Voss Storage, Sugarland
David Fisher sells corporate aircraft by day. But after trying to sell a jet to Scott Monroe, owner of U.S.A Self Storage in Seabrook, he ended up investing in the storage business. “I fell in love with the industry in 2011 and bought my property. I don’t recall if I ever sold Scott a plane.”
Voss Storage has 472 spaces that are both climate and nonclimate controlled with covered and open parking. Some spaces are very large 17x14x40 and 28’ wide by 40’ deep. “We’re getting ready to embark on a large construction project. A lot of our clients office with us as well and we want to make it into more of a business park. We have landscapers who run their business out of our office space, store their equipment in our rentals and in parking. We have a construction company and mosquito company that do the same.
“Our new construction project will include office warehouse, Class A executive suites and more buildings. Our goal is not to be the prettiest property out there, although we do want nice curb appeal. We want someone to be able to operate their business and we can take care of them soup to nuts.”
Like most owners of multiple businesses, Fisher doesn’t micromanage. “I empower my manager and become a consistent resource to my leadership/management team so they have every reason to succeed. I give them complete autonomy to run the property as long as they follow my seven key performance indicators (KPIs), which include: selling retail items, keeping occupancy rates up and managing employees and cleanliness of property. We go over the numbers weekly and the manager gets compensated based on profitability of store.
“Everything is tied together. If the manager decreases staff because he doesn’t want to pay enough people to power wash, then that wouldn’t work because the quality of the property would go down. But, I let him make his own schedule with his employees. We don’t operate as a hierarchy. This is a family-owned business. My cellphone number is on my business card and on the door of the facility. I don’t hide out from people. We also run that way with employees and they can call me anytime. However, if my manager tells you to do something that my employee doesn’t want to do, then I’m not going to help you.
“Interviewing is by far the biggest challenge I deal with. I look for leadership and job stability. If someone has 15 jobs in 10 years, that doesn’t fly with me. I don’t know why you would want to be the new kid on the block several times a year. I look to see if they’ve been promoted. I check references. I want to know why they left their last job.
“I want to know what have they done to improve themselves professionally and in life. It doesn’t matter to me if they have a college degree. I don’t have a college degree. I’ve completed a lot of things. I look for people who have demonstrated the ability to educate themselves and stay on their jobs, who are self-starters and don’t need a babysitter.
“I also look for people who are creative and are always looking for ways to do it better and be more of a servant leader to our customers.
Key Communication Techniques
“I put everything in writing. I take time to put my thoughts down before a meeting. Then we have a meeting with my notes in front of them. I also ask my team to have written notes when preparing for a meeting with me so that we can cover everything in one sit down meeting versus spotty conversations throughout the day/week. I put my thoughts on paper so I don’t go all over the place when I have the meeting.
“Experience has taught me people hear differently than others. In that regard, I can say the same thing to five different people and each person will hear something different. When I have a meeting, I make sure when I communicate, everyone heard the same thing. That way, if something breaks down, we can figure it out. It creates clarity for others.”
Knowing When to Let Go
Sometimes, you just have to walk away when something isn’t working. “OMG have I ever! I must say, I have done so many times and some in very small ways and others after major investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have, and I hazard to say, that I may again. Business is not a guarantee, and as such, it takes great planning, market research and so much more but even the best plans do not always work out.
“I say I am not a gambler and admittingly I do not play slot machines, buy stocks or even a lottery ticket, but what I do is play the game of business and I play it to win!
“One example is a moving company I started. I brought on a general manager with gobs of moving experience. The moving company was a lot of work and cost a lot of money. However, I noticed when I was in the business, the individual I hired didn’t have the qualities I thought he had, so I let him go.
“In the meantime, I filled in as general manager while looking for someone to fill that position. I was also running my core business and dealing with employees of the moving company. I learned I didn’t want to do that. I swallowed tens of thousands of dollars to get out of that business. My wife, who has the special title of CFnO (CF- no) said, ‘you are not doing this anymore.’ This time we were on the same page and when she said that, that was it for me.
“My wife and I are a good yin and yang. I’m an entrepreneur and I would do everything. I’m a bull in a china shop. She puts the brakes on. If it were up to her, we wouldn’t do things. I push to go down the alley and then she adds input. We make a good team.
“I know it is time to start over when I have invested all I am prepared to invest in an idea, strategy or concept at that time. It is time to start over when the direction I am headed in is not getting me where I want to go. It is time to start over when the benchmarks I have set out are not being achieved.”
“I’m motivated by challenge. I’m a salesman. My biggest challenge is to sell, how to turn a no into a yes, or turning a small possibility into a big possibility. Everyone in my company is compensated based on commission. I like to take advantage of challenges that help drive revenue. I’m motivated by exceeding what I consider to be already aggressive goals.
“I’m also motivated to make my family (both my personal family and my business family) better off by my efforts. I want to do well for my family and myself. It’s always been about climbing the next rung on the ladder, challenge wise, not necessarily rank, title or compensation. Why do people climb a mountain? To get to the top. My mountains are sales, real estate and selling a corporate jet. People don’t fall out of the sky wanting to buy a jet. We currently have 60 aircraft listings and things are going well.
“I’m self-motivated. I have a little engine inside of me. I set higher and higher goals, diversifying my interests.”
Setting Key Differentiators
“I believe in the Peter Principle, which is promoting someone to their highest level of incompetency and then put them back down a notch. Everyone has that level. A dishwasher can be promoted to an owner, while a different dishwasher may only be competent as a short order cook because he or she may not have a tolerance for risk.
“I’ve taken a receptionist and put her in charge of marketing where she excelled. However, when I promoted her to sales, she failed. Then I brought her back to marketing so she can succeed.
“I also pay my employees a commission for everything they do, renting a storage space, renting a truck or trailer, selling moving supplies, insurance and even a soda out of the refrigerator. We’re a UHaul affiliate so we rent trucks, trailers, etc. I want every employee asking, ‘Do you need boxes, locks, moving supplies?’ I pay a commission to anyone who logs into the computer to do anything that makes me money. It’s a win-win deal. Employees earn an hourly wage, except the manager who is salary, plus commission.
“My manager’s bonus is on achieving certain levels based on economic occupancy because it can’t be lied about. You can rent 15 spaces at 50 percent off, but you can’t lie because the system knows they should rent for $100 per month. If a manager cuts rates to show full occupancy, then they won’t hit their numbers. Economic occupancy must be above 90 percent unless there are extenuating circumstances. The manager’s goal is to make sure things run properly.
“The manager also has to meet commitments we’ve made to UHaul and reach other KPIs to bonus. We can see what everyone is selling and if anyone is underperforming, because everyone must log into the computer. We can see who rented a space, who sold insurance, etc. If someone is underperforming, then that is an opportunity to train.
“As a UHaul affiliate, we have access to UHaul University which teaches you to do everything. It’s phenomenal training at no cost. Without them, we wouldn’t have the numbers. We went from 65 percent to above 90 percent occupancy.
“Our location is hidden. Even Google Maps can’t find us! We took UHaul on as something else to do. I had no idea the impact it would have on our infrastructure, the training and coaching they provide, our increased traffic and their software. It was so good, we wanted more and more of it.
“Our involvement with UHaul also afforded me the ability to add 1 ½ employees. Without them, I couldn’t have justified the expense without them doing those jobs associated with UHaul and additional functions. We’re one of highest volume UHaul dealers in our area.
“But our key differentiator is that in everything we do, we put our customers first. I believe in empowering our employees and they in turn empower our customers. We empower them by laying out rules of property and letting them manage that. Most of our customers intermingle on property. A lot of businesses operate out of our property. I empower them to operate without being interfered with and encourage them to connect with people on our property for needed services so that it serves as a business network as well.
“I coach my employees rather than dictate enabling them to make this business better and in doing so, I request that they stretch themselves as much as possible.
“It’s all tied together. My employees win when they can exceed our customers’ expectations and I win when they win.”