is not a rookie. This one-woman POWERHOUSE took her first leap into the insurance industry over 40 years ago as a file clerk, and is now the President & CEO of Universal Insurance Programs.
by Rachael Wheeler
You’ve been in the storage industry for over 40 years. What’s it been
like to be on the ground floor of an industry like this and to watch it growso much?
It’s interesting, when I first started therewere very few women in the industry. Itwas truly a male-dominated business. There were a handful of us and now it’s saturated with professional women and entrepreneurial women and that’s kinda cool! To see this industry that was filled with really bright, wonderful men has now incorporated guys are girls and that’s exciting.
When I first started, the self-storage facilities were pretty basic. They didn’t use a good grade metal, they were always the rows of doors, and there weren’t any that went up. The security wasn’t as good, the construction wasn’t as good, and there was virtually no automation. Maintaining logs for your renters was done on an old ledger sheet. There weren’t computers or faxes; it was a different world. It was all about the manager hopefully being friendly enough to rent that space. There wasn’t any online advertising, it was all Yellow Pages. Quite a difference, right?
Talking about insuring for weather, Universal Insurance covers so many varieties of solutions for your customers, like pollution insurance, which most people wouldn’t eventhink about but makes completesense. Did this wide variety of insurance options evolve and grow over the years as your customers’ needs began to expand, or did you start out with this broad gamut?
Truth is, it’s a clandestine business andpeople use our self-storage industry, sometimes, for the wrong reasons. After hearing about these problems for multiple times, I went to one of our insurance companies and pitched this idea to create a pollution liability program specifically designed for self- storage that was reasonably priced. I was able to do that by putting everybody into what we call a risk purchasing group so that everyone would have the buying power and not have to deal with what insurance companies call “minimum premiums.”
So instead of paying a minimum of $5,000 a year, they might pay $600 or $800 a year for some really good coverage but they improve our self-storage industry. So that’s the pollution story! On the other coverages we offer, those kind of change as the industry changes. You’ll find that with many of the insurance providers: they start realizing that the customers’ goods need higher coverage now because tenants are more litigious, particularly incertain states where you add on certainemployment practices liability coverage because that’s a growing concern for self-storage owners. The evolution of a good insurance program that’s in a niche market is to evaluate and upgrade as the industry evolves.
Let’s shift gears and talk about redevelopment and what you’re seeing. You’ve mentioned in previous interview that the industry has aged, and so have the facilities. Are you seeing a lot of redevelopments, renovations, and things like that going on right now?
Not as much as we’d like to. We’re seeing a lot of storage owners adding buildings on – having that little bit of vacant land and building another one or two or three buildings, but we’re not seeing enough renovating and reinventing to build the infrastructure up to the caliber of what it should be. When we do see it, we’re really excited because these buildings are aging and they do need attention paid to them. They need to pay attention to the construction, they need to pay attention to the ADA laws and how that affects their tenants’ wellbeing and not getting hurt. We’re just starting to see that, but we’d sure like to see more.
Especially with the ADA rules and regulations. It’s the idea of “pay now or pay later.”
The thing we want to do as an industry is be proactive and not wait until we start having the media notice us as an industry, that we’re not an ADA compliant industry. I’m kind of the Pollyanna of the world, I’m so positive!But sometimes I think these storageowners don’t like to spend the money because things are going well and they’re making money; but that’s the perfect time to spend money. If they don’t upgrade their facilities, and we start getting claims against the industry for ADA-type occurrences, some media nut is going to get ahold of that and then we’ll get a black eye. That’s the last thing that we want! We want to have a positive look to Wall Street, to tenants, and to the population in general; that we care about the tenants that are coming to the facility, and not that the facility owners are waiting and aren’t upgrading their doors because they’ve never had a claim. I would like to see more proactiveness, and that’s one of the things that makes me really excited about a company like Janus pushing this topic.
Let’s talk about this really exciting partnership between Janus International and Universal Insuranceon the R3> Certified Programs! What drew you all to this partnership? Can you touch on the benefits and offers you have for people who completeR3> Certified and R3> Certified Secured Programs?
The Janus and Universal teams have known each other for a while and have a lot of mutual respect. Even though we’re in different sectors of self-storage, we’re really working towards the same goal, which is helping facilities be well-run, that they’re built better, and that they’re better protected. I think it was just natural because a facility that is well-built, that is secure, and that is ADA compliant is, in our eyes, an A+. It’s the kind of business that we will look at and apply the maximum credits. We have a program with credits available for more security, and there are credits for better constructed facilities. There are facilities out there that are still made of framed construction! A building that’smade of frame carries a much higherinsurance premium than a building made of a good grade metal because when that tenant does something stupid in their unit (like leaving a lit cigarette butt in their unit and closing the door, sending the place up in smoke), if it’s a frame, it’s going down fast because it’s old wood and when it ignites, it blows through the whole building. You have a better chance if it’s a metal building and you get the fire department out there. You could reduce and mitigate that loss. Those are the kind of examples for why insurance premiums are higher or lower depending on the quality of the construction.
The same applies to security. We were down a couple of weeks ago visiting the National Self Storage site we insure in Marana, Arizona and we have applied every single credit that we have in our box to that facility because of the qualityof the construction and the security ofthe site. Because that’s the kind of the facility that should have lower losses. You can’t even get away from the stupid tenant, but if there is the stupid tenant, then that facility will have a smaller loss than one that has no security, that is poorly constructed, and doesn’t have good management. The loss will be less, but obviously there will still be claims.
So that’s why I think we came together, and I think it’s kind of natural, because of the quality of what you guys do creates an opportunity for us to lower the cost of their insurance. While that doesn’t offset the cost of what they’re doing on your side, it certainly should make them feel better about investing and knowing long-term that they’re going to continue to have lower insurance premiums.
Do the discounts you offer for R3>Certified and R3> Certified Secured facilities have a certain number percentage? Or is it more of a case- by-case basis?
It is on a case by case basis, but it’sanywhere from 10% to 15%
It’s not going to move the needle in a huge way that’s going to reduce howmuch owners have to invest to do itright, but it makes it more attractive year after year after year. Numerically, those percentages may not seem like a lot, but they really add up over the years.
It really starts making a difference when we’re talking about a portfolio with multiple locations, and that makes it material.
Learn more at:
JanusIntl.com/inside-selfstorage or call 678-798-8727 to find
out how to get R3 Certified