For many self-storage managers, one of the profession’s greatest perks is the ability to live on-site. It’s a common arrangement that not only provides customers with an added sense of security and convenience. But it also lets managers enjoy rent- and utility-free living with no daily commute and the ability to personalize their work schedules.
However, according to several self-storage experts, resident manager jobs are on a slow decline throughout the industry. That’s thanks in part to advancements in kiosk technology as well as a growing number of owners interested in protecting the bottom line.
“On the whole, the trend is definitely shifting away from resident managers,” said Peter Spickenagel, director of operations for Storage Pros Management LLC, which owns more than 50 facilities in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. “That being said, there are still a lot of owners out there who absolutely love it. And there are many reasons why the arrangement works so well.”
If you’re considering a career as a resident manager, here’s an inside look at the occupation as well as a few tips on how to succeed.
Consider the Perks
Five years ago, Bob and Renee Barkalow knew something had to change. They were working grueling hours at corporate jobs that often required travel and kept them away from each other for weeks at a time. At first, they planned to retire early, but the economic downturn made them think twice.
That’s when they discovered the world of self-storage.
“We knew we needed to continue working, but we certainly didn’t want to go back to the types of jobs we had before,” Renee said. “We met another couple who had worked as resident managers for more than 10 years who said it was a fantastic job. So we started looking for work immediately. We’ve loved it ever since.”
The Barkalows have a sweet setup. As resident managers for Evergreen/Claremont Self Storage in California, they live at the facility in a three-bedroom house complete with two bathrooms as well as a walled-in backyard and patio. What’s more, the only monthly bills they pay are Internet and cable.
“There are definitely some great perks,” Renee said. “We don’t have to worry about gas for a daily commute. We eat lunch at home together almost every day. And our general cost of living is next to nothing.”
According to their arrangement with the property owner, Renee must work 40 hours a week and Bob has to put in 25. While they both acknowledged regularly working more than the minimum, it still beats their old work lives by a long shot.
“We take pride in our work and love to do it,” Renee said. “We used to put in 90 hours a week with basically no days off. Compared to that, this feels like we’re on vacation.”
Resident managers’ perks appeal to facility owners as well, said John Manes, chief operating officer of The Jenkins Organization Inc., which owns more than 50 self-storage facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“It’s a great way to lure in the best talent,” said Manes, whose company employs resident managers at 95 percent of its facilities. “You’re looking at a job that pays about $12 an hour. But if you can provide an apartment and a decent compensation package as well, suddenly the job looks much more appealing.”
A Few Drawbacks
It didn’t take long for the Barkalows to learn an important lesson about being resident managers: You and your customers need to know the boundaries of the business.
“Tenants know you live on the property, and if you don’t train them, they will be knocking at your door at all hours of the night,” Renee said. “You also can’t become alarmed at every noise you hear at night. It’s difficult, because even when you’re home, you’re still ‘at work.’ So you must make a clear dividing line between working and personal time.”
According to Spickenagel, resident managers also can present problems for facility owners, most notably when it comes to performance.
“How do you know your managers aren’t sitting on the couch watching TV instead of manning the office?” Spickenagel said. “Of course, there are controls like video surveillance, but if you’re working that hard trying to catch someone lying down on the job, you’re wasting time and money you could spend on company growth.”
Shift Away from Resident Managers
According to Jerry Jones, a self-storage CPA who represents dozens of property owners across the U.S., the self-storage industry is slowly beginning to cool on the idea of resident managers.
“It’s a matter of evolution,” Jones said. “Credit card and security technology is making it less and less important to have someone on-site seven days a week.”
For instance, electronic kiosks are making it easier for self-storage owners to simply install automated gates that open with a simple card swipe. Jones represents a client who owns several hundred units in South Dakota, and kiosks guard every one of them.
“In the old days, you needed someone there to open the gate and close it behind you,” Jones said. “I hate to say it because I hate to see people losing jobs, but kiosks can control everything for you these days. They can’t sell boxes or locks, but they can keep out the riffraff.”
According to Manes, owners are beginning to realize that moving away from resident managers can save money in the long run.
“A lot of owners don’t have to hire someone to be there seven days a week. Instead, they can hire someone local at $10 an hour to check on the facility part time,” Manes said. “Then you can convert the on-site apartment into more storage space, which gives you more return on your dollars per square foot. This is where the industry is headed.”