Women in Self-Storage: Carol Mixon, owner of SkilCheck Services, Inc.

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Jan 1, 2024 11:58:00 AM

A single phone call can change the course of your life. Just ask Carol Mixon, owner of Marana, Ariz.-based SkilCheck Services, Inc. She was fresh out of college and singing opera when destiny dialed her number in 1984. 


A High Note

Mixon had graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlaquah, Okla., with a B.A.degree in vocal performance and secondary education, then moved back to her home-town of Tucson, Ariz., and started working evenings and weekends as an opera singer with the Arizona Opera Company. She was quite pleased with her part in “La traviata” and hopeful that she’d land additional roles. 


At the same time, her parents, who were retired teachers, were co-managing a National Self Storage facility in Tucson. When her mother needed to take her father to a doctor’s appointment one day, Mixon agreed to briefly cover the office. As she was overseeing the site in their absence, the telephone rang. Naturally, she answered the call. Unbeknownst to her, the caller was a mystery shopper for National Self Storage. 


Although she wasn’t formally trained in telephone sales or self-storage facility management, she managed to receive a perfect score on that momentous mystery shop. Of course, the caller was stunned to learn that Mixon was not an actual employee. But rather than reprimand her parents for allowing their daughter to fill in for them, National Self Storage offered her a job as a corporate trainer. 


Being an opera singer was her dream job, though, so it took some parental influence to persuade her to consider the offer. Their suggestion to sing part time on the weekends and work as National Self Storage’s corporate trainer during the daytime was an acceptable arrangement, so Mixon accepted the position. 


New Virtuosity

When National Self Storage established the industry’s first full-time corporate training program, Mixon developed the curriculum. She was in charge of leading each 10-day training session for the company’s employees, hiring and training more than 200 self-storage managers throughout her career at National Self Storage. In between training sessions, Mixon was busy learning the ins and outs of auditing and petty cash.


“I got to do everything,” says Mixon, who enjoyed the variety of tasks that the position offered. Eventually, along-side her former husband, the late Tom Litton, who had owned a construction company, she also learned about developing self-storage facilities. Serving as his partner and “helper,” she gained hands-on experience in all aspects of construction, “even hanging drywall.”


In those days, it was still fairly unusual for a woman to be working on site, but she “never felt out of place.” Though frequently questioned at the hardware store about the accuracy of her purchases, she held her own with confidence and character. “I didn’t let gender roles define me,” says Mixon, a former athlete and cowgirl with no qualms about “getting dirty.” However, she admits that she did have to ask the cigar-smoking men to open a door or window on at least one occasion. “They’d say, ‘Carol, can’t you learn how to smoke a cigar?’” As an opera singer and non-smoker, Mixon had no desire to puff on ceremonial stogies. 


A few years after joining National Self Storage, the company “went under,” so Mixon put her degree to use. Following a short duration as a teacher, she decided to start her own self-storage company. In 1987, with a makeshift office set up in her garage and a $25 advertisement in the Mini-Storage Messenger magazine (now Modern Storage Media), SkilCheck Services, Inc., was officially open for business. Mixon recalls the first tele-phone inquiry she received for mystery shop services and laughs about how she, assuming it wasn’t a business-related call, answered with a simple “hello.” Despite not using a formal business script for that initial call, within three months Mixon was making the same salary as a teacher as the owner of SkilCheck. Clearly, she had found a new forte! 


Since its inception, SkilCheck has conducted thou-sands of mystery shops for hundreds of self-storage facilities across the country. SkilCheck’s other services include facility auditing, feasibility studies, and employee training. As one of the industry’s leading auditors, Mixon has audited thousands of self-storage facilities. “There aren’t many people who specialize in audits in the self-storage industry,” she points out. “It’s detailed work.”


Occasionally men have questioned her knowledge, or preferred to work with her ex-husband, but she has always stood her ground. Mixon recalls a time when a man apologized for his distrust in her 20 years after the incident. “He admitted that he grudgingly listened to my advice, and I made him a rich man.” 


To that end, she tells her daughter and other women: “It’s still a man’s world. Do your best and don’t back down. Stand up for your beliefs and be exceptional at what you do.”


Mixon always followed that advice when developing, owning, and operating self-storage facilities; she’s overseen more than 200 in nine different states since the 1980s. One of her “pet projects” was converting World War II ammunition bunkers in Waikele, Hawaii, into a profitable storage business. Mixon painted the 33 bunkers battleship gray and named them after naval ships to help customers navigate the exceptional site. Each bunker also features signage with historical information about the ship it’s named after. Although Mixon was disappointed that the project didn’t win a Facility of the Year award, she was proud of the creativity she poured into the property and enamored with its uniqueness. 


When she and Thomas Krendl divorced in 2014, they sold the facility, which also includes 690 units, to Pam Domingue, owner of Storage Solutions. Mixon adds that she was glad a prominent woman of Hawaiian heritage within the industry had purchased Waikele Self Storage. 


A Fountain Of Knowledge

Over the years, Mixon has become a well-respected industry expert in self-storage auditing, phone sales, facility management, feasibility studies, employee training, and everything in between. But she’s also helped shape the industry and educate its members. Along with Bill Hobin and other prominent storage owners, Mixon founded the California Self Storage Association (CASSA) in 1994; she served on the CASSA board of directors for seven years. She’s been active in the national Self Storage Association (SSA) for more than 20 years, utilizing her degree to assist with the education and membership committees.


Mixon has served as president of the SSA’s Western Region, director on the SSA Board for over 10 years, and a member of its executive committee from 1998 to 2001. Most recently, she was elected as the secretary of the Arizona Self-Storage Association; she’s also served on its board of directors and as the chair of the education committee. 


Speaking of educating the industry, Mixon has written more than a hundred articles for self-storage magazines; at least 12 industry-related manuals, including an Operations and Policy Manual sold by theSSA; and Self-Storage Auditing for Fraud, a book Modern Storage Media that includes sample letters and checklists. 


Humorous stories from her diverse auditing experiences keep the material from “being dry” while teaching priceless lessons about identifying and catching fraud. Moreover, as a frequent educational speaker at industry events, she has “traveled the world to teach others about storage.” Mixon says, “It’s nice to contribute and help others.”


While she has yet to win an industry award, Mixon has her eye on the prize, particularly the pioneer award. “I’m shooting for that,” she says. In the meantime, she is content to keep working, educating, and writing—perhaps she’ll even pen a romance novel.



Erica Shatzer is editor of Modern Storage Media.