During the recent SSA Fall Conference and Trade Show, we had the opportunity to engage with industry experts, gaining insights into the current self-storage landscape. James speaks with Damon Emerson of Storage Shield about the self-storage industry and his role in tenant protection. Damon highlights the need for smaller operators to receive support and how his tenant protection program caters to their needs. The conversation emphasizes the importance of building a network and fostering transparency in the industry.
James: Damon, thank you so much for your time today. It's great to see you in person at the show. So what we're seeing on a macro is, you know, the REITs have really dropped their asking rates, you know, in terms of price per square foot has dropped year over year compared to the all-time highs we see in 2021 and 2022. So what are you seeing, you know, boots on the ground from an ownership perspective from what you do?
Damon: So for me, you know, being 15 years in self-storage and, you know, creating different programs from an ownership standpoint in a tenant protection world, you know, I spent my first 11 in insurance, right? Like I was tenant insurance program, I come over, I am part of redeveloping how people look at tenant protection, but what's happening, we're finding that, you know, your owner operators that are new in the industry or the ones that, hey, I only have one or two stores, but I'm trying to expand, they don't know what they're supposed to do or where they're supposed to be able to go. So for me, I have tried to take on the consultant role. Yes, I have my own company. Yes, I'm in tenant protection. I'm doing all these things, but I want to help them just through understanding the vendors that they have to talk to, who are the right, who are the right people within those vendors to talk to and who's going to maximize. From a tenant protection standpoint, I've been able to take what I did for 11 years with insurance and create a product on a tenant protection side that I fought against my entire 11 years in insurance, right? And I've been able to connect the two and combine them to create an insurance type process so that an owner operator can know that we can take care of our tenants, we can make sure that they are made whole in times of loss, times of need. And the company that I work with is able to work with a tenant, take care of a claim. I don't have to do anything from an ownership standpoint because my vendor, i.e. Storage Shield is taking care of the paperwork, getting me set up in the software. And these are the key things that people don't know. I talked to someone last night, the nicest guy is from Oregon, just started, his facility is opening up in a couple months and he literally sat there and went, you know what, this is like one of the best conversations because I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. I came to this event, I am confused, I'm lost and we just kind of talked and introduced him to some vendors. Later in the night, he finds me, gives me a hug which I thought was, I'm a hugger, it's what I do, right? But it was great. He goes, talking to you has helped me over the last three hours more than I've gotten in the last six months. So that's what I want to be able to do for everybody. From a tenant protection standpoint, we're a program that we lower owner's operator's risk of liability, right? That's such a key piece to everything that I do. But more importantly, your tenant and your manager, I always call them 1A and 1B, right? Everyone wants to say it's all about the tenants. Your managers are the lifeblood of our entire industry. We don't have an industry without them. So I want to have a program that a manager and a tenant are both being taken care of equally. So an owner can make revenue, but it has to be done the right way. We have to make sure that the tenants are always being put in a good position and the manager who is the face of it is able to have faith that they can run their store. And I think what happens is the smaller operators are the ones that everybody wants to talk about the REITs. Everybody wants to talk about these 100 store groups and that's great. They're leading, kind of leading us and paving the way for what to do. We can never forget the smaller operators, the one facility owner, the two or three facility owner, and we got to make sure that we're taking care of them. That's what programs like mine does is it caters to their needs and really makes sure that it becomes more of a partnership. And they understand that claim happens, you will never see it. It'll only go through our company. And then I want to make sure that owners at the end of the day, their tenants are able to go, you know what, I cannot believe how great I was taking care of. And that is what I've seen. And it's a small part that the service side of everything is gone and we're trying to bring it back.
James: Good business is when everybody wins. So it's great to see that you have a vision for a business that takes care of all aspects of the issue that you're solving.
Damon: Well, yeah, you know, I'm always learning, you know, my business partner, his name is John Maness. The most people in the industry know him. He has helped me evolve as a person in the industry, which I appreciate. But you know, what he's done with Pinnacle Storage Properties and management has been amazing. You know, Christina Alvino. I will say this. If I can do a quick pitch for Fineview, I am lucky to have these people in my circle because, you know, I'm able to make sure that I'm doing things right, right. And I will go to them and I'll say, I'm thinking about doing A, B and C and what do you guys think? And it's nice to have these kind of friends. But if you think about it, this is my, my, John Maness said it best. This is the greatest family reunion, right? The largest family reunion in the country. You can learn to lean on each other and you have to, you have to be able to find those people that you can trust in this industry that will always be there for you just to give, even if it's a two-minute conversation. Just what do I need? What do you need? Oh, you know what? You need to talk to this person. And it's an amazing thing.
James: Absolutely. So building that network has been critical in creating your business and helping smaller operators.
Damon: It has. I, you know, 15 years ago I was with, you know, CubeSmart and CubeSmart was still called you store it. And I, the only time in my career I cold called and I called the top 50 operators in the country just to introduce myself. I had no idea what I was doing and they gave me time and that time led to meeting them at these shows and you know, they, that's how I know everybody now because they would walk me around and they would say, I want you to meet Damon. This is a young man. He called me out of the blue. I don't know why he was upfront. He was transparent about everything. You got to get to know him. And those conversations led to more conversations. I mean, I am very, I take great pride in being transparent about everything. It's probably to my detriment sometimes, but I'm okay with that because no one can come away from a conversation with me and say, you know, I, I didn't get everything that Damon had. And that to me is, is important because you know, if you tell somebody one thing that's going to help them, I know I've done my job and I love that because I don't have my career without it. People, when I say they gave me time, people gave me more time than I probably deserved at that point. And it's, you know, it's brought me to here today.
James: Great. I mean, what an insane journey, you know, you've had such an amazing career in self-storage and I'm happy to see that you continue to help others and continue this network that you're building through your tenant protection services. Thank you so much, Damon.