She started out as a bookkeeper with little or no knowledge of the self storage industry. She met a person who also was a newcomer to the industry but wanted to give self storage a try and asked her to manager his first facility. And now, 10 years later, Cathy Soria has come to enjoy the self storage business the same way that visitors to San Francisco come to love her city. And Arco’s Self Storage has taken off, acquiring five properties in the last year alone.
As an outsider to the self storage industry, Soria not only had to learn the ins and outs of running a self storage facility, but also the psychological aspects of dealing with customers and their needs. It was a major lifestyle shift from 20 years as a bookkeeper.
"After meeting Emilio Arco before he opened his first store and getting to know him and hearing about his new business of self storage, I was quite intrigued,” says Soria. "He, too, was changing industries after 20 years and he asked me come on board and manage the still-to-be-built property in South San Francisco. It was quite a change from just crunching numbers all day since I had never been in a retail/customer service position. I had always lived behind the scenes of companies, just me and my calculator.”
What started with 200 units and a dream has grown, thanks tohard work and many long days, into a self storage business that has continued to grow and expand on a yearly basis. When discussing some of the keys to success for Arco’s Self Storage, Soria actually feels her time working outside of self storage has helped both she and Emilio empathize with the customer.
"We pride ourselves on our customer service and never forgetting what it was like to be on the other side of the counter,” Soria says. "Too many times I think that people start a business and they forget the little things that really make a difference to your customers. Besides our properties being secure, extremely clean and competitively priced, we always make sure that our restrooms are clean, we write Thank You cards to all new tenants, we have hot coffee and cold water in the office, and we even send out birthday cards!”
And what sort of customer stories does she have to tell?
"Overall there are many happy stories of marriage, babies and travels.There are always the sad stories of divorce and death, too.I receive lovely gifts from customers when they return from their travels around the world.It always touches my heart that they think of me so far from home.I’ve seen kids grow up, wine collections grow, and people come back and rent years later and I love to see their smile when they walk in the door especially when I remember their name!”
As you might imagine, learning the ropes about self storage involved finding the right places and times to ask questions and network. And that is where her association with the CSSA has proved helpful.
"The CSSA is invaluable for any storage facility, owner and manager,” adds Soria. "They are always the first place to start when you need something or have a question. Erin always makes herself available and the CSSA offers many classes and networking gatherings.They are always worth attending.”
As you might imagine, Soria has a special place in her heart for good causes and Arco’s Self Storage works with many local and national charities, including the local fire department for the Toys for Tots Program, Rebuild Together and The American Cancer Society.
And her philosophy for being a successful self storage business also reflects the fact that she came into the industry as an outsider.
"Always think of your customers and what would make them happy!”
Which goes to show that even a bookkeeper of 20 years can find happiness in self storage, too.