Self Storage Prime Time
By Shannon Charbonneau, Director of Client Relations, XPS Solutions
Did you ever walk into work one day thinking through your to-do list and planning how your day would go, only to find at the end of the day that you never quite finished anything on your list because one thing after another took your attention all day?
It happens even to the best planners and the most task-oriented people. Let’s face it – some days are just busier than others! Wouldn’t it be great if you could know ahead of time when your busiest times were going to be?
Luckily, in the self-storage industry, we do follow a fairly predictable pattern that is heavily influenced by the calendar of another industry – Movers!
Moving companies know all too well just how busy the weekends are beginning in April and carrying all the way through September. In fact, according to a 2018 Peak Moving Season calendar heat map published by MovingLabor.com, on a scale of “Busy to Pandemonium”, there is not one single day in June, July, or August of this year where they’re predicting anything less than “Really Busy”. In fact, they estimate that fully 80% of the moves for the entire year will be done between April and September. And the weekends? Forget about it. It’s complete “Pandemonium” every single Saturday and Sunday from June through August.
What are some of the things that many of those people who are moving during “Super Duper Busy” and “Pandemonium” moving times have in common?
- They find that they need a place to store some of their belongings while they stage their home for sale because they’re hoping to move by August.
- Or they need a place to store EVERYTHING for a month because the house they’re building isn’t quite ready yet, but the buyers on their old house want to move in right now!
- Or they are more of the Do-It-Yourself types and just need to rent a truck.
- Or they’re almost done packing and discover that they need just a few more boxes and another roll of tape and that marker they’ve been using all day without putting the cap back on is drying out, so they show up at your door because you’re right up the street and more convenient than big-box retailers. Plus, they saw the sign out front that you put there to remind people that you sell moving & packing supplies!
And so, you, the self-storage operator, can feel every bit of this in your cycle as well. Your occupancy is likely to be much higher at this time of year, which means more tenants. More tenants means more tenant inquiries, calls, payments and potential issues. You are also likely to be receiving even more calls from new potential renters than usual as people prepare for their moves and plan their home sales.
Also, let’s not forget that all of this is happening while you’re standing at the counter trying to move in three people and giving one their vacate paperwork. Not to mention that the people who moved in last month are also now on the phone trying to pay their bill for this month!
Some operators choose to keep anniversary billing dates for their tenants in the hopes that this will help spread their income throughout the month as well as preventing the dreaded “billing week” scenario – where your staff is still standing at the counter doing the move ins and move outs and trying to handle incoming sales calls, all while handling the payment calls of the 50 to 60% of their tenants who don’t use auto-pay or online bill pay! Anniversary billing eliminates the need to prorate rent on move in for your tenants and while it does help spread the income out a little bit during the month, you’ve probably discovered by now that your tenants are moving in for the most part right around all of those busiest days of the month! So your payments are likely to be due between the 28th of the month and the 4th of the month no matter what.
Other operators choose to bring in all new tenants on first of the month billing. While this does mean that prorating is standard practice for new move-ins, and also results in the aforementioned “dreaded billing week”, it has its own benefits. All fees for late payments are assessed at the same time, and outbound communication can be done all at once, which helps save time.
Either way, this is the fairly predictable pattern that you’re probably already seeing in your operation. And since “Pandemonium” is probably not the business model you’re going for, what is a self-storage facility owner to do when their business (and busy-ness!) are so cyclical and seasonal like this? Because, let’s be honest, while those times of “Pandemonium” are a good problem to have, they’re still a problem!
First, when you’re planning for staffing, there are some times – like Saturday mornings – where it will likely be a good idea to double up on your staff coverage. This is true especially if you’re also renting trucks or selling moving and packing supplies at your facility. Either of those options means you are likely to have even more walk-in traffic than other facilities.
But it may surprise you to know that although moving companies may still be going crazy on Sundays, it would appear that self-storage facilities are not! In fact, calls that our clients miss on Sundays account for only 3% of the total calls that XPS Solutions receives during the week. What is even more interesting is that fully 87% of the calls that we receive are actually handled from Monday to Friday! Monday and Friday both have a slight uptick, but it’s fairly level across the week. In fact, the only real dip in volume during the week comes on Thursdays, where we handle 14% of the total call volume. So when you’re doing your scheduling, maybe Thursday would be a good day to consider for one of your staff to have their 2nd day off for the week!
Second, whether you chose anniversary billing or first of the month billing, there are a few days of the month where your team is being crushed by those calls. Did you know that you can hire our company to simply provide automated payments for you? For smaller operators, or facilities that are using all of their income for improvements and don’t have a budget for full call center services, this can be a huge benefit! Just removing those incoming payment calls from your team could mean that on those “Pandemonium” days, you have a second set of hands to handle your payments. This frees your team onsite up to handle those walk-ins with a smile and a kind word rather than a wave and a single finger held up to indicate “I’ll be off the phone in just a second”. All you have to do is give your tenants the phone number to the Payment Line!
So if you’re reading this in the middle of summer, take a minute and do some deep breathing exercises. And now dig back in for the second half of your busy season! Now is the time to begin planning for the improvements that you’ll make during the off-season that you know is coming in order to keep your facility safe and looking clean and sharp so that when next April rolls around, you’re the clear choice for storage in the area and you can begin this process all over again!
You know better than anyone how much forethought and planning and decision making goes into what you’re doing. Make one decision now that is going to help you through all of your seasons by offering your tenants another way to pay 24 hours per day that doesn’t involve you or your staff.
Your “Pandemonium” days future self will thank you!