, which can be used in your facility’s daily operations. Next, using these checklists, a policy and procedures manual can then be written to back up and elaborate the different points on the checklist. Checklists are vital in keeping our mental reservoirs full, so we don’t drain them trying to remember rote tasks. The absolute worst place to store anything is in the human mind because we can only remember so much without help. By the time you have finished this process your outline and checklists should be extensive. Here are a few examples of what your new policy and procedures will need to cover:
· Introduction to Your Company: Who are you? What is your company’s story and values?
· General Company Policies: What is the chain command? Who is responsible for specific aspects of operations? How are polices changed? What are the rules for using company property?
· Office Operations: What company property is onsite? What is the contact information for local vendors and emergency services? What are the daily, weekly, and monthly procedures? Who order’s supplies? What software does the property have and how is it to be used? How should the office look? What items should be on the office counters?
· Marketing Plan: What is the marketing plan? Who is responsible for developing the marketing plan? Who is responsible to execute the marketing plan?
· Sales Process: How is the phone to be answered? Is there a sales script? What is the procedure to show a unit? How often should a manager follow up with a potential customer? What is the limit of your manager’s authority regarding specials, discounts, or pricing? How is the rental agreement completed? What are the points of the rental agreement that the manager needs to review with the customer? How are payments processed? What is the delinquency policy? What kind of fees have you implemented? What kind of amenities, such as tenant insurance or rental trucks, are the managers required to sell? What if the customer is considered active military?
· Customer Service: What is the company’s philosophy on customer service? Who should the manager contact if a customer has an issue? What are the limits of the manager to handle a customer issue? What is the policy on refunds, change of address, or customer bankruptcies addressed?
· Delinquency Procedures: What are the specific delinquency timelines? How are delinquencies to be contacted? What is procedure to process a unit for auction? What is the procedure for a customer to be removed from the auction process?
· Vacating Units: What is the vacate policy for customers? What is the procedure to process units that have been vacated? What is the procedure to initiate a customer refund?
· Maintenance: How are maintenance issues processed? Who needs to be informed before a vendor is contacted? Who has the authority to approve a vendor quote? How many quotes are needed before a repair or replacement is approved? All day to day maintenance procedures and schedules should be part of your daily, weekly, and monthly procedures.
· Security: What kind of security does the property have? Where is the camera and DVR stations located? How is the security system operated? What kind of gate system is installed and how is it operated? What is the daily security procedure? What is the system of facility locks? Are the locks colored? Used for specific procedures?
· Emergencies: What are the procedures for different types of emergencies? Where are the locations for all maintenance and utility access points? What is the procedure if a customer or an employee is injured? What is the procedure if the facility is burglarized? What is the procedure if law enforcement would like to access a customer’s unit? What is the policy regarding speaking with attorneys and reporters? Who does the facility manager contact if a customer issue becomes escalated?
· Natural Disasters: What is the procedure for Hurricanes, Tornados, Earthquakes, etc.? Who makes the final decision to open or close the property? What is the procedure if communication to the property is cut off? What emergency supplies should be onsite and where are they located?
These are just a few of the items your policy’s and procedure’s will need to cover. Your final outline and manual will go much deeper than this example. Once you have your outline and checklists, it’s time to build your policies and procedures manual. Remember, your facility operations team can only be held responsible if you know they are trained and have the proper resources. Now, I will concede that people are not the same regarding how they process instructions or how they will react to an individual situation, but when each policy (What needs to be done) is written down followed with a written procedure (How to do it), then most of the grey area vanishes. All the sudden “I Don’t Know”, “Not Me”, and “Nobody” disappear, and your facility becomes nearly gremlin free.