Manager of the Year talks delinquencies, marketing and difficult customers

Last month, Allen Baxter of A+ Storage of Tennessee, property manager for the Nolensville, Tenn., location, was named 2016 Manager of the Year by the Tennessee Self Storage Association.

Baxter has been a property manager with A+ Storage for over 5 years and has received several awards including the A+ Storage Manager of the Year twice. In a Q-and-A with Josh Flory, of NAI Koella Moore, Baxter talked about his success at reducing delinquencies, new strategies for marketing and his most challenging customer interaction.

How did you get into the storage business?
I was looking for a job in the management area and found the ad on Craigslist. I grew up in Nolensville so I thought, ‘Hey, it’s perfect. A job in the town I grew up in.’ I had no clue about the storage business but I’ve learned a lot over the last five years and continued to grow and love the industry.

In 2016, your facility saw revenue increase by 26% compared to 2015, while delinquencies dropped to only $961. What was the key to those achievements?
I would say one of the key factors as far as the delinquencies are concerned is just focusing on collection calls and staying on top of being in contact with the customer.

Mostly what people find when they get delinquent is they forgot to call and update you with a new card. So it’s really just not letting it get out of hand, because most of the time they have the money, they’re going to pay, it’s just getting ahold of them to get their card on file updated.

As far as the gross revenue, Nolensville’s really a booming market right now. In order to keep up with that demand, we added three new buildings in 2015.

What portion of your time is spent on finding new customers versus taking care of existing customers?
I would think it’s probably about 50/50. You’re always going to get more referrals by taking care of your current customers and keeping them happy, but you also want to get out there and make sure people know your name and know your logo. You want them to think of A+ Storage when the time comes. We want to be in the back of their mind.

Which is harder?
I’d probably say finding new ones, just because we’re in the type of market where we’ve still got some of the old-timers that don’t use the Internet as often as the millenials and Gen-X customers. We still have a lot of people find our name through the Internet, so obviously the Internet is the trend going forward, but how do you still reach those customers who don’t use the Internet? That’s probably the hardest part.

How do you do that?
By being involved in the community. I’m involved in the historical society here in Nolensville. I am also a Masonic member at the lodge.  I volunteer and support town events such as the Fourth of July and Veterans Day having served on those committees in the past. I have found that going out and having the face time, getting to know people and the local shop owners, plays an important role in our networking efforts.

At the recent TNSSA panel, you mentioned that A+ Storage is looking to incorporate Google Ad Words, and focusing on Google and Facebook reviews. Is that paying off so far?
I think the Google Ad words are definitely paying off. Our new website is driving a lot of traffic. We can see that through some of the results we’ve gotten for the first couple of months.

Are there any marketing tools that you’ve stopped using?
Yeah, we’ve decreased Yellow Pages quite a bit. We tend to steer away from expensive print ads because you don’t see the results from those anymore.

Tell me about the most difficult customer interaction you’ve had?
Probably the hardest thing for me happened when I was showing a customer our property.  I was asking questions to determine his needs, unit size, whether he needed a standard or temperature controlled, and trying to get to know him. I like to ask questions that you can relate to the customer.

The guy just flat-out told me that he’s not much of a talker. So I kind of got the hint pretty quickly that he really didn’t want to answer any of my questions. That was a hard one for me because I like to be personable and get to know my customers.

What management system do you use?
We use SiteLink.

Does it work well for you?
Yeah, we’ve just switched to them in August. We’ve really enjoyed the transition. The biggest feature that really enticed us to move was their e-signature option. We like being able to offer that for our customers.

I’ve got a monitor and a mouse dedicated at my desk for the customer to do the e-signature. I think most people like that as opposed to having so many sheets of paper set in front of them that they feel like they have to read and sign. It’s a little less daunting for them to look at the screen as opposed to a stack of papers to sign.

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