Stand in one spot at U-Haul Moving and Storage of Yakima and you’ll see general manager Monica Howard speeding from one task to the next. While she’s walking her site, she’s directing her capable and equally efficient team. Howard moves fast when she’s on and off the clock. Outside of her U-Haul duties, she’s a dirt-track race car driver, a hobby that feeds her need to live life to the fullest.
Howard brings that same driven attitude to work.
“I fight hard to meet the ever-changing expectations I have of myself,” Howard declared. “On the track, with every driver and every turn, there is something different needed from me to pass someone or to maintain my lead. At work, it’s the same thing. Every customer, every move and every Team Member needs something different from me to accomplish the goal.”
Howard’s introduction to U-Haul came when she was working at a former U-Haul dealership in Yakima. In May 2012, she began moonlighting as a customer service representative at the Yakima store. Her goal was to eventually transition from working four jobs to one. At the time, Howard was a single mother of two young children, and joked that she “slept on the weekend.”
Though Howard didn’t foresee her job at U-Haul turning into a career when she started as a CSR, she changed course once she saw the growth opportunities available.
“When I began to consider the real career potential,” Howard said, “I spoke with my GM and I also called and spoke with an area field manager about what my U-Haul possibilities could truly be. I then chose to drive hard to move up within the Company.”
With that in mind, Howard made sure she had the fuel she needed to race toward the checkered flag. She said as much to Manny Mendez, U-Haul Company of Inland Northwest president, when the GM position at Yakima became available in January 2014.
“When I advertised the opening,” Mendez recalled, “Monica came up to me and said, ‘Manny, I think I’m your GM here.’” Mendez liked Howard’s confidence, but asked her what else she brought to the table. “Knowledge,” she replied. And with that, Mendez gave her a shot.
After shifting into the role of GM, Howard set her sights on a new checkered flag: self-storage.
Fill ‘er up
When Howard stepped into the driver’s seat at her location, self-storage occupancy was at 75 percent. This was unacceptable for Howard, who wanted to fill up every room at her store. Her first hurdle: making local customers aware of U-Haul self-storage.
“People here were like, ‘You have self-storage?’” Howard remembered. “We have 500 rooms. I couldn’t believe it.”
A big part of that disbelief stemmed from Howard knowing the year-round benefits of self-storage in Washington and other parts of the Northwest U.S., where freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall are par for the course during winter months. First, Howard made sure her team knew the benefits of self-storage. Then she made sure everyone advocated self-storage at every opportunity.
“We make sure to insert self-storage in the conversation somewhere with every customer,” Howard said. “I had a customer who was running five nights a week as a courier service. He said he didn’t need self-storage. I said, ‘But your friends might!’”
In addition to talking up self-storage at every opportunity, Howard worked with her team to size up other facilities in the area. Like evaluating the other cars and drivers on the track, Howard knows the key to winning the race is knowing your competition.
“You have to know that we have the best facility, the best customer service, and that we are where our customers should be,” Howard said. “Get your crew excited. Do they know we are the best? Have they seen what else there is to offer as far as self-storage in your area?”
Howard rented a room at another location to show her team what other self-storage locations look like.
“They were amazed,” Howard noted. “What they saw was not at all what they had come to see as a minimum standard for self-storage. All they knew was the U-Haul way.”
Crossing the finish line
That proactive approach stirred all the momentum necessary for a quick turnaround. Just a year and a half after Howard took over as GM, the store’s self-storage rooms were 100 percent occupied for the first time in its history. What thrilled Howard just as much as was her Team Members’ reaction to the achievement.
“Our group text message thread was going crazy,” Howard said laughingly. “They were just as excited as I was.”
“Monica is a go-getter,” Mendez said proudly. “She’s proven herself as a GM by leading her team and turning around self-storage at her location. She’s on top of it, and she’s honest.”
Let Monica know that you love her drive in the comments below!