A Decade Of Growth: The Ascent Of Storage Asset Management
On May 20, 2020, Storage Asset Management (SAM), the largest privately owned third-party self-storage management company in the United States, celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Founded in 2010 by Jay Hoke, president and managing partner, and Alyssa Quill, CEO and managing partner, the York, Pa.-based company has grown tenfold over the decade.
From an initial portfolio of 22 self-storage management contracts to 250 locations in 31 states (as of August 2020), SAM’s steady growth can be attributed to its leadership, culture, and teamwork—all of which have led to its reputation of excellence.
Founding SAM Though Hoke and Quill have been business partners for 10 years, their reciprocal respect formed before Storage Asset Management was created, as they were co-workers at York, Pa.-based Investment Real Estate, LLC (IRE), before founding SAM.
Hoke had left IRE and the self-storage industry in 2009 to pursue a career in commercial real estate, but it was only a year later that he was contemplating the business offer that led to the formation of Storage Asset Management. IRE was looking to exit the third-party management business and had 22 self-storage property management contracts for sale. Hoke was immediately interested in the deal, but he wanted a co-captain he could trust. He contacted Quill to see if she would want to team up.
Initially, Quill wasn’t sure if she could afford to buy into the company, being a young adult, but she secured the necessary funds and the duo purchased the management contracts. From that deal, SAM was formed.
“It was a pretty seamless transaction,” recalls Hoke, who adds that he and Quill had already been involved with those 22 self-storage properties through their employment at IRE. “We were familiar with the owners and the facilities.”
While Hoke admits that there was a learning curve to owning a business, something neither of them had done before, he and Quill have managed to establish a brand that embodies their individual strengths and focuses on providing exceptional customer service.
First-Rate Leadership In addition to working at IRE, Hoke and Quill had self-storage experience under their belts before founding Storage Asset Management. Hoke had been with Devon Self Storage before moving to Pennsylvania, and Quill was formerly employed at Extra Space Storage. Their various employment opportunities provided them with the industry knowledge and insight necessary to formulate a solid business plan for SAM.
Although they didn’t set a number-specific goal for the amount of self-storage facilities the company would manage, the duo had one primary objective: to ensure they were servicing clients correctly before attempting to grow. Hoke says that the first two to three years in business were spent fine-tuning the structure of the company and meeting the expectations of existing customers.
“We never had a target number in mind,” says Quill, who adds that the focus was “smart growth”. In other words, they did not want to sacrifice their quality of service to increase in size.
Therefore, before taking on additional management contracts, SAM began hiring additional corporate employees, creating new positions, developing new departments, and utilizing technology to enhance the company’s infrastructure. In this regard, SAM has grown from 47 employees, five of whom were corporate employees, to more than 500 team members.
“Jay and Alyssa made a large investment to put infrastructure in place,” says Lynn Sykes, vice president of operations. “That has proven to be important to growth.”
Sykes, who has been with SAM for five years, mentions that the creation of new departments, new positions, and additional training programs have enabled the company to provide more consistent and efficient customer service. As examples, the company now has growing revenue management and internet marketing teams, among other newly created positions, as well as a district manager training program that was implemented three years ago to promote experienced managers from within when opportunities arise.
Storage Asset Management’s strategy for hiring is actually a two-pronged approach. For starters, Quill states that she and Hoke attempt to hire people who fit in with the company’s culture and can “fill in the gaps” where they are lacking expertise. As Sykes points out, these individuals may have multi-unit management experience from outside the self-storage industry. Their unique perspectives and experiences often inject “fresh” ideas into SAM’s operations.
In addition, the company is diligent about promoting from within the organization. According to Hoke, many of its corporate employees and district managers started with SAM at the property level. “We try to do that as much as possible,” he says, noting that employees are always learning the steps of the next level position to produce a pipeline of internal candidates. “It keeps them moving up the ranks,” which Hoke says also creates a greater depth of knowledge within employees.
Even though SAM has expanded its operations and its reach, the company has remained nimble. They pride themselves on their flexibility and ability to offer services to meet every owners’ expectations. It’s that small company approach of catering to customers that appeals to SAM’s clients, as they create a unique strategy for every individual property.
“We don’t force them into a box,” says Hoke, who mentions that SAM has maintained its flexibility even though it has narrowed down its scope of services due to growth. “We don’t require them to change their brands.”
SAM does have its own trademarked brand, Storage Sense, but self-storage owners are free to keep their own brand in place while receiving management services. It’s just one more option for the kind of customized, flexible management that Hoke and Quill had envisioned for SAM. Currently, more than 100 of the properties managed by SAM utilize its Storage Sense brand.
Despite having its own brand, Storage Asset Management does not own any of the properties it manages. It’s a business decision that enables the company to keep its focus on helping its clients grow. “We don’t want to compete with our clients,” Quill says. “We just don’t want that potential conflict.”
Hoke also notes that he and Quill have made open communication a priority, making themselves available to owners. “They can call us directly,” he says, which means “there are less communication issues.”
A Cordial Culture Thanks to the managing partners’ vision, the company culture at Storage Asset Management is just as supportive as the service it provides to its clients, putting the property managers first. And it’s an approach that has resulted in “very low turnover,” according to Sykes.
“It’s a top-down culture,” Sykes says, adding that corporate employees understand that they are resources to the property managers who do the important job of interacting with the self-storage customers. “There is no arrogance. We realize that property managers are the most important employees at SAM.”
This inverted pyramid model, with the property managers at the top, maximizes communication and creates a flexible, more-responsive team. “They love working for SAM because they are taken care of and appreciated,” says Sykes. “They have a voice and support. We celebrate together; we mourn together.”
Some of the support Sykes mentions is conducted though monthly and yearly site visits. Each facility SAM manages is visited monthly by the location’s corresponding district manager and annually by the company’s managing partners and vice presidents. Moreover, underperforming properties are given extra attention. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach for them,” says Sykes, adding that they come together as a team to address the site’s needs and problems.
Sykes goes on to say that this culture stems from Hoke and Quill’s involvement and cordiality. They truly treat their employees like family members, sending baby gifts to new parents, sympathy flowers to those who have lost a loved one, and congratulatory gifts to newlyweds. These are merely a few examples of their thoughtfulness. They also have an open-door policy that enables SAM employees to comfortably express their concerns.
Another important aspect of the corporate culture is the company’s departmental structure. Though there are various departments, Sykes states that “there are no hard lines.” “We all work together,” she says. “There are no territories. It’s an impressive setup.” This approach allows any team member to suggest ideas about any aspect of the business without stepping on toes. Oftentimes employees’ suggestions are implemented to improve SAM’s operations and enhance its services.
Core Values Every great company has a list of admirable principles that it follows. Like a moral compass, core values help businesses navigate through changing corporate climates. Storage Asset Management’s core values include:
*Commitment to doing what is best for its clients and holding themselves accountable for results. *Cultivating and evolving the SAM team.
*Collaboration with teammates, vendors, and clients to reach goals.
*Striving for continuous improvement to drive SAM forward. *Making time to celebrate successes and team achievements.
Comfortable With Technology In addition to the number of facilities it manages and the number of people it employs, Storage Asset Management has grown by utilizing new technologies and marketing programs. Though Quill acknowledges that it took some time to get tech tools in place, SAM has been using newer technologies for years.
In fact, Quill states that the company added online rentals to its offerings five years before COVID-19. At that time, SAM was managing approximately 60 self-storage facilities, which allowed for an easier implementation. “We were comfortable with tech tools before COVID,” she says. The company also had several employees working remotely prior to the pandemic. Therefore, instead of scrambling to set up online rentals and remote systems for telecommuting, SAM merely refined its existing technologies.
Besides online rentals and remote systems, SAM uses technology for training purposes and marketing. The company has an online training program to augment traditional hands-on training. The online training program is used for both the initial training of new hires and the ongoing training of existing employees.
As for marketing, SAM has a corporate website as well as facility websites. The company’s marketing department manages the content for all websites and all pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, with the goal of ranking as high as possible in online search engine results. Online reviews and Google My Business pages are handled by SAM’s marketing team too.
Speaking of websites, SAM recently implemented online merchandise sales to enable customers to purchase retail items during the online rental process. This addition has been especially beneficial to customers and facilities alike throughout the pandemic. Another newly implemented online rental tool is the 360-degree video. SAM created the videos as visual aids for renters who were unable to visit facilities during quarantine.
Currently, Storage Asset Management is working one more online rental feature: a unit map. Like a venue map for purchasing concert tickets or seats to an event, the unit map would enable customers to see the layout of the facility and rent units by clicking on an available space. And according to Quill, an inventory tool may be added in the future to help customers keep track of their stored belongings.
Most importantly, Quill states that the company will continue striving to make the self-storage experience better and easier for customers. With more than 250 management contracts, SAM has more data at its fingertips, which allows for more data to be collection and analyzed. SAM can then determine consumer behaviors and improve its operations and expand its offerings accordingly.
A Remarkable Reputation Obviously, modern marketing and the latest technologies, along with great employees and a good culture, have helped the company expand its operations. But the company wouldn’t be able to multiple its management contracts without new business. Both Hoke and Quill explain that SAM’s exponential growth has been the result of referrals and repeat customers.
“We never focused on sales,” says Quill. “We focused on quality and sales followed.”
In other words, maintaining their reputation was the best way to create word-of-mouth marketing. Quill notes that SAM has only attended two or three trade shows as a vendor over the last 10 years and never did much external advertising. “Our strategy was to do well with the properties we manage,” she says.
Hoke echoes that sentiment. “Growth doesn’t matter if you aren’t meeting customers’ expectations,” he says, “because if you aren’t doing that you will eventually lose contracts.”
By meeting clients’ expectations, referrals naturally followed. Storage Asset Management has received referrals from self-storage brokers and construction companies, current clients, banks and lenders, and the like. And the referrals are made based on SAM’s proven track record.
Per Melissa Stiles, vice president of marketing and sales, Storage Asset Management continually outperforms the REITs when comparing results. Most recently, for example, SAM was able to outperform the publicly traded self-storage operators in the first six months of 2020, despite the economic environment and conditions created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, SAM increased same-store revenue over the prior year by three percent and net operating income by 4.8 percent for same-stores.
“SAM attributes their outstanding performance year to date to a very strong team with the ability to focus on doing what is best for each individual facility,” says Stiles. “The company also stays on the leading edge of marketing and self-storage revenue management.”
Planning For Future Growth As for the company’s near-term and long-term goals, the managing partners remain dedicated to “growing right.”
“There are always things we can do better,” says Quill. “We ask ourselves, ‘What can be fixed?’ And it’s easier to change when it’s only 200 properties vs. 2,000.” For the most part, Quill is focused on improving the company’s consistency across the country through training and the implementation of new tools.
Sykes is optimistic about the company’s growth as well. Although SAM has no plans to expand along the West Coast, Sykes says the company has “room to grow” in pockets within Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. “We tend to grow after entering a market,” she says. “It makes sense to focus on areas we’re already in with infrastructure in place.”
Moreover, Sykes believes that SAM may exceed 300 management contracts in the coming year. “We make decisions based on data, but still have personal connections,” she says.
No matter how many contracts SAM adds to its expanding management portfolio, one thing remains clear: Storage Asset Management is poised for growth and up for the challenge of meeting the ever-changing expectations of its clients as well as self-storage customers.
“We are really proud of how SAM has grown over the last 10 years,” Quill says. “SAM’s hard-working team members have exponentially increased the number of managed stores with our proven strategies. We concentrate on maintaining our high standard for all our managed stores. We’re especially proud of the team members who have grown with us; it’s been amazing to watch so many of them take on more responsibilities and become mentors for their peers. We appreciate all our clients over the years in entrusting us to manage their self-storage facilities.”