Look Who's Talking: Douglas Kotelly, CIO of Prime Group Holdings, LLC

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Feb 1, 2019 12:00:00 AM

It’s already the second month of the new year, but hopefully your New Year’s resolutions—both professional and personal—have not fallen to the wayside. Although personal goals and professional objectives will undoubtedly vary, they both tend to share the same underlining aspiration: growth. Whether it be sticking to a budget, getting organized, or developing a skill, as the saying goes, there’s always room for improvement.

In the self-storage industry, business owners likely have similar growth-related goals for their portfolios. Typically, storage companies aim to increase net operating income, boost occupancy, expand rentable square footage, and/or raise rental rates. While those are all important objectives, the desire to improve overall performance should be given due consideration.  

What exactly does that entail? For Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Prime Group Holdings, LLC, a real estate owner-operator with more than 200 self-storage facilities in 23 states, improving performance starts with optimizing your people, properties, and portfolios.

Meeting Of The Minds 
It may seem like a lofty goal, but according to Douglas Kotelly, CIO of Prime Group Holdings, the company is on track to enhance its performance thanks in part to an off-site retreat that yielded a new set of corporate objectives. Kotelly, who notes that they have a “great senior bench of executives” after some new hires in 2018, says that Prime Group Holdings has established what they have dubbed an “Operational Excellence Initiative”.

Without divulging all the information from the company’s updated playbook, Kotelly states that its Operational Excellence Initiative involves intra-company communications, risk analysis, problem identification, issue resolution, and the assignment of a “champion” to each project.

Essentially, Prime Group Holdings, which is growing at a fast pace, adding 75 self-storage facilities to its portfolio since the beginning of 2017, was seeking to improve the management side of its business.

“We engaged with a third-party consultant with an engineering background to help with the critical path of our acquisitions process,” Kotelly says. “And, shortly thereafter, we realized it could be beneficial to expand the scope of that initiative to include corporate-level best practices.”

At the off-site retreat, management executives focused on identifying risks and opportunities as well as setting goals. “It was a time to reflect,” says Kotelly. “We’ve grown to a size where we need to take affirmative, thoughtful steps in order to achieve our investment and corporate objectives.”

Prime Group Holdings then took the time to develop defined roles and tasks for each position—a cumbersome but worthwhile undertaking. Kotelly mentions that the company’s “Own your role” saying has become key to their Operational Excellence Initiative. Prime Group Holdings also emphasizes to its personnel that they are “all pulling on the same rope”.

Kotelly goes on to say that the corporate objectives identified various topics “where we can perform best”. Overall, they intend to build on their strengths. “We want to raise the bar for storage,” he says. “We can be, and should be, a leader in raising our customers’ and investors’ expectations.”

Rising Expectations
As Kotelly and the executive team at Prime Group Holdings came to realize at the company retreat, it’s crucial to keep on raising the bar in self-storage as its customers’ expectations will continue to grow. For starters, as others in the industry have begun to recognize, customers are counting on self-storage managers and the properties they oversee to deliver a higher level of service, in the same manner as now done in retail establishments.

In other words, self-storage property managers and staff members must focus on providing each customer with five-star service. This can be achieved by offering useful advice and recommendations as well as kind reassurance that the customers’ stored possessions will be in good hands at the self-storage facility. Of course, other trademarks of stellar customer service include friendliness, helpfulness, attentiveness, and empathy, which is especially important in the storage business as many tenants are experiencing turbulent times when seeking units.   

Additional customer expectations include cleanliness, advanced security features, and the latest technologies.

  • Cleanliness – It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to remember that you only have one chance to make a first impression. For that reason, keeping your self-storage facility sparkling clean and well maintained is critical. Curb appeal—or lack thereof—can potentially sway an unsure customer’s decision in or out of your favor. Creating daily/weekly/monthly cleaning checklists and maintenance schedules for property managers to follow is a sensible solution for maintaining an impeccable appearance at each facility. They also can help prevent more costly issues from arising. What’s more, the property manager’s appearance can influence a sale. As such, a dress code should be outlined within your employee handbook to ensure compliance. Uniforms or logo shirts can help strengthen your brand while producing an air of professionalism that won’t go unnoticed.
  • Security – Nowadays, there are many new security features available from self-storage vendors. To keep your customers and their belongings safe, it is imperative to outfit your facility with reliable security devices. Access control systems with entry gates and features that restrict tenant access to specific floors or buildings are becoming the norm. Access control systems typically have the ability to monitor your tenants’ comings and goings, which is helpful for exposing illegal activities that could be occurring on site. High-tech color cameras with motion detection and heat detection features are beneficial for identifying criminal activity. Individual door alarms are another practical investment to protect your tenants’ goods and your facility’s reputation. Ample lighting throughout the site is another easily implemented security measure.     
  • Technologies – Similar to security features, new technologies are hitting the self-storage market seemingly every week. Prime Group Holdings is developing a state-of-the-art facility in Wilton, N.Y., to try out various technologies that it plans to implement at other self-storage properties within its portfolio that includes more than 12,000,000 rentable square feet of storage space. “It will serve as an incubator to test new technologies,” Kotelly says, noting that one feature is an app-enabled remote locking mechanism. As mentioned in other articles within this magazine, customers are becoming more reliant on their mobile devices; therefore, technologies that can be utilized through smartphones and other mobile devices are in high demand. These kinds of technologies provide customer convenience; some even enable them to complete the entire move-in process from their mobile device. In this hectic world, businesses that don’t offer mobile-friendly technologies will likely be outpaced by their more sophisticated, tech-laden competitors.   


Customers Are Key
At the end of the day, everything your self-storage company does should be done in an effort to make the storage experience the best it can be for each and every customer who visits your facilities. Remember: Without your customers, you have no business.

While you don’t need to be blindly devoted to the notion that “the customer is always right,” keep in mind that “the customer is still the customer.” Therefore, it’s best to attempt to cater to their comforts. Indeed, you can’t turn a profit if you aren’t an excellent fit for their needs.  

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.