“You either love self-storage or you don’t,” states Kari Kaltenborn, president of locally owned and operated Kaltenborn Enterprises & Rancho Storage Center. “It just clicked for me, and I’m still enjoying it!” Kaltenborn took an interest in the self-storage industry back in 1990, when her father bought his first facility. Her experience in the family business gave her a deeper understanding of the elements that drive self-storage companies to success and a passion for the industry that endures today. From 2005 to 2018, she worked for Magellan Storage, advancing in her role from manager to the director of operations. Now she operates four facilities in and around the Seattle metro area as the president of her own company.
A Modern Business Model Growing up in the self-storage industry, Kaltenborn gained valuable insight on how to successfully manage and operate storage facilities—insights that molded the operating philosophy that continues to shape her business. “We really try and focus on three main things: company culture, customer service, and community involvement,” she says. “Each component feeds into the next.”
Kaltenborn’s operating philosophy emphasizes the link between a positive company culture and the quality of service employees provide to customers. “Managers and employees are running the facilities and overseeing day-to-day operations, so we really try to think of ways to make them happy, feel valued, and feel like they are a part of the organization,” she explained. “If your employees are happy in the company, then they will provide better customer service to the tenants. We really try and go above and beyond with our customer service. We know these tenants might be in transition or experiencing change and undergoing stress. Some of them have probably never used storage before, so we try and ease their stress, answer their questions, and make the entire storage process feel natural. And I think it’s working because we get a lot of repeat customers.”
Kaltenborn goes on to explain how the last component of her philosophy, community involvement, serves as a form of marketing and has been a primary focal point for employees and customers in recent years. “Marketing has changed. Over the last several years, people are paying a lot more attention to what companies represent and who they support to see whether their beliefs and ideals align. Being involved in the community, whether it’s the chamber of commerce or Charity Storage, really helps communicate how a company wants to be viewed by the community. People are paying more attention to that than the mass marketing techniques we used 10 years ago.”
Kaltenborn encourages her employees to get involved in the community and actively supports their causes, which is an investment in employee, public, and company wellness. “We really encourage our managers to focus on something they are interested in,” she says. “One of our managers is really into hiking and biking, and she participates in an Eastern Washington biking tour that we sponsor each year. Little things like that help get our name out there and show that we are part of the community.”
Autonomy Is Key To Employee Satisfaction Kaltenborn credits this attitude as a key factor in her ability to retain talented employees and create a productive and positive work culture that inspires her managers to add value to the customer experience. When asked what makes her self-storage operation unique, Kaltenborn identified four factors. “The first thing we do is give our employees a lot of flexibility and responsibility when interacting with tenants,” she says. “Our managers don’t need approval from me or the regional managers to help a tenant to the fullest and in a timely manner.”
Kaltenborn goes on to say, “We also try to retain consistency behind the desk. We have long-term employees. One of our managers has been with us for 18 years, another has stayed for 10 years, another for five years, and we have one new manager as well. Consistency behind the desk gives our tenants some confidence and stability and allows us to establish great working relationships with our customers. We also have flexible hours of operation, and our move-in process is quick and easy.”
Invest In Employees, Community Rancho Storage Center joined Charity Storage in 2018, when Kaltenborn moved her facilities from live to online auctions with StorageTreasures.com. For her, it was the perfect opportunity to give back to the community and implement community engagement into her daily operations. “At first, we were focused on getting the managers comfortable with online auctions, getting them to figure out the process and how it works,” she says. “We joined Charity Storage at the same time that we switched from in-person auctions to online auctions with StorageTreasures, so we needed to figure out some of the logistics. Since then, it’s been simple, and the managers have loved it! They all happened to pick the same local charity to support!”
Kaltenborn went on to explain the role her managers play in supporting Charity Storage. “I really like to give the managers the freedom and flexibility to run their facilities how they see fit. We have lots of confidence in all our managers, and we believe that is key,” she says, “and because of that, our support and participation in Charity Storage at all our facility locations have been successful.”
Kaltenborn offers two suggestions for storage operators looking to participate in the Charity Storage program: “I think the No. 1 thing is to get your managers and your team on board with the program, since they are the ones that will promote it in your offices. Also, make sure there are ground rules for what can be donated in the charity unit, and make sure those rules are very clear and posted somewhere for all tenants to see.”
Supporting Homeless Teens When asked about the charity of choice that all four of Kaltenborn’s facilities donate to through Charity Storage, their passion for the people of Washington was clear. “All of our facilities chose to donate to a non-profit organization known as ‘My Friends’ Place,’ which is a shelter for teens in the city of Kennewick, Wash.,” she says. “We chose this charity because these teens are the future of our community, and we really wanted to help make a difference in their lives and in the community overall.”
Recommending Charity Storage To Kaltenborn, giving back to the community is a top priority, and Charity Storage helps to ensure it remains one. She explains why other storage operators should look to join Charity Storage: “It’s a great program! It gives you the opportunity to give back to your community and choose the charity you want to donate to. Our managers have said it’s very easy. There’s no hassle with drop-offs and putting the items inside the unit. I think it’s a great thing for your facility, your community, and your tenants, which is an all-around win!”
Sean Funk is the marketing assistant for Charity Storage. He is new to the self-storage industry but has a background in marketing, specializing in website design and development. Funk has a BS in entrepreneurial studies, with a minor in marketing, and a Master of Science Leadership from GCU. His work experience spans several industries, and he is passionate about continuous process improvement and empowering people to create changes.