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Food for Thought: Self-Storage Hiring and Retention in Today's Feast or Famine Employment Market

By Stacie Maxwell, Vice President of Marketing and Training for Universal Storage Group (USG) and Tonia Fowler, Human Resources Coordinator for Universal Storage Group (USG)


In today’s self-storage landscape, keeping your facility staffed with well-trained, competent and positive managers can leave you feeling starved instead of sated. The employment market tends to be feast or famine, and the last year has seen the market scrambling to understand how the “new normal” is affecting their recipe for hiring success. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, employers were suffering through a hiring famine, due to the low unemployment rate, which made finding and keeping good talent difficult. Attractive management candidates had an abundance of opportunities across numerous fields, and recruiting good talent was a difficult task.

However, in mid-March 2020, many things shifted, and the unemployment rate in the US skyrocketed due to the novel coronavirus and the resulting layoffs and furloughs. A year later, one would think that employers are having a better time picking up new talent. However, we are seeing candidates deciding to stick with their current employers because of everything going on. So, while unemployment is higher due to the circumstances, we still feel the candidate has the upper hand. Some companies have no choice but to keep going, so the candidates still have options. But because so many are able to collect unemployment versus work, companies are still having a hard time recruiting talent. Unfortunately, the candidate buffet is still awaiting refills.

The good news is, savvy employers can actively improve their staffing success by implementing a few best practices. Here are some considerations for recruiting, training and retaining self-storage managers when the market feels like a job-seekers’ smorgasbord.


Streamline the Recruitment Process

Hiring has always been a slow process. A winning recipe requires many ingredients: posting ads, screening resumes, and scheduling and conducting interviews. The goal is to find the perfect hire and making an offer before your competitor snatches him up like the last hot biscuit.

Streamline the process by having your team work on different parts like an assembly line. An applicant-tracking system can also help shorten each step. You don’t lose out on a great candidate because you didn’t get to him fast enough.


Communicate With Candidates

When you’re at a restaurant and your food takes longer than expected to arrive, don’t you feel more assured if your server stops by with frequent updates? Much like a guest enjoying a fine-dining experience, today’s job candidates expect more from companies than simply submitting their resume and waiting. Communication from the beginning is crucial, and leaves potential employees feeling informed and valued.

To keep prospects engaged, employers should research and implement ways to improve communication, from receipt of the resume, to the interview, to onboarding, training and beyond. This improves the candidate experience and employee relations with your company throughout their tenure. If you don’t keep good candidates engaged, you may lose them to someone who makes them feel more important. During the COVID-19 crisis, our company, USG, held several online meetings just to keep our employees updated on the current known facts and safety measures. These multiple Zoom meetings allowed everyone to be involved and knowledgeable about best practices, as well as see that we are concerned and doing what we can to keep them safe. This is much better than our employees being left in relative darkness, only knowing “something” was going on behind the scenes, yet uninformed about their safety and any new procedures.


Speed Up Your Onboarding

Onboarding can be a long, clunky and tedious process. With so much paperwork required, a new hire can get lost in the shuffle, or worse, give up before he gets settled. “Ghosting” has become rampant in recent months due to the many opportunities available. To avoid issues, many companies opt to use a professional employer organization (PEO) to handle HR-related tasks like payroll and onboarding.

A great PEO can offer options, such as online paperwork and employee-information portals, that will help your HR taskmaster stay ahead of the rush and remain aware of each candidate’s position in line, similar to a well-prepared and efficient maître d’ monitoring waitstaff. Having these resources means new hires are able to easily complete their paperwork in a timely manner, without any hassle.


Training Essentials

Often, new hires are given too little guidance once they’re in the door. Frustration can cost you a wonderful employee, restarting the hiring cycle. Who has time for that? Implement training to give new staff the foundation and resources they need to be knowledgeable and successful, and then continue to refine and strengthen your program.

To keep employees excited and engaged during their first few weeks, we have created a very thorough four-phase training program:

  • Phase 1 should cover the basics of self-storage, vital business functions and daily duties.
  • Phase 2 should branch into more advanced skills, such as budgeting functions, revenue management and other duties.
  • Phase 3 can cover all aspects of marketing.
  • Phase 4 focuses on self-storage lien laws and auction processing procedures.

A phased approach allows new hires to be introduced to all job functions at a slow but steady pace and helps ensure they don’t get overwhelmed on day one by something as daunting as rate increases or delinquency letters. The last thing you want to do is scare away your newest team members! During the COVID-19 crisis, USG shifted the majority of training to online, with modified instructions and screen-sharing to teach the fundamentals as well as more advanced procedures. We are slowly getting back to safe-practice in-person training, as the hands-on approach is always best for self-storage operations.

Once training is complete, assign each new employee a mentor he can reach out to with questions. For multi-site operations, the mentor should be in addition to an area manager and any training-department support, so your hire isn’t left floundering alone.

It’s a good idea to periodically gather employees to discuss any pertinent updates, news and training on new processes. You can also use these meetings to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and commemorative life events like births and weddings. Large operations can accomplish the same thing by holding virtual meetings online. Even if you have locations spread across the nation, this approach can actively foster team unity and camaraderie, and helps employees feel they’re part of the greater good and larger corporate family.

Another strategy USG has used with much success is to bring all employees together for annual training and awards. Consider making it a weekend event, with day one being a half-day of training, followed by an awards banquet and celebration. The second day can be reserved for a full day of training and team-building exercises. This helps get everyone onto the same page with a positive outlook and reminds staff they have the full support of the company. Due to the ever-shifting landscape of social distancing and large group gathering guidelines, our annual in-person awards and training weekend was converted to a Virtual Summit, complete with interactive games and competition and an online awards ceremony. That pivot enabled USG to stay in touch with and inspire our teams for moving forward through these interesting changes for 2021 and beyond.


Employee Checkups

To retain valued team members, it’s important to regularly perform employee-satisfaction surveys. Much like a good food server checking on patrons several times during a dining experience, a good employer should ensure staff are thriving and enjoying themselves. Consider conducting an anonymous survey annually and use the feedback to gauge how employees are doing and feeling, as well as to assess what you can do to enrich their work lives and ensure their continued success.

Survey questions should be geared toward evaluating your company as a whole, covering performance expectations, policies and procedures, and growth opportunities. Ask about job factors like workload balance, if the work is meaningful, and if employees have enough autonomy to perform duties successfully and independently. By surveying staff, you’ll learn a lot about what is and isn’t working, and gain insight to making improvements.

Attracting and retaining good employees is vital to the health of any self-storage operation. By implementing the above tactics, you can help offset the overabundant and ever-changing opportunities candidates now have. Taking the time to properly recruit, onboard and train employees is a worthwhile investment that can lead to lower turnover, higher retention and better satisfaction.


Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), a provider of self-storage management, education and development services. With over 20 years of experience in the storage industry, she oversees the branding, design, and marketing programs for the company and its 70+-store portfolio, as well as the company’s award-winning multi-phase manager training programs and STARS Team.


Tonia Fowler is human resources coordinator for Universal Storage Group (USG). With over 18 years of experience in the self-storage industry, she oversees USG’s new employee onboarding processes and ongoing human resources, including coordinating employee benefits, processing and auditing payroll, and implementing employee retention programs.


For more information or to contact Stacie or Tonia, call 770.801.1888 or visit


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