Self-Storage Resident Managers: Pros and Cons of a Fading Trend

September 23, 2013 10
Self-Storage Resident Managers: Pros and Cons of a Fading Trend

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.

self storage resident manager

“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.”

self storage resident manager

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.”

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  • Bill B

    In my opinion, having an on-site “Live-in Manager” is like having some one working 7 days a week. I know there are Managers out there that will disagree with this this, but, I just don’t see how you can get away from the job – it is every where around you! Which ultimately will lead people to being burned out- we all need to take a break. The concept of providing housing on a tax free basis is obviously attractive. But, ultimately, it will come at a cost of a burned out Manager – this clearly is not worth it.

    Our storage facility was originally developed with an apartment. We now rent the apartment out to a local resident – who is a great Tenant!

    San Clemente Self Storage

  • Paul F LeBlanc

    Well it depends? For us to have taken the site we run in a high end suburb of DC, they would have needed to pay us double what we earn now if no residence. Could they just pay a couple of dollars more an hour to the locals to run the place? They do the reliefs that travel site to site to relieve the resident managers earn a few bucks more an hour. But their connection to the business is non-existent. When we return from our weekend (tues-weds) we work non stop to try and bring the site up to par. Our customers rave about the site on line as the cleanest best run facility they ever used but I know what it would be if run by hourly retail employees all the time that are nothing more than clock watchers. We don’t own the place but many of our customers assume we do. We have purchased a home about an hour away to spend weekends at, and the training managers have followed our lead and bought a weekend retirement home as well. We have seen the trend developing, I was in IT and my wife was in hotel management. We are the top occupied site in a chain of 48 sites, the site generates the same rent per sq st as apartments in this high end area. I don’t think I’m blowing smoke here, but we are an A team, but without the apartment we won’t stay in self-storage…

  • Duckrenter

    You may have the statistics on Kiosks but, I think the days of on site management are far from becoming extinct, if ever. On the contrary, I believe that in the future they will become more and more important to the success of many facilities. After all, how important is person to person relationships in any business? For security, there is nothing better than the presents of real live people to deter would-be crooks. Believe me, crooks also evolve, how long will it be before they figure a way to defeat electronic, unattended machines, not to mention the loss of added merchandise sales? What do these kiosks do when a potential tenant approaches and is not sure what size unit he needs, or if he is unhappy with the price? Can a kiosk go into a one-on-one mode, and negotiate in order to save a sale? I think not! After saying all this, I believe that Facilities that choose to stay with the human touch will come out on top.

    • Rchiti

      Managers might want to consider automation as a compliment to their personal service and not be threatened by it. Many managers that have kiosks treat them like their assistant manager. My feeling is that the human touch is still and will always be very important, but it may not be delivered in the same way. An example is the recently introduced two way video kiosks by Roomba…

      BTW, most kiosks include two way video technologies that do allow a consumer to go into one-on-one mode with a live person to answer questions about size, site features, and price.

      Robert A. Chiti
      OpenTech Alliance, Inc.

      • Rachel Greenfield

        Thanks for this info, Robert!

    • Dreamboat Annie

      Nicely said. Kudos:-)

  • Rchiti

    Duckrenter, it sounds like you see self service as a threat and I can appreciate your position. However you may find more benefit in embracing the business value provided by new technology instead of fighting it. People are serving themselves without the assistance of a person on the internet and at retail stores to the tune of billions of $$$.

    I get the concept of a manager being a security guard, but we all know break-ins have been happening for years at facilities with resident managers and being a security guard is not a qualification for a manager nor is it in their job description.

    Just to be clear, kiosks work when managers are not available to service a customer.They also sell merchandise and offer one-on-one customer service via two way video technology.

    Operators do not have to give up the “human touch” if they decide to implement a self service alternative for their business. Many kiosk owners have resident managers as well, so it is not a one or the other… it is having your cake and eating too.


  • Kitsu Joe

    It is my intention to break into this field, being a Resident Manager now for a Veteran Grant Per Diem Facility. There are a lot of differences between the RM for a storage unit and I am ready to embrace this challenge!

  • Villarreal Pati

    hi m new to the new hapshire area and i am looking for work as a on site property magr for a storage facility if anyone knows of a site with living quarters please let me know may be willing to reloacte .. i have no children living with me they are all grown . i am a emoty nestor 🙁

    • Cindy Collins

      If you’re trying to get attention from prospective employers you might want to use spell check.