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Strength In Numbers
The Benefits Of Joining Industry Associations
By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
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elen Keller is quoted as saying, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” That’s the spirit leaders at state self-storage associations think will continue to make a stronger industry.

“Our association was founded after there was a national problem with lawsuits that affected the industry,” says Amy Amideo, executive director of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Arizona Self-Storage Association (AZSA). “Prior to that, no one wanted to work together, but there is strength in numbers.”

There is also a national Self Storage Association (SSA), but leaders at the state level say there are many benefits to belonging to both. “It’s really imperative to belong to both,” says Ross Hutchings, executive director of the California Self Storage Association (CSSA) in Sacramento, Calif. “We partner with the SSA, but we also work on issues specific to local government in California. For example, many different municipalities within the state are getting more restrictive about allowing self-storage facilities in; we’ve been seeing this more and more. Uniting our members within the state really benefits everyone.”

Working on legislative and code issues isn’t the only benefit to being a member, though. Many state associations have evolved to provide members with plenty of other services.

State Associations Evolve
The AZSA was founded in 1996 to “strengthen the self-storage industry in Arizona, promote professional standards and quality, and present a unified voice on issues affecting the industry in the state and in its communities.” AZSA was created based on three principles:

  • To Engage
  • To Educate
  • To Empower

Amideo says the first principle required the association to convince members that other people within the industry (although competitors) could also help one another by working together. Once the idea started taking off, the association started reaching out to members to help educate them through seminars and workshops. Finally, the association helps empower members by hiring lobbyists to work on issues in the state important to everyone within the industry.

The CSSA was founded in 2002. “California was the biggest part of the whole western region,” says Hutchings, who added some operators decided it was time to have an association that focused on state-centric issues. The organization also emphasizes networking, education, and legislative advocacy.

Many other state associations were founded in the late 1990s and early 2000s in response to a growing industry that needed more local representation to respond to lawsuits and a patchwork of laws on the industry being written by state legislators across the country. For example, both the Missouri Self Storage Owners Association (MSSOA) and Florida Self Storage Association (FSSA) were founded in 1999. The Arkansas Self Storage Association (ARSSA) was founded in 2004.

Benefits Of Membership
State associations typically cite various programs that not only educate members but also help them network, which industry experts argue helps everyone understand their various markets in a more comprehensive way.

Many state associations are taking advantage of a more digital-friendly environment, created during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering its members more opportunities to network and learn online. “New for us this year will be quarterly webinars,” says Leslie Fuqua, executive director of FSSA. Shelly Harris, executive director for both the ARSSA and MSSOA, says her organizations provide downloadable resources to members.

In between holding town halls and other digital educational events throughout the year, the AZSA holds an annual conference in the spring that draws more than 50 exhibitors. Educational seminars are presented at the conference as well. The MSSOA, ARSSA, and FSSA hold similar conventions.

In addition to presenting 24 virtual training programs last year, the CSSA holds an annual owner’s summit, in lieu of a trade show, and a separate conference in Napa that focuses on technology.

In 2019, the AZSA created an operational manual for operators. “I think it’s one of the most important things we’ve done for our members,” says Amideo. “We also created one of the first boilerplate leases.” The CSSA also has a boilerplate lease specific to the unique laws in California. “Once members pay to have it, they will receive all updates,” says Hutchings.

While many state associations are using digital technology to help inform and educate members through webinars, newsletters, and virtual town halls, Amideo says the AZSA still thinks it’s important to reach its rural membership on a one-on-one basis, especially since rural members make up about 70 percent of the AZSA membership.

“We do what we call Ruralpolooza, in which I drive across the state and talk with rural operators to introduce myself and get their perspective on issues affecting the industry,” says Amideo. “It gives us a chance to get acquainted with everyone and helps operators in rural areas feel the organization isn’t exclusively Phoenix or Tucson centric.”

Joining your state association supports the partnership it has with the SSA (SSA membership is separate), and it may give you access to other organizations that can provide helpful tips for your business.
Legal And Legislative Assistance
One of the most beneficial advantages of joining your state self-storage association is that concept of “being stronger together.”

For example, lien sale violations typically rank high on the list of reasons self-storage operators get sued. State associations have been able to successfully educate members on laws, as well as lobby state legislators, to clarify statutes and to eliminate or amend some of the antiquated and cumbersome laws. Both efforts help prevent mistakes that may result in lawsuits.

“We are currently working hard to get the two required newspaper notices taken out of the Florida lien law requirements,” says Fuqua. “We have a lobbyist in Tallahassee, and we held a ‘Rally in Tally’ meeting with legislators.” The FSSA provides its members with a copy of The Florida Annotated Lien Law booklet, a resource that breaks down the lien laws into layman’s terms.

Lien notification is an effort the CSSA has already worked on and won, reducing the number of notifications required from two to one. During the pandemic, the CSSA also helped lobby to keep facilities open by having self-storage considered an essential business in the state, as well as keeping members informed on states of emergency and laws passed regarding price gouging.

Many state associations offer to help find answers to legal questions, which is one of the most common things asked of the CSSA, says Hutchings.

Joining your state association supports the partnership it has with the SSA (SSA membership is separate), and it may give you access to other organizations that can provide helpful tips for your business. For example, the CSSA has a partnership with the California Employers Association to assist with human resources issues.

Membership Details
Associations allow any owner-operator within the state to join as a member. What’s more, associate or vendor memberships may be available for vendors the operate primarily within the self-storage industry.
One of the most beneficial advantages of joining your state self-storage association is that concept of “being stronger together.”
The CSSA even permits one-quarter of their board members to be vendor members. “We’ve always embraced them as partners,” says Hutchings.

Membership rules and rates vary among the different state associations. For the CSSA, if an owner/operator or parent company joins, the membership includes all the facilities the company owns within California. The CSSA has about 440 owner-operator companies that represent approximately 1,700 facilities.

In most state associations, membership pricing depends on the number of facilities, allowing membership to be affordable for even a one-facility owner. The CSSA has four pricing rates for non-vendor members based on the number of facilities owned: one property, two to five facilities, six to 15 facilities, and over 15 facilities.

“Many of our larger operators benefit from the networking opportunities,” says Hutchings. “Many of the programs and educational seminars are for small to medium-sized operators. We encourage everyone to join and participate.”

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance journalist based in the Ozark Mountains. She is a regular contributor to Messenger. Her business articles have also appeared in Entrepreneur, Aol.com, MSN.com, and The Kansas City Star.