2020 Managers Of The Year | Mini-Storage Messenger

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Jun 12, 2020 12:00:00 AM

Each year, we like to recognize the self-storage industry’s finest property managers through its annual Manager of the Year awards. Candidates are nominated by their supervisors, colleagues, and the like for their superb customer service skills, exemplary attitudes, and creative marketing strategies as well as their ability to overcome extreme challenges. The best nominees, like this year’s winners, possess those sought-after traits and more! 

Winner: Deirdre Picchietti, Metro Self Storage 

Our 2020 Manager of the Year, Deidre Picchietti, spent 20 years working for a family-owned packing and moving company, serving as its office manager. When the owners sold the business, Picchietti decided it was time for a change. With knowledge of Metro Self Storage, and an acquaintance at a local facility, she applied for a storage consultant position with the company.

“I wanted to use my skills and work for a good company,” says Picchietti. She was hired for the job in 2017, which was a “floater position” that covered several stores in the district. However, it wasn’t long before Picchietti proved she was management material. In 2018, she was promoted to property manager of Metro’s 75,000-square-foot Deerfield/Bannockburn, Ill., location.  

“When she took over the newer store, it was still in lease-up mode,” says PJ Richards, director of learning and project management for Metro Storage, LLC, “and Dierdre’s impact was quickly felt. Storage occupancy jumped by 23 percent in her first year, hitting a high of over 95 percent!”

And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Picchietti’s stellar stats. She’s managed to increase net operating income by 26.5 percent, which is 2.6 percent better than the planned budget. Moreover, as of April 2020, the self-storage facility had maintained an occupancy level of at least 93 percent and a delinquency rate under 0.59 percent for an entire year.  

According to Richards, those numbers were the direct result of her “excellent facility management, dedication to customer service, and a commitment to excellence.” 

Though Picchietti has made some alterations to the facility’s unit mix to improve inventory and meet demand, she believes that a personal touch is the key to increasing occupancy. “I remember everyone’s name,” says Picchietti, who advises other self-storage managers to make it a point to remember details about their lives. “Customers love it.” Besides offering guidance with budgeting and moving logistics, she truly develops relationships with her tenants, striking up conversations with them when she sees them around town on her days off. 

Picchietti takes the same approach to her marketing and networking efforts as well. She attempts to make a connection with everyone she meets. In addition to being an active member of the local chamber of commerce, attending grand openings, meetings, and other events, Picchietti networks with real estate agents, apartment complex managers, moving companies, truck rental companies, colleges, and car dealerships. On top of those connections, she has attended home and garden shows and follows two local support groups in Deerfield through social media (one for mothers and one for businesses); her advice and tips have resulted in new contacts as well as tenants. 

Picchietti’s community involvement includes charitable giving as well; she donates moving kits and storage space to charities and works with the high school that is next to the facility. And to ensure that people remember the facility, she distributes logo items to people she meets in person, including seniors whose children may be in need of storage space. 

“She really enjoys marketing and community involvement,” says Gary Marshall, her district manager.  “She understands the importance of it and puts herself out there. She has great word-of-mouth marketing.” 

“Referrals are key,” says Picchietti, adding that she makes it a point to stay connected with her network through monthly emails. “Word of mouth is the best. There’s nothing better than a first-hand referral from someone.” 

Once her referrals become tenants, Picchietti manages to keep them in units and paying on time with high standards for cleanliness, great customer service, and open communication. The facility is often described as immaculately clean, because she strives to provide storage space where she’d be comfortable storing her own belongings. 

As for providing excellent customer service, Marshall states that Picchietti is a natural. “Her customer service is off the charts,” he says, describing her as both positive and respectful. “She makes everyone feel important and goes above and beyond for everyone.”  

Picchietti’s two-pronged approach to customer service is simple enough for anyone to implement: “Don’t treat people like a number,” and be kind. “It’s nice to be important,” she says, “but it’s important to be nice. A little kindness can go a long way!” 

Those techniques have helped her maintain an exceptionally low delinquency rate. Picchietti encourages tenants to sign up for automatic payments and makes phone calls to overdue tenants. During her time as property manager, she has only had two auctions—a stat that she is particularly proud of. To avoid auctions, Picchietti inquiries about why the tenants are struggling to pay and attempts to help them find solutions such as moving into more affordable units for their budgets or setting up payment plans. 

Last but not least, Picchietti is a “valuable team player,” says Marshall, who mentions that she is open about sharing her best ideas with other managers, offers to train others, and praises team members like a cheerleader for the company. 

“As a consistent top performer in a company-wide sales and pricing initiative, she was selected as a panel member in a live, company-wide training forum, where she shared her best practices and techniques for success,” adds Richards. Picchietti also manages vendor contracts and maintains vendor insurance documents for all 19 stores in her district.     

First Runner-Up: Doug VanTreuren, Boardwalk Storage – Killian’s 

Doug VanTreuren, this year’s first runner-up, was hired at Boardwalk Storage in 2019 to take on an enormous task that was frustrating enough to send the previous property manager packing. Rajen Sheth, CEO of Boardwalk Development Group, purchased the 17-acre RV and boat parking facility in 2018 from the original owner/developer. 

It was—and still is—the largest RV and boat parking facility in Georgia, but it took several months for VanTreuren to organize the facility’s records and rearrange vehicles to meet Sheth’s reconfigured unit mix for the huge, unmarked lot as the previous owner had a never utilized a real system. When Boardwalk Storage took over the facility in Canton, Ga., they found that some of the tenant records were merely jotted down on index cards and stashed in a shoebox. What’s more, nothing was laid out or marked, and there were only two space sizes: big and small. 

Sheth knew more spaces could be created if the lot was organized, so he drew up plans for the new layout. With 55 more spaces, the returns would surely be worth the headache, but it proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. 

Because the facility did not take care, custody, or control of the RVs or boats, Boardwalk Storage could not physically move any of the parked vehicles. Instead, the property manager was responsible for orchestrating the space shuffle with each vehicle’s owner. The first manager Sheth hired managed to have about 100 customers move before quitting, but she didn’t record any of the progress she had made. 

At that time, VanTreuren was working at a self-storage facility that was previously owned by Boardwalk Development Group. Sheth approached him about the situation, and he accepted the problematic project. 

His first task was sorting through the shoebox to collect additional information from customers and enter the data into SiteLink. While that may seem like an easy assignment, VanTreuren quickly realized that not every customer had an index card. He had to look up license plates to find owners and their contact information. Needless to say, the DMV, police department, and other agencies weren’t always able to provide him with info due to privacy laws. It was time-consuming detective work; he made tons of phone calls and even resorted to questioning other customers to see if they recognized any of the unidentified recreational vehicles. 

With that tedious chore underway, the entire site needed to be roped off and spaces marked to match the new layout. Poles, signage, and numbered spots help customers find their assigned spaces. There are now approximately 423 spaces of various sizes, and as of May 2020, the facility had an occupancy rate of about 91 percent. Under VanTreuren’s supervision, a new air compressor and security cameras, as well as other security features, were installed at the facility. In addition, all the lights were switched to LED and a website was created that enables customers to make reservations and payments online.  

But the most difficult aspect of the entire project was coordinating the movement of vehicles with their owners, and VanTreuren kept track of the entire process with a spiralbound notebook. Unfortunately, there was no way to tackle the rearranging in one or two days as some of the site’s tenants live out of state. Instead, only a handful of vehicles could be moved at a time to enable other vehicles to be moved. Like an expert-level game of Tetris, VanTreuren spent months meticulously calculating and orchestrating the moves. 

Simultaneously, there were new customers who wanted to become tenants, so he started and kept a waiting list until the site was ready. After the existing tenants’ vehicles were relocated to their assigned spaces, VanTreuren had a few months of move-ins. He was able to accommodate nearly 90 percent of the customers on the waiting list.    

Now that things at Boardwalk Storage – Killian’s are running smoothly, with 20 to 22 percent revenue growth, VanTreuren has been taking on new challenges within the company. He oversaw the development of a climate-controlled facility. According to Sheth, he did a great job, and his weekly visits helped the project stay on schedule and under budget. What’s more, VanTreuren’s desire to grow has him learning about business analysis and analytics to further assist Boardwalk Development Group.     

Second Runner-Up: Crystal-Lee Salazar, Sentry Self Storage 

Our second runner-up, Crystal-Lee Salazar, has been around the self-storage industry for most of her life. She had family members who worked in self-storage and joined the industry shortly after high school. Salazar started with a floating position at Sentry Self Storage, then spent two years at US Storage Centers before returning to Sentry when a property manager position became available at Northwest Orlando Storage in Orlando, Fla., in January of 2018. 

According to her supervisor, Lissette Ramos, Salazar is a “great asset to the company,” so much so that this is the second time in two years that she has been recognized for her exceptional managerial skills. The first was when she received a company-wide Manager of the Year award in 2018. 

For starters, Salazar has been able to exceed the facility’s financial goals without skimping on customer service. “Because of her hard work and dedication, Northwest Orlando Storage has reached a new high of 93.94 percent in economic occupancy for the first time,” says Ramos, who adds that the facility has had two other firsts under Salazar’s direction: 93.33 percent occupancy and 96.07 percent square foot occupancy. 

She has managed to boost those percentages in several ways. First, she tackled the parking area that resembled a giant football field, rearranging the spaces to create more revenue. Salazar also made it her mission to reduce expenses by taking on more do-it-yourself projects instead of hiring others to complete them. And then there is her laser focus on monthly rental income. She keeps her monthly goals and numbers on a dry erase board; it is always close at hand for regular reference. Her personal goal is to maintain a four percent difference or less between the site’s economic and physical occupancy. 

To ensure that she is meeting or exceeding her monthly budgets, Salazar encourages new customers and existing tenants to pay rent on time and in advance. “Positive re-enforcement for her tenants continues to be one of the key factors for her increase in revenue,” Ramos says. 

The positive re-enforcement that Ramos is referring to includes raffles and giveaways for tenants who pay their rents on time. For example, each month there is a new raffle prize. When a tenant pays on time, his/her name is entered into the raffle. Salazar puts together a new theme basket or raffles off a gift card every month. Past baskets have included beach supplies, grilling accessories, and a hurricane preparedness kit.  

Salazar also rewards tenants who prepay their rent. “If a tenant prepays, they are given a small gift to say thank you,” says Ramos. “The number of months paid is matched in the number of gifts.” For instance, in December Salazar had mystery gift giveaways. The office was decorated with numerous wrapped gifts and tenants could pick one gift for each month that they paid in advance. 

“This continues to provide a significant boost in revenue monthly,” Ramos adds. “Northwest has exceeded the 2018 largest pre-paid of $4,425.39 in December with an impressive $6,042.77 in August 2019.” 

According to Salazar, the prepaid rentals act as a cushion at the end of the month that enables her to beat her budget, but she has found other ways to bring in extra income. For instance, she has upgraded units to cater to businesses. And those business customers can receive 24-hour access to the facility if they pay a monthly $15 fee.    

Besides crushing budgets, Salazar tops customers’ expectations. She says the key is to “give a little to get a lot back.” She manages to accommodate their needs by asking engaging questions, listening to their needs, and offering quality storage advice. Moreover, Salazar is a pro at maintaining positive relationships with existing customers as well as co-workers. 

“Crystal-Lee not only goes above and beyond for her tenants, but she is a senior property manager for her district manager in which she is collecting reports from other facilities, training staff, assisting in audits, and overall being the go-to person for her entire district for any of their needs and concerns,” says Ramos, who adds that she provides coaching for telephone skills. “She is detailed and efficient. She makes time to assist people.” 

A Cut Above

Obviously, these three outstanding property managers are more than deserving of recognition for their exceptional accomplishments! May their dedication and all-star attitudes inspire others within the self-storage industry, as they are truly shining examples of excellence in action! 

Congratulations to Deirdre, Doug, and Crystal-Lee! 

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada. Read about other Managers of the Year here!