‘Storage is a game of chess’: Q&A with Curtis Burns of Absolute Storage Management
As uncertainty looms over the direction of the economy, smart self-storage operators are thinking about their next move.
To find out what moves third-party management companies might be making, we checked in with Curtis Burns, a regional director at Absolute Storage Management. Cordova, TN-based Absolute is one of the largest third-party management companies for self-storage in the country with more than 140 facilities managed on behalf of facility owners. (They are also a Storable client.)
Burns joined Absolute in July 2011 as a property manager and has been promoted through the years to his current role as regional director where he is an integral part of the senior operations team.
Read our conversation below:
How should operators prepare for a possible downturn in the future?
Curtis Burns: Storage is a game of chess not checkers. Interestingly enough, occupancy has taken a backseat and most operators have been able to push total income higher with lower occupancies. I’m talking 5% to 7% lower than last year. Proper rate-management will see that any facility thrives.
Is there anything they should be doing differently in regards to marketing or anything else?
Look at each billing plan, length of stay in the billing plan, market availability and push rate accordingly. For marketing, you should adjust the spend and focus while letting occupancy dictate how much you do. But don’t just stop marketing because you are full, your brand needs to stay relevant in its community.
Increasing automation and contactless operations is another way operators can shore-up their businesses as many tenants increasingly show a preference for digital communication and interaction. How is Absolute using such technology?
We’ve made improvements since introducing our contactless rental program in 2020. Tenants at our facilities can have as much in-person contact with our storage specialist as they want or as little as they want. Our platform is optimized for mobile users to execute a rental agreement all from the palm of their hand. Tenants can also text with our storage specialist to communicate any concerns.
How has the volume of online leads compared to walk-in leads changed in recent years?
Online leads have drastically increased over the past two years. You’ll see that operators have made large technological improvements to their online platforms to make this tenant interaction as easy and simple as possible. The conversion rate fluctuates on online leads since the store manager still has to connect with them. The walk-in leads have decreased, but conversion rates are a little higher since the first interaction with the manager took place at the walk-in.
If there is a downturn ahead, how would it impact your company?
I see our management portfolio increasing if we had a downturn. The new investors are thriving at the moment because the need is high. Not much strategic thought is needed in the market now. Historically, third-party management will see an uptick as inventors are wanting to stabilize and increase revenues during economic downturns. That’s when we come in.
What brought you to the storage industry, and what keeps you in it?
A college job board at Mississippi College. My wife was finishing her master’s degree and saw it, so she mentioned it to me. Of course I said, “April, I don’t know about storage. Who does that? Honestly, who thinks I’m going to be in storage as a career path?” Well, I thought it would be a temporary thing. I was committed to being a hotelier. I realized after a few months that I liked it, and it’s not as volatile as the tourism industry during an economic crisis. The culture of Absolute’s organization keeps me in storage and with them. Each person has a voice, and no one person or title can mute it.
You’ve been working your way up at the company for 11 years. Is there a certain guiding principle or philosophy that you credit for your success?
Yes, three things—one from my mom and two from my aunts: Short-term sacrifices lead to long-term reward. Do the right thing. Do not halfway do anything.