By John Dunlap for the CSSA
Imagine taking over a self storage facility whose customers include drug dealers and prostitutes, with homeless people all around and the building in a very bad need of repair. It would take a pretty tough person to pull things together under those circumstances, right? Leroy Wright is just such a person. After all, the guy is a former boxer who sparred with top-list fighters like Gerry Cooney, Mike Weaver and Little Red Lopez.
So in 2006, when the Abby Maxam, the owner of Saf Keep Storage on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, realized things needed to change, Wright was brought in to take on the project. With the support of Vice-President Natolie Ochi of Saf Keep Storage Management, Wright was encouraged to do everything in his power to turn that facility around. The project required not only toughness but empathy and smarts and Wright was the man for the job.
“When I was transferred 2006 to at the Melrose Store, within four weeks I hired a new staff with great customer service backgrounds and transferred two employees from other stores to join my new team,” said Wright of the turnaround. “We had some problem customers (drug dealers, hookers, etc.) at the time when I first started. I had to evict about 10 to 12 customers within three months so our new customers could have a great experience renting with us.
“During this progress I was threatened, my tires were slashed and an employee was almost stabbed going to the bank. Abby Maxam gave me more money in my budget to clean the store. We worked countless hours to remodel the office, floors, property grounds, and add new security cameras. After we finished we called our store The Mighty Melrose.”
It is his drive to make things better for his customers, his company and even the homeless people wandering the street near Saf Keep Storage that has endeared Wright to so many people and made him an easy choice for California Self Storage Association’s Manager of the Month for September.
Ochi is constantly amazed at the hurdles Wright has to overcome.
“What I admire most about Leroy is no matter what the circumstance he has to deal with, Leroy has the most positive, "can-do" attitude!” Ochi says. “He really takes pride of ownership at Saf Keep Melrose."
His empathy for homeless people in Saf Keep’s neighborhood is endless.
“Around our area in Hollywood we have a lot of homeless living around our stores and some are customers,” Wright says. “We give them old clothes and food in the street near our store. Our homeless customers also have refreshments in my office and I teach some how to make money on eBay by opening up a prepaid credit card and use the internet at some libraries in the area.”
Wright studied drafting in college and has been in retail since 1984. He has four kids (three boys and a girl) with the second oldest son having graduated from film school in 2013 and his daughter having received a degree in cosmetology. He exercises five days a week and has battled back from a stroke that temporarily paralyzed the left side of his body (“I wasn’t eating right at the time and it taught me a lesson,” Wright adds.).
So what is the secret of his success?
“I try to set an example to my employees to never take things personal,” he says. “Turn a negative to a positive when you can and be proud of it. Last year we had a pipe break from a customer who hit it very hard and flooded 85% in one of our buildings. Some customers were very upset but we helped them one-by-one by moving their things to other units and educating them how to use our insurance and prepare them for any other problems that may occur in the future. We’ve advised our customers that they should buy plastic bins or use large trash bags for clothes instead of boxes so they won’t get wet. In the future we will be selling plastic bins for our customers. The customers love it.”
Even tough guys need a break from time to time and Wright and one of his sons built a 250 gallon tank four years ago that houses over 50 red belly frogs, complete with waterfalls, lighted tunnels and houses. When he gets home from work he likes to sit in front of the tank and relax for about 30 minutes.
And what advice does Wright have for other self storage managers?
“Have fun! Life’s too short,” he concludes. “I love marketing so I try to have fun with it. Every year we have garage sales for the customers so they can make money. The garage sales bring everybody together. Also, I have store contests for the employees. The employees will win gifts cards, movie tickets, etc. For the customers I brought in a spin wheel so new customers can win something (free car wash, gift cards) when they rent a unit. Some customers told us ‘This is the first time I ever won something.’ That makes me feel good."