By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
The Burnam family has been reinventing itself ever since it got into the self-storage business in 1973.
President Cris Burnam’s father, Gordon Burham, was a homebuilder who built one of the nation’s first self-storage facilities in Columbia, Mo., after seeing a similar operation when vacationing in Texas.
Burnam and his brothers joined the business in the 1980s, building it to 70 locations and taking the company public in 1994.
“I love a challenge,” Burnam said. “For me, a challenge comes with constantly reinventing how we do business.”
In 1999, rival Public Storage bought the Burnam’s company, which then had 260 locations. The Burnams then raised money for what would become StorageMart. Their vision was to offer a self-storage product with high standards for cleanliness and customer service.
The company had 10 locations in 1999 and built that to 60 by 2008, when it expanded into Canada. A year later, StorageMart bought a Canadian company and became that nation’s largest self-storage company, Burnam said. StorageMart has 390 employees and 150 locations, all of them company-owned. Sales exceed $400 million a year. The company offers 16 different sizes and types of storage in facilities ranging from purpose-built buildings to recycled office and retail space.
Burnam said the company is always looking at facilities it may buy or develop in new and existing markets. Burnam said the Internet has transformed the self-storage business, making it much more competitive. StorageMart tries to stand out by making the rental transaction as seamless as possible and by offering personal touches such as a welcome email within 15 days of a customer taking possession of a unit.
“When someone is renting a storage unit, it’s probably the last thing they want to be doing,” Burnam said. “They may be under stress because they’re expanding a business, their company just went bankrupt, someone died or someone got married.”
StorageMart allows customers to do much of their paperwork online, or the company will email paperwork to anyone who calls in and reserves a unit with a credit card. That can save the 45 minutes to an hour it takes to complete paperwork on site. A customer simply shows identification at the rental facility and moves in.
The company first offered the streamlined signup process three years ago, and now about 55 percent of its transactions are completed that way.
“The easier you make it for the customer,” Burnam said, “it just pays enormous dividends.”
Burnam said doing business online also makes it imperative to generate good reviews.
“We strive to get customers to do reviews and to give us feedback” anonymous or otherwise. “I read every single review,” he said. “In my father’s day, he used to say that a dissatisfied customer would tell 10 people,” Burnam said. “Now it’s 10 million.”
When a customer posts a negative review, StorageMart posts a quick response because that shows the company is paying attention. “We feel we get more mileage from those situations,” Burnam said.
StorageMart seeks employees who are service-oriented, flexible, problem-solvers and able to work independently. Managers often are on their own, running StorageMart locations from Key West, Fla., to Vancouver, British Columbia. Regional managers and Burnam visit facilities regularly to makes sure they’re meeting company standards.
The high cost of turnover means that “if you get someone good you want to do what it takes to keep them,” including opportunities within the company.
“We’re proud of our ability to execute,” he said. “You can have a great idea. But you have to be able to hire, train and motivate employees or you’re not going to make it.”
Burnam said he tries to treat his employees like family. On a snow day in Columbia, some employees bring their children to work while others work from home. “We certainly believe in taking care of family first,” he said.
According to its website, StorageMart’s philanthropic vision is “to create partnerships within each of our communities by supporting organizations that can give kids the support they deserve. We build these relationships through in-kind donations, sponsorships, fundraising, and other promotional opportunities. By supporting kids, perhaps we can offer an emotional lift just when it’s really needed.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. This year’s TORCH Award Luncheon will be Oct. 14 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St .Louis. For more information, click here.