A few years back, I got the privilege of being an onsite resident manager of a self-storage facility for five years. Looking back, parts of it were great, other parts, let's just say, I've had my fill of ever setting foot in a storage facility ever again. Let me warn you, this is nothing like you see in that cable show Storage Wars. Sit back for the ride on this chapter, because storage units and their tenants have their story to tell...
This all started in September of 2004, my oldest son was about eight months old at the time. We were living in a two bedroom apartment at the time. We figured it would be a great idea to be storage managers in compensation for free rent and utilities. We get there having no idea as to what journey we were going to be on. We go in thinking just a two year gig, we end up staying for five years.
Our first adventure begins with a change in upper management just one week into taking over. This couple out of Texas, while proving to be pretty cool later on, caused some hell in the beginning. First reign of terror: I had to put my baby son in daycare (made absolutely no sense since we were on site). So I put my son in daycare, one I knew personally. Big mistake- most hellish 3 months of my life. He did nothing but scream the whole time, caused him to be dehydrated, partly caused a fallout with this woman (come to find out later he would be diagnosed with hereditary mild autism). After three months, I said no more daycares, my husband dropped to part-time to take care of him while I worked, he worked at the facility on my days off.
First experience with a tenant was quite an interesting one. Me, having no clue as to what I'm doing, I accidentally cut this guy's lock off his storage unit to allow access to his girlfriend at the time, but she was not on the lease. About a week later, they get into a domestic fight right there in my office. I learned the first of many lessons that day.
About the next year was pretty much smooth sailing, till a bombshell dropped: we got bought out. Not only bought out, but by a big corporate, publicly traded on the stock market company. Our days of leisure in a small private facility was gone. If we had an inkling of what the many changes in store for us, we would have turned tail and ran that day. But we decided to stick it out till the bitter end (and indeed it, in some ways, was a bitter end).
So changes roll out the summer of 2005, our first district manager was some idiot preppie from Sacramento California (see as there were only four of us stores in Utah, we always got thrown in with another state). This guy literally had no clue either. Let's put it this way, he actually thought storage units should be spit shined.
In comes 2006 with another upper management change; district manager from Cali out, absolute freak from Denver, Colorado in. This one is partly responsible for me leaving the storage business three years later after a little hiatus from us. 2006 brought a year filled with some interesting events
First event, almost became a widow at 26. My husband was trying to do too much at the time, trying to work nights, storage, and taking care of our son. We thought we needed the extra money. So, he goes to his night job after being up for 36 hours. Big mistake; I get a phone call from him the next morning saying he rammed our car (which we had only had for less than a year) into a tree. He was OK, but totaled the car which we were still paying on. We go without a car for a year and a half. Quite challenging, but you find yourself doing a lot of walking. Which is how I ended up losing a shitload of weight. This totaling event also came on a day of quarterly facility inspections by the Colorado manager. He didn't give a care, in fact, he thought I should be doing more than what I should be doing. Jerk.
Then, summer of that same year, a little miracle happened: Colorado manager out, (at least temporarily) awesome guy kinda granola dude from California in.
However, that one did get a little rocky start. It started with an auction for one of the delinquent storage units. The new DM was supposed to fly to Utah to meet us. Anyway, the guy who bought the unit came into the office and said he had found unsafe levels of mercury in the unit. I call the city manager to FYI; he thought I should be calling poison control. I told him are you nuts? So, hazmat comes out, it ends up on the local news, and as far as I know, to this day, that area in front of that unit is still marked off with paint. Our new DM came in the middle of all this. Luckily, he was quite understanding and knew that it wasn't my fault. But it was a first visit and a first impression to remember.
Another fun tenant incident is the time my store got sued for a security breech. What happened was that a tenant moved in, exactly one month later they get broken into. The only thing of value that was taken was a wedding dress. The tenant claimed that I told him that because we lived onsite and had cameras almost everywhere, that the facility was totally secure, truth is, most storage facilities are store at your own risk. Which I had told him the truth about that. In the end, the case settled civilly out of court for less than 10K.
2006 ends, ring in 2007. That was the time of the housing bubble, and we hit full occupancy. We went from 78% occupancy to 100% occupancy that year. We would stay that way till 2009. I literally had to find other facilities for people to store their stuff. I felt like a overbooked hotel on (insert convention here) weekend. 2007 also brought my husbands estranged father passing away. That was actually a blessing in disguise. See, his family was crazy rich. Upside, we got a small inheritance. (Enough to buy us a truck, which I still have and drive today.) Downside: the inheritance had to be split between seven children most different mothers. He was a skirt chaser after all.
2007 ended with a small business trip to Ontario, California. We all got together for a meeting, mostly to rip on the regional manager who was a total jerk, so much of a total jerk I told him off and he literally walked out of the meeting, causing cheers from everyone in attendance. I guess they all thought he was a jerk as well. Wasn't a total loss though, made a couple of new friends out of it, we talk once in awhile just to shoot the breeze.
2008 was a peaceful year, occupancy stayed high, got a lot of reading done. My oldest son was enrolled in preschool by this time and doing well.
In rolls 2009 with changes, big changes. The economy tanked, our occupancy dropped 25% in a month. No one was immune to the Great Recession as we all know. Because of the recession, our DM from Cali was forced to leave. We get back the manager from Colorado. Ugh. Those last six months with him were the most hellish of my life. All we did was argue. With him, he blamed me for everything including my occupancy going down, but in all fairness, he's the type of guy who goes around thinking his crap don't stink. Either way, by June of 2009, it was time to leave. We had put in five years, it was time to move on.
Now, it wasn't all just management changes either. You gain quite a bit of perspective. For example, the facility was located two miles west of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, just a stone's throw from the homeless shelter. So we had our fairer share of interesting tenants come in and out, also tenants that die while storing there. Oh, and don't forget the ones in prison or on their way there. Yes, we have kicked out a fair share of tenants sleeping and living out of units. We have had tenants store food. Although my favorite one was the time that the tenant passed away and left stored a 1966 Chevy SS car. Yes, we got to auction it. Guess what that car went for? $5500! The guy that bought it actually got it running, drove it off the lot. Found out later that he turned around and sold it for $10,000.
All in all, it was an experience I look back at and say at least I learned quite a bit, but for the love of God, never again.