When I walked into the fall Self Storage Association (SSA) trade show in Las Vegas in 1996, I wasn’t an owner yet. I was a broker with an interest in self storage. The atmosphere was electric. The trade show floor was filled with owners and vendors engaging in open, frank conversation. The diversity of opinions and perspectives was new and exciting. I could really feel that self storage was a thriving, energetic community. It still is.
We wouldn’t acquire our first facility until 1999 and I didn’t know it then, but the relationships I started cultivating in Las Vegas contributed to that first success and every milestone since.
For those considering the self storage life, these are the five types of relationships you should develop if you want to be successful in our market.
If you’re reading this, you at least have an idea that associations are a big deal in the self storage industry. There are many industry organizations including the SBOA, StoreLocal and Inside Self Storage, but none are as important as the SSA.
The SSA and its state chapters understand that owners have different needs depending on the size of their portfolio and are able to provide valuable information for both single facility operators and REITs alike. They are so helpful that you’ll find many industry veterans who have maintained SSA membership for decades. You don’t get that kind of loyalty without providing real value.
Now, I’m not saying you have to dive in head first and volunteer for every board or committee position you can get your hands on, but industry associations really give you what you put in. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and interact with the other fish in the pond.
You may not know about many of the other benefits the SSA provides; including the legislation they help to craft every year, the informative and entertaining publication, The SSA Globe Magazine they distribute, and the training they provide the industry.
Even with all of that, it’s possible that the most important function the SSA performs is simply that of facilitator. By providing the industry at large with a place to congregate and share information, the SSA is at the forefront of self storage. This is where ideas are exchanged and partnerships are formed. It’s very unlikely that I would have met many of my colleagues without the SSA.
Vendors are probably going to be some of the first people you meet in the self storage industry. The SSA trade show floor is a great place to meet many at the same time. Where else in the world can you walk into a 30,000 square foot room and see just about every company that could do work for your facilities?
For example, on the trade show floor, you can test drive almost all of the facility management software our industry has to offer and you have the opportunity to speak directly with representatives at each company. This alone saves dozens of emails spread across weeks or months. Even then, is there truly ever a replacement for face-to-face communication?
Being able to speak with representatives from a majority of vendors in a short amount of time is a huge boon for the industry and one you should take advantage of.
To have a successful, growing self storage business, you can’t do everything on your own. The vendor relationships you forge will directly influence the quality of your product. You will gain insight from the various subject matter experts in self storage if you take the time to genuinely listen and ask questions. You never know what you may learn from a vendor who has many years of experience in their specific field.
Speaking of experience in a specific field, you should put making friends with other operators near the top of your list. The SSA trade shows are a great place to talk about the intricacies of running a self storage business with people who have already walked the path.
Some of the best ideas we’ve received have come directly from other operators. In most industries, it’s unthinkable for competitors to share best practices or trade “secrets”, but I have seen it time and again during my two decades in the industry.
Large owners, including the increasingly numerous Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), have taught us how to adopt new technology or operations.
It’s not just large owners either. We’ve learned some really innovative and creative lessons from operators with just a few stores. That goes to show you excellence is not relegated to the top 100 largest operators. There are many ways to run this business.
Bringing team members to SSA trade shows is something that has brought me pleasure for many years. Every time we bring members of our team to these events, they always come away energized and enriched in their knowledge of our business.
This causes our company culture to evolve and better itself. So often it’s easy for our managers and district managers to get caught in the day to day operations of our business and by bringing them to SSA trade shows we show them that they’re actually part of a huge industry that helps millions of people every day.
By having our team attend these events, we have experienced some unintended benefits. The face-to-face discussion encouraged at these shows has caused some good things to rub off on our team. Because of this, we’ve had deep discussions regarding modern manager compensation, the best ways to educate our team, and how to creatively cultivate and motivate our team as a whole.
Often we lose site of the fact that our team members are managing assets often in excess of eight figures. We owe it to ourselves and to them to develop their talents and make sure we are providing the same great care they provide us.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)
The REITs in our industry are some of the most advanced and sophisticated commercial real estate companies in the world. While they are competition, they also provide an opportunity for smaller operators (basically everyone) to watch and learn.
These companies are the heavy hitters in self storage and often pick up on new advancements before the rest of the industry. Nowhere is this more evident in the way they embrace new technology and develop more sophisticated operations. While we don’t have the scale to act on many of these lessons, they do provide inspiration for creative solutions that are at our disposal.
For many of us, selling to a REIT is part of a viable exit strategy. I recently went through this exercise with one of the larger REITs and the experience was first class. The transition was smooth and the negotiating process was 100% above board. It was a great example of how a transaction should play out.
As I look back on my time in self storage, I am humbled and heartened by the people I have met and the lessons I have learned. I’m now fortunate enough to be one of the operators giving back to the industry by providing the same kind of open communication shared with me when I was first starting out.
Without the SSA providing everything I outlined above, my company would not be as healthy and vibrant as it is today. I’m happy to be an ambassador for such a great organization. By and large, I have found self storage people to be more the face-to-face type. My message to those looking to join our community is, “Come on in and lend your voice to the conversation!”