Training Elevated! How to Create Your Self Storage Training Process

Providing your staff with rock-solid training is one of the most important things you can do for the operations of your company and the well-being of your staff. Providing the tools, systems, procedures, and expectations will ensure your new employees are able to perform their job to your satisfaction and help them have a more enjoyable work experience.

It also elevates the level at which they can contribute to your company because they know what is expected, and have the time and capacity to think through better ways to generate those outcomes.

Our Atomic Storage Group training started much like most other operators. We would sit next to the manager for 3-5 days and tell them where to point and click. The information that was retained depended on the new employees’ ability to absorb and retain knowledge, and the trainers’ ability to clearly communicate the tasks to be completed. After 4 days, no one can remember everything that is told to them!

Typically, trainers start with the most important information, but what is remembered and what is forgotten varies greatly and can be a small, inconsequential detail, or something that can get you sued. There is no way to know.

As our training evolved, we developed checklists and PDF guides to help our staff walk through the steps that need to be accomplished. Our managers could keep the guides and revisit and reflect on the information after we left. While this method did narrow down the time it took to train our staff and left them with a deliverable to hold, it still didn’t follow the flow of learning.

We found ourselves still doing the heavy lifting in our training as we had to sit and guide our new employees through the process and make sure they understood every step of what was expected. There was not a clear path to learning, and the tools we were using were not put together in a cohesive package.
Our training evolved to our new website program. We boiled the information down to the “Core 4”, which includes:

1. Renting a Unit

2. Taking a Payment

3. The Move Out Process or “Move-Outs”

4. End of Day Processes or “End of Day”

After the new employee is solid on their Core 4, they move on to learn storage software overview, functions of the storage software, customer calls, facility tours, demand, and all the other ancillary items needed to run the business.

We are big believers in automating as much of their job as possible so they can focus on closing leads and collecting money, rather than doing busy work. As you are designing your training, consider

  1. How can you BE LAZIER?
  2. What are the key things your employees can learn BEFORE they start?
  3. What tools do they need to FIND what they need WHEN they need it?

Understanding how people learn will help you design your training process. Developing a training program that includes:

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Touch/experience

Developing a mix of video, written, examples, and quizzes will allow employees to learn the way they learn best, no matter their preferred method.

Giving employees training before their first day allows them to start at 30-40% of the expected knowledge base, rather than 0%.
Using technology and self-training allows the trainer to focus their time on building the relationship, answering questions, and practicing the nuisances of managing a self storage property, rather than focusing on where to point and click. It creates a win/win solution for the employee and company.
Atomic Storage Group offers self storage training and consulting in addition to our full-service third-party self storage management services. To learn more about our services, email us at

Hiring the Best Self Storage Manager for Your Store.

Hiring the right self storage manager is one of the things that can make or break your investment. Consider the property, demographics, physical location, clientele, and overall goals to help you select the right fit for the store. Some properties need a strong salesperson, while others need more of a property manager who can handle projects.

Posting the job ad

Posting a self storage manager job ad is fairly straightforward with lots of options to choose from. We typically post jobs on Indeed, although there are other job posting options. Adding a custom question for applicants to answer is a great way to get insight into how applicants think, problem-solve, and approach their day.

We favor open-ended questions with no right or wrong answers. Consider the main goal your employee needs to accomplish and craft a question around it. Most self storage manager needs to have outstanding customer service skills, a strong ability to communicate and be able to think on their feet and make decisions.
Here are a few sample questions to choose from:

  • An upset tenant comes into your office on Monday because their gate code didn’t work over the weekend, although their account was paid. Without knowing the policy, what do you do?
  • A tenant needs a second unit, but only for 3 days. Without knowing the policy, what do you do?
  • A tenant claims items are missing from their unit. Without knowing the policy, what do you do?

A well-run self storage property will have policies and procedures around each of these issues, but having applicants, who likely know little to nothing about storage, answer, will give you insight into their mindset and problem-solving skills.

Interviewing applicants

Interviewing candidates can be grueling if you don’t have a system in place to handle the various administrative tasks. We use a memorized response in Indeed to request that applicants schedule their own interviews using a Calendly link. This allows us to block our time for interviews and have the applicants do the rest of the work.

We conduct interviews via Zoom so we can feel like we are talking to the applicant as much as possible. It is a great way to see if they are prepared for the interview. Did they find a quiet place to talk? Are they dressed? Are they focused on the interview or are they doing a million other things? I once interviewed someone in the car with their friends while they were going out for the weekend.

Remember, they picked the time! During the actual interview, try to speak as little as possible. Ask: Tell me about yourself. The best self storage managers are people who can connect with people. We love hiring people who are outgoing and personable, who can connect well with others, and make communication easy.

The applicant should be able to take control of the interview and talk about themselves and why they are best for the job. Ask if they have any questions. They are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. Are they prepared? Do they have a few smart questions? Do they understand the job? We like to ask about applicants’ work habits and how they structure their day? People who plan ahead and follow a plan make good employees. We want to hire autonomous adults who can be self-directed.

Finally, have someone do a second interview. It’s always a good idea to have someone else talk to the potential candidate and make sure they are a good fit for you. If you have the time, having them work in the office for a period of time before you offer them the job is the best case. It’s easy to be on your best behavior for 20 minutes on Zoom, but you can start to see someone’s real personality after an 8 hour day in the office together.

Once you select your best choice, be sure to follow all your state guidelines in offering them the job. Having a good HR onboarding will save you a massive headache if the employee doesn’t work out.

Self Storage Sales Secrets

Make a customer not a sale. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Always be closing. Coke only sold 25 bottles in its first year, so never give up. This is but a handful of the motivational sales mantras you hear today. Self Storage sales matter!

Sales philosophies are like kids: Everyone thinks theirs is the best, and they’re eager to tell you about it.

Atomic Storage Group

Ironically, none of them are wrong. Amazon offers more than 2 million books on the topic of sales, many containing good information. You could spend a fortune on books, videos, classes, and conferences, and you’d be overwhelmed with advice. To guide you in your self-storage sales process, I’ve distilled the deluge down to three philosophies.

1. Make It Fit

My first sales philosophy is to tailor your pitch to fit your personality. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. If you’ve ever met me, you know I laugh and joke all the time, and rarely take anything seriously. It drives the people close to me insane! When I offer a sales presentation or a tour of a storage facility, I’m high-energy, fun, and outgoing. However, others in my company are the opposite. So, who’s right? We all are.

People see the sincerity of a person, not the salesmanship. When you’re true to your character, people see you’re authentic, and it makes them feel comfortable and respected. They don’t feel like they’re being “sold.” You’re present in the conversation and able to engage in a helpful manner. You develop a genuine connection with customers. They’ll see, hear and feel this, and reward you by sharing their time with you.

Even though your personality should be foremost, there are sales practices you should follow. Whether you take phone calls at your facility or offer tours, you’re using techniques. And like any skill, they need to be studied and refined. Learn everything you can about sales. Even if you receive training from your company, remember there’s so much more material out there. Many storage operators severely lack basic sales know-how, so anything you can absorb will put you ahead of the game.

2. Sometimes It Works

My college philosophy professor once told us, “Some things work for some of the people some of the time.” He wasn’t talking about the business world, and yet it’s a good summary of the second philosophy behind self-storage sales.

Let’s try an experiment. Write down the three principal objections you receive from potential customers. Now, ponder how you counter these objections. Do you have planned responses for each? If you don’t, create some now! If you do, I guarantee some of them to work on some of the people some of the time. Now you need to expand this skill. If you attempt to overcome an objection one way and it fails, try another. There’s no rule that says you have just one chance. Educate yourself and practice so you have “some things for some people.”

When was the last time you updated your phone-sales techniques or tried something different? If you apply the “somethings” philosophy, you need to have variations when speaking to people on the phone, depending on their cues. What questions are you asking the customer? Are there better questions? Call 10 facilities in different parts of the country and see what you can learn from their phone presentations.

3. No Magic

A co-worker of mine, who’s an avid Harry Potter fan, inspired this third sales philosophy: There are no magic wands or words in the world of sales. If you’ve read the books or watched the films, you know Harry’s adventures take him and his friends through many trials and tribulations. Often, the only saving grace they have is the ability to wave their wands or conjure a spell to vanquish their foes. This doesn’t work in sales. Don’t get me wrong, some techniques and words are better to use. However, “magical” implies that something is easy, and sales aren’t. There are no magical words that will make your sales increase.

While what you say matters, it’s how you say it that counts. We’re in the business of storage and empathy. Operators get so caught up with saying words like value, new, guarantee, sale, easy, simple, etc., that they forget sales is about helping people get what they want and need. Shift your thinking from “I win when the customer rents from me” to “the customer wins when they choose you,” and see what happens.

If you don’t have some sort of sales training at your company, I encourage you to seek it out. Ask your owner or supervisor if you can find or do some sort of training for yourself and your co-workers. Even if you just send a monthly e-mail containing sales tips, it’s a change in the right direction.

As a self-storage operator, you should be doing what you can to sharpen your trade. Often to its detriment, our industry is viewed as a passive business when it should be viewed as a dynamic, active machine with cogs, wheels, and levers. All these parts need to be changed and pulled. By taking time to develop your sales skills, you’re making everything move significantly better.

Self Storage Customer Service

Customer service is a topic that has filled books, lecture halls, and training manuals since the dawn of retail. While the concept is fairly simple, it’s taken on an almost Herculean life of its own.

What customer-service formula should you follow for your self-storage business? Whose cute acronym will make your operation the most successful? I like to keep my business as simple as possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say “stupid-simple,” as in the KISS theory: “Keep it simple, stupid.” Here are four tricks for keeping your service model stupid simple.

Stupid-Simple Trick 1: Infusive Service

Self-storage is unique. We’re trusted with customers’ most valued possessions, but we only see most of these people for about 15 minutes, during the rental process. Then they move out a year later, and we see them for a few minutes again. The whole exchange can seem cold and unfriendly.

Since we don’t see our customers often, I like to use “infusive service.” Infusive means inspiring or influencing. Your goal is to help customers see the awesomeness of your facility. Have you ever had a tenant compliment you on the cleanliness of your property? That’s a result of infusive service. From a passive act, you’ve inspired your customer.

Infusive service is essential in self-storage. While you might only see your customers two or three times during their stay, they might visit their unit dozens of times, so everything little thing you do can have a huge impact. How do you increase infusive service? Look at everything the customer touches—figuratively and literally—and ask how you can improve that experience.

  • Word your signage so you communicate your message in an entertaining way.
  • E-mail tenants a few times before assessing a late fee.
  • Pipe music into your loading areas.
  • Spend $4 every Saturday and give away cold bottles of water.

By doing little things over time and paying attention to details, you’ll build a store brand that will inspire customers. This infusive service is the essence of operating a finely tuned facility

Stupid-Simple Trick 2: Interaction

The second trick deals with direct customer interaction. It’s typically what we imagine customer service to be. When I took a college statistics class I learned two things: One, I hated college statistics; and two, the bell curve is widely applicable to the world.

Imagine we had a bell curve to represent the self-storage customer base. On one side of the bell, you have the customers who love us no matter what we do. We could dump rats into their units and they would say, “Well, I was thinking about getting some pets.” On the other side of the curve are the people for which we can’t do anything right. They want a reduction in rent because their 10-by-10 unit is really 9 feet, 11 inches on a side. Guess what? These are also the people who are most likely to leave a bad online review. Yikes!

Your sweet spot is the people in the middle of the curve. Fortunately, this is also your majority. These are the customers who need the most attention. When they feel special and appreciated, they’ll post positive reviews, refer your property to others and be loyal tenants. We love customer reviews- check out a few here

Stupid-Simple Trick 3: The Right Staff

The third trick for providing the ultimate customer service is to put the right employees in place. In my short storage career, I’ve seen the change in industry professionalism. I tend to hire a more energetic employee, even if he’s inexperienced, while other operators might prefer a more sedate but seasoned crew. There’s no wrong way but hire for personality and attitude. At times, hiring is difficult and there may be occasions when you’re under the gun.

Nevertheless, take as much time as you need to find the right people. Teaching someone how to use the computer and operate the store is the easy part. Teaching them how to deal with customers is the hard part. If you want someone to treat your customers right, hire someone who’s friendly!

Stupid-Simple Trick 4: Guiding Principles

The fourth stupid-simple customer-service trick is to teach your employees guiding principles and give them the power to self-manage. Every company needs “rules,” but I cringe at that term. It stifles creativity and encourages people to look at things in only one way.

The worst work culture you can create is one governed by fear, where employees are afraid to fix a customer-service situation because of an angry boss. Empower your staff to solve problems as they arise. Here’s an example.

One day I was working the desk when a customer entered the store. He wanted a late fee waived because his wife had been getting the e-mails. As it was our policy to charge the fee, I informed him it was his responsibility to keep his e-mail address up-to-date, and I wasn’t going to waive the fee. He then told me his wife was sick and hadn’t told him the rent was due. Still, I said the fee would stand.

He decided it was a matter of principle to get this fee waived, and even threatened to move out. Then, after 10 minutes of arguing, I had a realization. This wasn’t who I was and not how I wanted to do business. I stopped and sincerely apologized to the customer. I waived the $15, and two-plus years later, he’s still paying $400 per month for his unit.

Guiding principles are in place to help you make good decisions. Once in a while, it makes sense to “break” the rules to provide the best service you can. We are not in the business of walls, doors, and stuff. We are in the business of trust, empathy, and people.

Atomic Storage Group

How to Make More Money in Self Storage

Rate reductions should be used as a temporary means to attract customers, not an ongoing sales crutch or philosophy.

I can’t think of another business that relies as heavily on discounts as self-storage, other than maybe mattress stores. I despise rent concessions, but they’re so prevalent in our industry, it’s difficult to function without them. Still, any special deployed should be considered a temporary tool, not a permanent philosophy. For a sales promotion to pay off, you need a strategic approach. By beginning with the end in mind, you can create a self storage revenue plan that’ll help avoid the challenges chronic discounting can bring.

When I ask e operators about their self storage revenue management systems, the answers I get are often a mix of “I do what the other guy is doing” or “I really don’t know.” Too often, they choose the easy route and cut rates. Before going down this path at your own facility, put in the time to do the due diligence and build a solid business foundation. This includes training staff on sales and ensuring your property is well-maintained—things that can help you kick the crutch of discounting and justify higher rental rates.

Know the Math

Discounts aren’t as harmless as you might think. If your average unit price is $100 and the average length of stay is nine months, your average customer value is $900. If you’re offering a free month of rent and the tenant came from an online self-storage aggregator, that affects your numbers substantially. That $900 customer might now be worth only $650, which drops your average unit price to $72.Offering discounts means you’re playing in the mud with everyone else. What are you doing to set yourself apart from the site down the road that’s doing the exact same thing?

Some operators argue that discounting helps them fill their sites quickly. This might be true, but the only way to know for sure is to track the closing rate on discounted vs. standard-price rentals. Are markdowns necessary, or have managers become so reliant on offering them that they no longer know how to sell without one? Self storage revenue is a lot more than the set it and forget it.

Instead, Be Strategic

Taking a tactical approach means setting revenue goals and devising the right type of self-storage unit pricing to achieve them. This will help you avoid the common challenges associated with lingering discounts and bring in more revenue. To ensure a promotion is successful without damaging your business in the long term, consider these planned approaches:

First, find clarity.

Be clear about why you want to offer a discount. Typically, the goal of a special is to acquire new customers; but some operators may offer one as a thank-you to members of the community, such as senior citizens, military personnel, or first responders.

Typically, these types of promotions won’t be the deciding factor in whether a customer chooses to rent with you. While it’s OK to offer them, make sure you control their use. Giving 5 percent off here and there might not seem like a lot, but at year-end, when 60 customers have taken advantage of the offer, it adds up.

Keep it simple.

I’ve seen self-storage operators get extremely creative with their pricing structures, but if you’re going to offer a discount, make it easy for staff and customers to use.

Offering 25 percent off the first two months of rent isn’t a simple discount. There’s a Reddit feed I love called “Explain it to me like I’m five.” It’s great advice for marketing, too. Train staff. One of my biggest issues with discounts is, over time, employees believe they can’t sell without one. If they believe they can’t sell without a crutch, they never will, and that’s a real problem in self storage revenue.

Use a limited-time offer.

This gives new customers a reason to rent or reserve now rather than later. Consider using a callout on your website and other marketing that states, “Only 2 Left!” Scarcity is a great persuasive strategy that creates a sense of urgency, particularly online. Upsell. When you offer a discount, offer other items to help make up the margin. For example, sell the customer some tenant insurance or moving supplies. The renter may move in for a dollar, but upselling can at least increase your per-rental profit.

Focus on hard-to-fill units.

You likely have units at your self-storage property that are less desirable than others, maybe because they’re upstairs or farther from the office. To attract budget-conscious customers, consider selling these spaces at a lower rate than “premier” spots.

Try bundling.

Rather than lowering your rental rates, try selling the unit together with another desirable product or service at a “special bundle price.” For example, if you have a moving truck, offer to let the customer use it for free if he rents a storage unit of a particular size or for some specified length of time. The idea is that the individual prices of products in the package become less expensive vs. buying them individually. Get creative with the concept, and be sure to measure and record what works to increase your self storage revenue.

Tools for Tricky Times

Let’s take a moment to address the current and future situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. As the crisis ebbs and flows, so will customer behavior. For self-storage businesses, online and phone-based demand has increased, while walk-in traffic has decreased. Even with safeguards in place, most facility operators are trying to limit the presence of people at their facilities.

It’s more critical than ever to take advantage of every phone call and Web lead you receive. That being the case, I encourage you to maximize the positive impact of whatever resources and systems you have at your disposal. Make sure your team is armed with the proper tools, including a smart discount system, to help them succeed. I suggest adjusting your phone-sales scripts and online content to promote any specials you offer.

Remember, rate reductions should be used as a temporary means to attract customers, not an ongoing sales crutch or philosophy. The moment you begin to rely on them, you’re moving in the wrong direction—away from profitability!

Employee Evaluations? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Many years ago, I sat down in an office for my yearly review. My manager at the time then proceeded to give me the worst personal review I have ever received in my life. Below is my story which might help self storage owners how to conduct proper employee evaluations.

I felt like a complete and utter failure, and I was devastated. After the shock of my review was over, I began to read it and discovered how completely inaccurate it was. The more disconcerting matter was the fact that the simple things that I received poor marks for had never been brought to my attention until the time of the review. I asked my manager, “This stuff was no brainer stuff. Why didn’t you just tell me?”To which she had no real response. Of course, this affected my pay for the year and ultimately, my direction in the company.

Luckily I had a great mentor to help me stay the course, and get me where I am today. To me, this example epitomizes what is wrong with yearly evaluations. Employees are not given the tools they need. When they are, it is often a surprise and too late. The need for employee evaluations is obvious. They create a platform for a two-way conversation for the growth and change of the employee. There is a better way than the “old school” yearly evaluation.

Hopefully, you will be able to discover some helpful ideas to create that platform for your employees. I want to suggest two performance evaluations per year and two official “feedback” sessions. The performance evaluations would be a more formal written evaluation, and the feedback sessions would be less formal. This way, the employee is getting some manner of feedback every quarter, no matter what. Giving feedback isn’t an easy thing to do as an employer or manager.

Setting up a system like this will force you to commit to a process that ensures you will have conversations every three months with every staff member. Many companies tie employee evaluations to pay increases. This adds another level of tension to an already tense situation. The purpose of the meeting is to have tough conversations, to encourage, to help, and to engage.

When you introduce pay increases into that mix, everything else will become white noise and what matters to the employee will become the focus. I would recommend, if and when, you have pay increases, to have them on the employee hire date.

Conducting an evaluation

The goal of performance evaluations is to have no surprises. Thanks to the ongoing feedback meetings, you have encouraged and corrected any issues along the way, the performance reviews now become a much easier meeting to have. They are now a written summary of what you have already identified. All evaluations should be documented, which will help your company if any legal action comes from a former employee. Consider the following ideas when conducting your next evaluation:

  • Prepare – Do yourself and the employee a favor and take time to put together a well thought out evaluation. The employee will feel valued and will understand the time and effort you put in.
  • Self-evaluation – A week before the evaluation, send the employee the evaluation and ask them to fill it out. They might be able to identify items they are struggling with that you were not aware of. In the meeting, let them lead this section of the conversation.
  • Lead with the positive – As with feedback, it is best to connect it with specific examples. The clearer, you are the better. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
  • Discuss the performance– Focus on the issues that matter. Make sure that the discussion is two way and that employee understands the issues.
  • Make a plan– We have what we call “Personal Development Plan” Each quarter we come up with a plan for the employee to work on for the next quarter. Usually, this plan ties into an overall theme of development that employee needs to work on. In the evaluation, ask the employee to come up with the plan. It puts the responsibility on them and also creates ownership in the task. Help if they need it.
  • Follow-up- Hold your people accountable. You are only as good as your ability to follow up.


Let’s discuss the importance of the consistent need for feedback. I was attending a conference, and a speaker referred to feedback as “Feedforward.” The concept is compelling. When you think about it, the idea for feedback is that we want our people to be better in the future. This is a great frame of mind to have as you examine feedback in terms of moving people ahead. Feedback is one of the biggest paradoxes. People love feedback. It gives them direction, it helps them, and when it is given correctly, it will make an organization into rock stars.

If people thrive on it that much, why is it so difficult to give? Therein lies the paradox! While we love feedback, it’s not easy to give feedback. You fear hurt feelings, causing drama, or feeling uncomfortable. Guess what? You like to know how you are doing in your job, so buck up and do the same to someone else! You must have feedback for your people, and you need to have it often.
Consider these guidelines:

  • Don’t make it personal – Imagined slights and malice are poisonous. It is incredible how a simple statement or action with no ill objective can be taken as a malicious action. Acknowledge this and be the bigger person, even when it’s difficult. When giving feedback, focus on the behavior, not the character of the person.
  • Be specific – Tell the person how the behavior is affecting you or the team. Avoid using terms like “you always…” and “you never..” Those terms automatically put the other person on. The other person can’t read your mind, so you need to tell them how you actually feel in order to make a change.
  • Give it often – If you attend a college football game, people don’t wait until the team scores to cheer. It’s a consistent mix of celebration and hanging your head in embarrassment. The point is – it’s done over and over again. Praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required try to talk to the employee within 24 hours. The sooner, the better. Don’t wait a year!
  • Outcomes – One of the best ways to start a feedback conversation is by putting the focus on how it affects a business outcome. Good or bad, this enables you to develop talent, better phone skills, improve customer service, or any other goals you might have. It also helps the employee save a “little face.” It makes it less like a personal criticism toward them and more of an opportunity to resolve a business issue. Ultimately the goal is to progress your business by improving your employee.

By combining formal reviews and scheduled feedback sessions, you are forcing yourself to do the hard things. It is much easier to have a sit down once a year, give an employee 15 minutes, and be done, however, if you are like me, you see a vision of a more significant way to help your employees to be better. I know it isn’t the easy way. I struggle with keeping that vision all the time. Nevertheless, you owe it to your employees to do everything you can to help them become better.

What Are Important Self Storage KPIs?

Still, have questions about how we do what we do?

One of the great things about self storage is that you can measure everything with detailed metrics. Everything we do must be backed up with data. ​

We Identify Both Lagging and Leading Performance Indicators

One of the great things about self storage is that you can measure everything with detailed metrics. Everything we do must be backed up with data. ​Measuring calls, visits, rentals, clicks, or conversions is one approach to data analysis. However, at Atomic Storage Group, we identify and focus on the core KPIs for your business. Rather than choosing dozens of metrics to measure and report on, we focus on the key items that move your business forward. Many companies try to track too many KPIs, instead of laser focusing on the ones that matter. Data for the sake of data is useless. Data in Atomic language is an action verb.

Lagging Indicators

Measure the output of what has already happened, such as rentals or retail sales. These types of metrics are good for purely measuring results, as they solely focus on outputs.​

Leading Indicators

They measure the inputs. These metrics help predict what is to come. A great example is website traffic, conversion rates, demand, demand trends, and area activity. ​Most organizations focus on lagging indicators. One of the main reasons is that it is easy to report on lagging indicators. It is easy to run a rental report. However, focusing on the outcome does not give you information to change the story. ​

At Atomic, we look at leading indicators as a huge driver of business. They help discover trends before they emerge. This allows us to maximize revenue, reduce costs, and have a much greater impact on the future goals at each self storage location. ​This is how we make every decision. Data. Experience. Your best interest. We consistently do what’s hard for us if it’s best for our customers. That’s the Atomic Way.

What Makes a Great Self Storage Manager?

If your professional goal is to get ahead, you’ll never get there by being mediocre. The only way to gain footing is to create more value for your employer than your role requires.

During a recent monthly review with one of our self-storage facility managers, the conversation drifted toward the topic of pay and his opportunity for advancement. Since he was a “low man on the totem pole,” his concerns were valid and timely.Over the next hour, the discussion revolved around two primary topics.The first was how to be a value creator, and the second was how job titles are labels that inhibit growth and creativity. Both concepts are applicable to pretty much any position.

If you fully understand them, not only will you advance your career, you’ll find fulfillment in your work life.

If your professional goal is to get ahead, you’ll never get there by being mediocre. The only way to gain footing is to create more value for your employer than your role requires.
The typical storage manager has several basic responsibilities:

  • Answering phones
  • Giving facility tours
  • Collecting rent
  • Serving customers
  • Maintaining the property 

(The keyword here is “typical.” The term “manager” could be replaced with the role you hold, whether that’s district manager, associate, or whatever your position may be.) While the typical manager might do a good job, does he create more value than the role requires? Generally, no. At the end of the day, your career is a concept of your mind. Your mental development is under your control. 

To move foward, you have to put on your grown-up pants and take control. No one will do it for you. No one is coming save you. You are responsible for your life. 

Create Value

Everyone within a company has a specific role. Most self-storage managers look at the role and guidelines others have placed upon them and accept these as hard, unchanging truths. If you think that way, you’re running on an old operating system, which can hold you back. If you want to get ahead, it’s time to upgrade your thinking. Why can’t you rewrite the definition of what a facility manager does? If your corporate policy manual states that a facility manager does A, B, and C, that’s fine. You go and do A, B, and C, as well as E, F, and G. By doing so, you’ll add company value in three ways:

  • You’re making new things happen.
  • You’re creating value within yourself, setting yourself apart from what’s “typical.”
  • You’ve begun down a path on which many start, but few stay the course. You’re doing something more with your station in life.

People frequently live on autopilot because it’s comfortable and easy. If you stick to moving beyond the status quo, it’ll positively impact your professional and personal life. You’ll want to become better, and you’ll rewrite the roles life has written for you. Start small. On average, companies today provide employees with 32 learning hours per year. Where does your company stack up? If you’re with a small company, what can you do to help provide 15 hours per year? This is how you create value and forge a path to advancement not because you have to but because you want to.

Atomic Manager Challenge: Ask the person above you about his biggest professional problem or struggle. Then, do what you can to make that go away. I’ve never met a boss or employer who devalued problem-solvers.

Stop Labeling Yourself

Don’t let your job title define and cage you. In my career, I’ve met many people who were above me in the professional hierarchy, and yet I was more qualified to do their job. As such, I’ve grown to view titles as labels that limit growth and creativity.During the review with my facility manager, his main concern was he was somehow unable to initiate or try new things because of his junior status. That label was affecting his personal growth.

There is little difference than if he had been labeled fat or anorexic, grumpy or crazy. Labels are for files, not people. This is a life lesson it took me years to learn. Achieving a certain label was important to me. My ambition turned negative and self-serving. Rather than look out for the interest of others, I was only in it for myself. My great grandfather used to say, “You meet the same people going up the ladder as you do coming down.”I eventually learned that little is gained by seeking titles.

Instead, much is gained in seeking relationships and serving others with no expectation of reward. If my manager chooses to add value to the company and help others, greater compensation and advancement is a natural next step. Whether he’s a junior or senior manager makes no difference.

Keep Striving

As our conversation unfolded, I asked my manager what prevented him from pursuing some of the things he wanted to do and embracing his development. He said, “I did say something one time, but someone didn’t like the idea.” This was a great learning moment. For whatever reason, he made the conscious decision to allow that incident to change the way he voiced his opinion.I showed him how that decision had a lasting effect on the course of his career. Because he took that moment as someone not valuing and listening to his opinion, he applied that viewpoint to other aspects of his job.

Within a company culture that values innovation and people taking charge of projects, a mindset like his can have extremely negative results. In the ideal work world, every employee would have an amazing, customized development plan to help in personal and professional improvements. Everyone would say things in the most constructive, edifying manner. Life would be nothing but rainbows and puppy dogs.

However, we know the truth. If you want good career development, much of the legwork needs to be done by you. Talk to your supervisor and let him know you’re interested in growing your skillset. Do more than what your job description requires. Expand the learning in your field to other areas. If you try new things, you’ll find value in yourself as well as your job. When the value is found, it’ll be returned to you. Keep trying. Always. Every day. 

Is Self Storage a Good Investment?

Over the past five years, the storage industry has grown up and come into its own as a recognized commercial real estate investment.

The self storage industry started long ago with sheds in the backyard. Its meager roots began as “mini-warehouses” as ancillary income for otherwise unusable land. Over the past five years, the industry has grown up and come into its own as a recognized commercial real estate investment.

Self storage has grabbed the attention of private equity companies and real estate investors. Cap rates have dropped like a rock and development has increased to a frenzy. With so many people eager to invest in self storage, we must consider if self storage is a good investment. Here are some reasons to invest in self storage:


Self storage is inherently more stable than other commercial real estate classes. Storage properties can range from 200 – 2,000 units which spread the vacancy risk compared to retail with 5-10 units. In a business with five units providing revenue, losing 1 unit will result in a 1/5th drop in income. In a 500 unit storage business, losing 1/500th of revenue barely makes a dent. The diversified vacancy risk improves the stability of a self storage asset.


Self storage has a low expense ratio compared to multi-family or office. When a storage tenant vacates a unit, it merely needs to be swept to prepare for the next renter. Storage has little to no tenant improvements or make-ready costs. Compared to multi-family, there are fewer significant utility replacement costs as well. The most substantial expenses are property taxes, insurance, and labor. Labor is a hot button issue as more self storage facilities are built to be fully automated.

It is enticing to cut payroll costs by $40,000 – $60,000 a year, increasing the bottom line. However, having a property manager typically leads to faster absorption and stabilization of the property. Self storage expenses are relatively stable and predictable, making it an excellent investment as long as the numbers make sense.


Street rates and rate increases make up the rent revenue potential in self storage. Street rates can be manually adjusted or preset to change based on specific qualifications. Similar to retail, the unit characteristic can drive the price. Retail can charge more for space that faces the street compared to the elbow. Storage units on the first floor are typically more expensive than those on the upper floors. Climate-controlled units have a premium price over standard units.

Storage, unlike most commercial real estate investments, has month-to-month leases. While this may seem like a weakness to those who come from the long-term lease retail world, it’s a massive strength. Month-to-month leasing allows rate increases to be issued with only 30 days’ notice. Smart storage owners calculate the average length of stay, and base rate increases off historical data.

Month-to-month leases also reduce the risk of locking in an under-market rate and remove the need for a step-up rent standard in office or industrial real estate. Couple the ability to adjust existing tenant rates with the ease of changing the street rate and the diversified risk of vacancy, and you see why self storage is an excellent investment.


Self storage is an operating business, unlike some of the other commercial real estate classes. It’s more retail than industrial, and more multi-family than retail. “Self storage” encompasses a wide range of property types from 5 units behind a house to a 2,000 unit class A property on Main and Main. The day-to-day operations will fluctuate with the class of property, but tenants still need to pay each month, will have questions, and move in and out.

The property needs to be cleaned and maintained. The bills need to be paid, and the accounting needs to be handled. If there is a full-time on-site manager, they will need to be trained and monitored to ensure they are running the property correctly. Although storage doesn’t have the headache of “toilets,” it’s far from a passive investment, unless you employ a professional management company.

Many storage owners treat the property as passive and neglect to adjust street rates, raise rates, tend to maintenance, or adequately market. With the drop in cap rates, these owners are losing millions of dollars by not running their property as they should. Which is one of the main reasons we started the Atomic Storage Group.


Self storage used to be reasonably easy to build. The cost was low, zoning was straightforward, and demand was pent up. After 2006, self storage development halted for several years. At the beginning of the boom, storage was still reasonably easy to get off the ground.

New development absorbed renters quickly, and occupancy hovered in the high 90% for most facilities. With the tariffs and increased construction costs, development is tougher. Land prices have increased along with construction, property taxes, and payroll costs. With an abundance of new supply coming online, rates have remained flat or decreased. It’s getting harder to make the numbers work with traditional financing.

Self storage requires more investment upfront and patient money. If your investment strategy can handle your cash sitting for 3-4 years, self storage may be an excellent investment for you. Sure, there are several creative ways to finance the property. Syndications, private equity, or private investor funding are all ways to get the deal done.

However, when the REITs are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to acquire properties at a great deal because the developer couldn’t hit their projections, we should all be a little nervous. If you are new to investing in self storage, be careful about the deals you choose to pursue. The two biggest risks in storage are 1) It’s too small and can’t support itself and 2) demand isn’t there to fill the number of units available. Think about it logically. Revenue must exceed expenses.

Income in storage comes from the capacity to rent to people who need it. You need capacity (size of the property) and people (market). It’s quite difficult to make 20 units in the middle of Nowhereville Population. 1 work, no matter how well you operate. So, is storage a good investment? I believe so. I love this industry and am fully invested. To make storage a good investment, you need the right market, patient money, strong rates, and excellent operational skills.

Your Employee Will Make Or Break You

If you are not willing to work and get out of your comfort zone, please stop reading this article. However, if you want to start thinking about playing offense and growing your business. Please read on.

“In life change is inevitable. In business change is vital.” says Warren Bennis. Competition is growing, markets are shrinking, and rates are dropping. What are you going to do? Polish your doors? Increase your marketing dollars? Are you going to sit back and let life happen to you? If you are not willing to work and get out of your comfort zone, please stop reading this article. However, if you want to start thinking about playing offense and growing your business. Please read on.

No system, lock, or golf cart can grow your business more than an engaged employee. The single best investment you will ever make is to invest time and effort into your employees. When an employee is engaged, they will always strive to become better and better. As they do that, everything around them will improve. The irony comes when employers dress up engagement as a stocked break room or a yearly Christmas party. This is a pacifier that will lull the C players, bore the B players, and anger the A players.

Among the current employee base, 44% feel that they are stuck in their role, 50% feel that their employer takes them for granted, 35% feel that work directly affects their ability to be happy, 40% believe it has a negative impact on their lives, and 70% are not engaged in what they are doing.

While those numbers might seem shocking, take a moment and think of your own work history. Has your work always been unicorns and rainbows? What jobs have you had that were engaging, made you happy to come to work, or made you better? Once you start to think about it, those statistics make perfect sense.

As a young boy, I often went camping in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. Whenever we went camping there, I always lived by one motto, “leave it better than you found it”. That creed has followed me throughout the years and into my business life. As a business owner or even a leader in an organization, I believe you have a responsibility to better the lives of the people you lead, or to leave them better than when you found them. Engaged workers believe in the work they are doing. They have “bought” into your vision and are emotionally attached to what they are doing. They work with drive, passion, and are willing to go the extra mile. They are pulling on their oars and are doing everything they can to move your business forward.

Directly contrasting that are the employees who are not engaged. They can range from individuals who are actively working against your business to “seat warmers.” They bring others down, they monopolize a manager’s time, they drive away customers, and do things that are not productive to the workplace. They are work Zombies. How do you create a more engaged employee? You can start by answering these questions:

  1. What am I doing to be a better boss (leader)?
  2. How am I improving the work environment?
  3. Am I giving every person an opportunity to grow?
  4. What am I doing to recognize people?

What am I doing to be a better leader?

You can bet your sweet patootie that any change you want to see needs to come from the top. Employers have to know the personality of their employees. The same strengths and issues the employee struggle with outside work and the same inside work. By knowing your employees’ beliefs, values, goals and challenges you will be able to interact with them in the best possible way.

How am I improving the work environment?

Your employees spend more waking moments at work than they do at home, with their loved ones, and in areas, they are most comfortable in. The workplace they come into everyday needs to be an area they like. Look around the office, when was the last time you changed things around at all? Does the area ever change? Is there something you can do to make it different periodically? Change things up once in a while. Not only does this help prevent burn out but it will increase creativity. I would go crazy if I had to sit in an eight by eight windowless office every day.

Am I giving every person an opportunity to grow?

There has been a change in what an employee wants out of work. To some various degree, it has changed from my paycheck to my purpose. My satisfaction with my development, my boss, my coach, my weaknesses to my strengths, and finally my job in my life. If you are not spending equal time developing your people as you are driving your new Ducati motorcycle, then they won’t be your employees much longer. If they stay, they will only remain at the C or B level and you will never reap the rewards of having a truly engaged team. Much of this growth comes from continual conversations and coaching opportunities. These conversations need to be focused on the employee’s strengths versus their weaknesses.

By no means am I discounting the fact that employees are not responsible for them. They are to manage their weaknesses and play to their strengths. Almost every employee feedback session I have been in has focused on what I am doing wrong. While there is a place for that, the majority should be what I am doing right. If you are to raise a B employee to an A employee it is not by correcting their weaknesses. It will only come by helping them become more effective through their strengths. We are all trained to give feedback in a negative way. Think of the last time someone asked for your feedback. Did you make a list of the things they did right? No. You made a list of the bad. While there is some merit to part of that, we are weird to receive positive feedback. So why aren’t we giving it? I don’t know about you, but whenever I received a review that had things I needed to work on, I looked at it, got defensive, and never looked at it again. It was worth the paper it was written on and no more.

What am I doing to recognize people?

When asked what was the most important tool to encourage employees, overwhelmingly it was recognition. Think of a time you worked hard on a project and finished it. It was your baby and your blood sweat and tears went into it. After it was finished the person above you didn’t recognize your effort, or put in a half hearted thank you that was more crushing than helpful. Has that ever happened? It has to me, more times than I can count, and it changed the way I worked. Have you been guilty of doing it yourself? It doesn’t cost anything to recognize someone. However, when it is done right it will have a greater impact than any financial bonus. Send people a handwritten thank you note instead of an email. Since you should know your employees, send them a personal gift related to their favorite hobby or sports team. These four steps have one thing in common. They all require “doing.” This will not happen unless you take the time to make it happen. Rain happens, employee engagement and success does not “just happen.” Your role is critical to the success and confidence of your employees. Make sure that all your employees know that and actively work toward a common purpose, belief, and outcome. By so doing, your business will grow and you will be able to harvest the rewards of engaged employees.