As coronavirus sweeps through the world and a global pandemic has been declared, operating a self-storage facility can be confusing and even scary. We can all agree that everything has changed and all the businesses have to make difficult decisions for the safety of their employees and the well-being of their customers. Like many others, you probably have a million questions regarding the pandemic and wondering how to handle your business in these difficult times. Here we will try to help you and give you some guidelines so you can successfully handle the COVID-19 crisis in the self storage business.
Have a crisis management plan
The coronavirus outbreak is a great reminder for self-storage operators of how important it is to have a crisis management plan. Even though this virus is much different than any other natural disasters such as floods, fire or earthquakes, the procedures you use in these emergencies will serve you well now. A crisis management plan should include:
- Defined and assigned roles and responsibilities for all staff members
- A plan for notifying tenants of how you will handle the COVID-19 crisis in the self storage business
- Contact information for emergency personnel
Also, there are some simple precautions you can take to clean and disinfect the management office and areas in your facility. Make sure you frequently disinfect the doorknobs, elevator buttons, cart handles, and other items that employees and customers use. Use gloves and masks to protect yourself and the people around you. Since you can move across the country with ease with your self-storage business , make sure you have the crisis management plan wherever your business is.
Think about your staff
Another area of concern in these difficult times revolves around the employees. A new federal law regarding medical leave is now put into effect to protect employees affected by the coronavirus. Many employees in private companies that have around 500 employees had to take a paid leave due to the crisis. There is an exemption for companies that have less than 50 employees. Therefore, it is vital that you understand this new law and how it might affect your operation. If necessary, consult your attorney or state association.
Interacting with customers
While COVID-19 is wreaking havoc around the country, many states set have stay-at-home orders in place, which means that many businesses have closed their doors. Fortunately, self-storage is considered to be an essential business, so operators can continue to serve their customers and make money.
Self-storage is a business where a large portion of the offices are operated by a small staff, which helps with the recommended social distancing. Besides, the self-storage industry has a low volume of customer foot traffic, so it's very unlikely that you have dozens of customers visiting your facility at the same time. During a crisis, it is a good option to have a modern website that allows customers to rent a unit online or a call center to handle inquiries and customer issues.
Paying the rent during the COVID-19 crisis
Operating self-storage nowadays is not business as usual and that applies to late fees and rental increases. Now might not be a good time to raise the storage cost of your storage facility and you should also expect and be prepared that some tenants won't be able to pay rent this month or the next one. Even though you have every right as a self-storage owner to collect what you are owed, you shouldn't take a hard line on this issue but try to put a pin on rent collection for 60 to 90 days. You can send a friendly reminder about the payment via e-mail. This is simply goodwill and it will encourage loyalty. This action will show your tenants you understand what they are facing and that you are willing to be patient and work with them to find a solution to get them caught up.
Opportunity to be visible
You can take advantage of this crisis and seize the opportunity to be visible in your community by offering solutions for those impacted by the circumstances. That could be students who are displaced for the spring. Some universities have asked students not to return to campus and to continue learning online. Also, students are forced to move out of the dorms without a place to store their belongings and they can certainly use the assistance.
You can offer special rates and promotions for students and people in your community. In the time of crisis, there many non-profit organizations and charities, so you can help them by renting them storage units . This wouldn't be just a simple act of kindness, as it can also be useful for your business.
This only certain thing is that you will have to adjust your operations and your attitude during this global crisis. Handling the COVID-19 crisis in the self storage business will not be an easy task, and all you can do is follow the law and show some compassion. Take measures to protect yourself and your customers, be pragmatic in decision-making and remain calm. It can be difficult to determine who needs help, but you can assume that for the next few weeks everyone could use a break. Giving your customers a few more days to make a payment will likely not impact your business significantly, but it can make a difference to your customers. We all hope that we will return to our normal lives as soon as possible, but for now, be safe out there!