To kick off the SBOA’s new series Engaging with the Experts, part of the Self-Storage Unlocked series, SBOA Vice President Jessica Johnson was joined by Raheem Amer, Senior Vice President of Operations at Devon Self Storage, for a one-on-one conversation. The discussion included Raheem’s journey into the self-storage industry, how Devon Self Storage has continued to expand, as well as tips for those just getting started in the self-storage space.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. View the full video here.
How did you get started in self-storage?
I grew up in the restaurant industry, that’s the only thing I knew. I was in between jobs, and I never interviewed before. Someone called me from Extra Space Storage and the only reason I started interviewing with them is because I needed to get some practice and get some interviews under my belt, so when real opportunity comes knocking, I’d be ready. But the more I talked to them, the more I found out about the culture, and the longevity of all the managers that I talked to, it really piqued my interest.
How did you get involved with Devon Self Storage?
Devon found me – they came knocking and the opportunity was right. When I came on, we decided to take Devon to the next level. We’ve really moved the company along – we have grown about 20% since I joined the company. We have long-term growth strategies in place on how we are going to get up to a three-digit number.
What are some of the biggest surprises you’ve experienced so far in the self-storage industry?
One of the biggest things that a lot of people don’t understand about the storage industry, and what storage is all about, is how much you touch a customer and that relationship that you build with the customer. In the storage industry, unlike any other industry, every customer that’s walking through that door is going through some kind of a change – that could be good, bad, or ugly. And we get to be part of that. We get to be that transition point for them to get from point A to point B.
What are your top tips for newer owners and operators that are just getting started in this space?
First is hire a great manager. I think that’s the foundation of everything storage. I can’t tell you how many times all we have done at a property that was struggling is change the management, and bring in the right manager, with the right mindset, someone who is sales-minded, an employee that really understands customer service and how to interact with the customer. That has really skyrocketed the numbers at a property.
The next tip would be to train the employees on the three C’s: close, clean, and collect. Teach them how to be fanatical, how to be driven on that every customer is a closing opportunity. When you’re not closing on a customer, then you’re cleaning your property. You want to make sure your property looks better than anybody else, especially with the REIT’s coming in. Cleaning your property differentiates you from everybody else and puts you on par with all the REITs. The final C is collect. When you’re not closing, you’re not cleaning, you got to make sure that all the dollars are hitting the bank. It’s important to make sure everybody who needs to pay is paying.
What are some of the key attributes you look for as you enter new and existing markets?
We have a scorecard we look at. Every time we look at a new property, we churn it through the scorecard and look at a couple different metrics. Then based on how it scores on those metrics, we decide if it’s even something we’re interested in, or something we want to put boots on the ground. Some questions we ask include:
- What are the traffic counts?
- What are the market rents?
- What is the occupancy?
- Trends in the neighborhood?
- What is the three-mile population?
This scorecard is something that our team developed. We’ve been doing this for 30 years, so we’ve used over 30 years of knowledge on what did we find in different areas. We’ve sort of tweaked that scorecard, gotten it perfected, and now just by putting an address in, we’re really able to pinpoint opportunities.
What are some other tools that you would suggest an owner/operator bring into their operation?
Besides getting Devon Management to run your business, I would say there are three things you should focus on. First, who’s going to do your marketing that’s going to drive traffic to your properties? You got to know what source of marketing you’re going to use. Are you going to use pay-per-clicks? Are you going to use an aggregator? Are you going to be active on social media? Who’s going to run it?
Number two would be are you maximizing on revenue? What’s your revenue management strategy? Who’s running that? Are you bringing people in at $1 when they’re willing to pay $100? Also, what are your current customers paying? As you’re raising your rates on your customers coming in, are you also raising your rates on current customers and how aggressive are you with that? There’s a whole strategy and science that goes with it. Some do well and some struggle with that part of it.
Last, but not least, is operations. It’s important to make sure the asset you have invested your money in continues to succeed. If you have a management team that continues to give customer-centric service on the front lines and your property looks good, the property is going to continue to perform well.
At what point do you think it’s no longer viable to self-manage your properties and consider bringing in a third-party management company?
As I said before, it’s important to keep marketing, revenue management, and operations top of mind. And if you don’t have time to focus on one of those, or if one of those three metrics is falling down the cracks, that’s when I think you need a third-party manager because they’re going to focus on all three. We also say there are five P’s in management that you need to focus on to maximize revenue. These include people, property, product, performance, and pricing.