John Manes, chief operating officer of The Jenkins Organization Inc., which owns more than 50 self-storage properties throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, said: “People will always need to store their stuff, whether the economy is up or down. That means there will always be self-storage jobs for those who want them.”
If you’re thinking about exploring a job in the recession-resilient business of self-storage, here is some advice on how to proceed.
Property Manager: Always in Demand
Self-storage facilities can be found almost anywhere. According to the Self Storage Association, 84 percent of all U.S. counties have at least one self-storage facility.
What’s more, about 80 percent of self-storage companies in the U.S. own and operate fewer than five facilities, so these small companies rely heavily on managers who are responsible for full-time maintenance, customer service and marketing. In all, U.S. self-storage facilities employed nearly 170,000 people at the end of 2011, according to the Self Storage Association.
Manager positions “are pretty much always available across the country,” Manes said. “And they often come with a lot of advantages.”
For instance, 95 percent of Jenkins properties are run by resident managers who live in on-site apartments. Manes said base salaries hover around $10 to $12 an hour (about $25,000 a year). But the company’s resident managers also get free housing and utilities, annual incentive bonuses and 75 percent health care reimbursement, bringing the total compensation closer to $50,000 a year.
“The neat thing about being a self-storage manager is that it’s an exciting way to make a living,” said Marc Goodin, a self-storage expert and consultant who owns facilities in Connecticut and Canada. “You are essentially running your own business and doing everything from marketing to bookkeeping to ordering supplies to you name it. It’s not like a typical retail job because you are doing it all.”
Because the self-storage job market doesn’t live or die by the whims of the economy, it’s also a fairly secure way to make a living.
“I know several owners that lost 40 or 50 percent of their business during the recession, but they still needed managers for their properties nonetheless,” said Jerry Jones, a self-storage CPA who represents dozens of property owners across the U.S. “If you do your job well, you’re going to keep it.”
A Career for a ‘People Person’
While the perks of being a self-storage manager may sound enticing, it’s also a demanding position that isn’t right for everybody.
“Above all else, you have to enjoy working with people,” said Peter Spickenagel, director of operations at Storage Pros Management LLC, which owns facilities in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. “You’re interacting with customers on a daily basis, so if that doesn’t sound appealing, this isn’t the job for you.”
Furthermore, unless a property employs a part-time assistant or clerk, the manager often is the only on-site employee. Spickenagel said that sometimes can feel like “living on an island with long, solitary days.”
“So you better have a lot of patience, a lot of drive and be able to work well independently,” Spickenagel said.
You also should expect to listen—a lot.
According to Goodin, 60 percent of new self-storage customers are going through significant life-changing events like a divorce or a job transfer. As a facility manager, he said, part of your job is to help make these transitions as easy as possible.
“These are stressful events, so you need to be prepared to act almost like a therapist,” Goodin said. “Sometimes it’s your job to listen to someone’s life story for 10 minutes before they even decide to rent space from you.”
Be Prepared to Sell
According to Manes, property managers are being asked to do more than ever before, and this often includesmarketing and sales.
“The days when owners looked for managers to sweep the floors and change the light bulbs are over,” Manes said. “Owners are expecting much more from their managers, which means you need to be a good salesman as well as a good manager.”
Eric Letendre and his wife, Tracey, have been resident managers of three self-storage facilities throughout the past decade, and they’ve played a key role in sales and marketing at each site.
“Self-storage managers need to be able to take ownership and market their own facilities to bring business in,” said Letendre, who works with his wife at a facility in Wilmington, NC. “Customers don’t just roll in through the door like they used to, so you need to be proactive.”
According to Spickenagel, this means would-be managers should come to the table with some sales experience—or, at the very least, a desire to proactively promote the property.
“If you’re just breathing air and collecting a paycheck, your property is going to go downhill real quick,” Spickenagel said. “But if you see value in the property and take ownership of it, you will do well.”
Second photo courtesy of The Jenkins Organization