Women In Self-Storage, Sue Haviland, Haviland Storage Services

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Jun 7, 2024 12:35:16 PM

According to McKinsey & Co’s “Women in the Workplace 2023” report, the number of women in C-suite positions has increased from 17 to 28 percent since 2015. The report also states that the representation of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels has improved, with both levels experiencing a five-year increase of four percentage points. While these upticks are positive, the fact that a gender imbalance at the executive level remains in 2024 is disheartening, even for the women who’ve managed to reach those ranks.  


Sue Haviland, owner of Haviland Storage Services, a San Diego, Calif.-based company that specializes in offering clients solutions that fit their operational needs, whether its auditing, manager training, market studies, short term consulting, or full third-party management, knows firsthand that women have “come a long way,” especially in the 35 years since she entered the self-storage industry. Unfortunately, like many female professionals, she endured a fair share of gender biases throughout her career and paid her dues before forging her own path. Despite having to overcome some obstacles, Haviland loves this industry and says she’s a stronger leader and mentor because of the people and experiences she has met during her career.  


The Corporate Ladder 

Besides working as customer service representative at Enterprise Rent-A-Car after attending Northern Michigan University, Haviland has only been employed in the self-storage industry. She left the car rental company in 1989 to manage a self-storage facility in Chicago, and she’s been a self-described “storage nerd” ever since.  


Six months into her employment, Haviland was shopped by Richard Tanner, one of the original owners of Extra Space Storage, which would not become a publicly traded REIT until about 15 years later. Tanner recognized her potential and offered her a job as the site manager of a Chicago facility managed by the company.  


“I cut my teeth at Extra Space,” says Haviland, who spent 10 years climbing the company’s corporate ladder one rung at a time. Through hard work and dedication, she first received managerial promotions, from site manager to area manager to regional manager, prior to attaining middle management status as the Western regional vice president. Her final title at Extra Space Storage, before leaving the company in 1999, was vice president of operations.  


Following her time at Extra Space, Haviland returned to the role of area manager for five years when she joined Storage West, which brought her back to California. Then, a large, San Diego, Calif.-based operator hired her as its vice president of operations; she stayed there until she found herself “at a crossroads.”  


On Her Own  

Haviland was nearly two decades into her self-storage career when she began questioning her future in the industry. Realizing that she “would rather be in the trenches than a suit,” Haviland made the decision to stop working for others as an employee. For a brief moment, she thought about leaving the industry, but she did not want to abandon the knowledge she had acquired or walk away from the operations side of the business that she thoroughly enjoyed. Instead, Haviland elected to put her faith in herself and her proficiencies by becoming her own boss.  


She also saw a need at that time for smaller operators who could benefit from her skill set without needing to have someone in her position on staff full time. She founded Haviland Storage Solutions in 2009 with the intention of auditing self-storage facilities for fraud on behalf of the properties’ owners and operators. Haviland says starting her own business was “stressful and scary,” but it was also the best move she ever made in her career.  


Screenshot 2024-06-07 at 12.17.28 PMUncovering theft during facility audits led to new business opportunities. Haviland “fell into management contracts” when several owner-operators, pleased with her audit findings, asked her to manage their properties. Referrals and word-of-mouth marketing generated more business and enabled her company to grow. Haviland, who loves speaking at various industry-related conferences and all the storage friends she has made over the years, has also acquired clients from speaking at conferences.  


“For years I never did my own website,” says Haviland, who finds it difficult to tout her strengths. “I always made sure all my clients were covered, but I didn’t promote myself.” 


Haviland Storage Services currently has 28 employees and manages 10 facilities—many of which are long-time clients. “I still visit the sites regularly,” says Haviland, “even though I’m no longer a daily ‘road warrior.’ I have team members to do that now. It was hard for me to give that up, but I’m proud of my team and know it’s time to have help and not try to be a one-woman show. It is such a fantastic feeling to know I can trust my teams to help us grow.” 


Although the company is mostly regional, primarily serving the Southern California area, it also has a couple sites in Northern California and manages several remote locations in New Jersey, New York, Arizona, and Texas. “They have boots on the ground folks,” she says, adding that Haviland Storage Services received those remote management contracts via referrals from a software company. “If we can make it work,” Haviland and her team are open to remotely managing locations anywhere in the U.S. “We determine if remote is possible on a site-by-site basis.” If the geographic location isn’t a good fit for the company, “I pass potential clients onto peers,” she says. Haviland loves the fact that they have been able to customize their consulting and management plans to fit their clients needs vs. fitting the client into a “mold.” 


Moreover, Haviland has handled a wide array of unfortunate and unusual situations for her clients over the years. From fires, floods, corpses, drugs, burglaries, and even a boa constrictor, there is one that still stands out for her. “I never knew there was such a thing as a cat catcher until I had to hire one to get 18 cats out of a resident manager’s apartment walls,” she says. “That apartment scene is one you don’t forget.” 


In addition to the 10 facilities with on-site management, Haviland Storage Services will be adding two new builds to its portfolio as soon as they are fully constructed. Haviland enjoys the challenge of a new lease-up property or taking an older, mismanaged site and making it shine for her client. She also loves taking on short-term clients and helping those new owners learn how to run their new sites within three to six months.  


“Many of the properties in the portfolio are large, thus helping Haviland Storage Services make the Top 100 Operators list for several years,” she adds. “We may only have a few sites, but we have a lot of square footage.” 


Screenshot 2024-06-07 at 12.19.01 PMTrials To Triumphs  

Haviland has enjoyed many successes, but her journey from site manager to owner of Haviland Storage Services was not an easy trek. As a young woman and a minority in a male-dominated business world, she frequently felt like she wasn’t heard, taken seriously, or respected. “It made you fearful to hold your ground or use your voice,” she says. “Women have a stronger voice now.”   


And Haviland has been using her voice to benefit other women. Last year she was one of the six panelists on the WISE (women in storage education) discussion at ISS’s spring conference—an event attended by more than 140 women who were eager to share their experiences with inequality in the workforce and how they overcame gender discrimination. Haviland will serve as moderator for WISE’s follow-up conference this year. 


Speaking of inequalities, Haviland acknowledges that she had been passed over for pay increases and promotions. “You don’t always get credit for the work you do,” she says about being a female professional, adding that being berated, bullied, and treated unfairly was not uncommon. “But challenges make you stronger,” and Haviland is grateful for how her experiences shaped her both personally and professionally.  


One unnerving challenge that made her stronger was getting beat up by an angry female tenant. Haviland was in her early 20s when a tenant wrongfully accused her of having an affair with her husband because he had removed all his property from the unit they were renting. Obviously, she reported the incident, but she also requested that her supervisor be present the day the tenant arranged to return for her stored items. When he didn’t show up to protect her from possible harm, she got a German Shepard to accompany her throughout the property. “That experience made me aware of the world,” says Haviland, who eventually replaced her supervisor. “I liked to joke that I was promoted because I got beat up.”  


What’s more, in her early years, Haviland says, “I was often one of few women at trade shows.” And most of the other women attending those events at the time were area managers or assistants who were working up the ladder. One woman Haviland admired and learned from was Nancy Gunning, president of Chesapeake Resources, Inc. “She always had time for me,” Haviland says, adding that Gunning’s success encouraged her to keep climbing.  


Even though Haviland was active in the industry’s various groups and had plenty to contribute, she was “often invited to be the secretary and keep notes.” Haviland says, “I’d look around and be the only lady in the room!” Despite being discouraged by being pigeonholed into that subservient role, she took it in stride and “did it for a while to observe, learn, and network.” Ultimately, it became an experience of professional growth for Haviland. “It shaped who I wanted to be,” she says. “I always wanted to help others, but it was hard to say no.” 


The Next Generation  

Nowadays, Haviland is setting the company up for continued success after she retires. She’s mentoring her daughter, Kylie, a former ICU nurse, and two other employees to take over the helm when she joins her husband Kraig, who previously served as director of operations and then as the director of property management for San Diego Self Storage, in retirement.  




“I’m training others to do every aspect of management,” Haviland says, pointing out that the training will also enable the company to grow and take on new clients and projects. 


However, she’s not quite ready to retire. A new granddaughter, Cleo, keeps her working in California, even though she recently built a second home in South Carolina. Until then, and after that time comes, she’ll continue appreciating the work/life balance she created for herself and her family by playing tennis, attending music cruises, and managing operations in the industry she has long loved.  


“This has been a lot of hard work but a good ride,” says Haviland. “I’m glad I went from renting cars to renting storage!” 




Erica Shatzer is the editor of Modern Storage Media.