The third full week in October is National Business Women’s Week. This year, I decided I wanted to honor some of the amazing women in management at StorageMart – the women from all over the company who work behind the scenes to keep our company healthy, growing, and on the cutting edge of the industry.
The only problem? There’s no way I could recognize all of the phenomenal women in the upper levels of this company in just one week! So, in hopes of ever making it through them all, we’re starting in August. Our first spotlight is on our Global Marketing Director: Sarah Little. Read on to learn more about her journey from part-time call center rep to the head of a core department in the largest privately-owned storage company in the world.
Tell us a bit about what you do here at StorageMart.
I oversee our marketing efforts, which means every day is a new adventure. We have a team of rock stars in the marketing department and we manage everything from social media to designing the website, from email marketing to a paid media campaigns – there is a lot going on behind the scenes to keep the leads flowing into Rental Manager.
The best parts are collaborating with the Operations and Revenue Management teams. We get to dream up new ideas to help customers find us online or ways to make it easier for them to rent a storage unit. It’s hard work, but we have fun along the way; especially when we can test new technologies like Voice technology and Artificial Intelligence.
How long have you been at StorageMart?
20 years. Yes, I started when I was only 12 years old.
Is there a particular turning point in your professional experience that helped define your career path?
So many turning points! I started working part-time in the evenings at the call center. I had another full-time day job, but quickly saw the potential at StorageMart and made that my full-time gig.
As the call center was gathering other storage clients, those owners saw an opportunity for our sales team to train their own staff. From there, the Secret Shopping Department was born and I moved from full-time phone operator to head up that team. I worked as the director of that team for about three or four years when StorageMart launched our blog. I volunteered to write the content for it.
From there, I was mentored and read everything I could about how to get a website to rank on Google. As the Search Engine Optimization industry grew, so did the competitive landscape of ranking for self storage, and eventually that became a full-time job I was positioned to take on. I made another switch from leading the Secret Shopping Team over to full-time marketing as the only employee in the Marketing Department for several years.
The marketing team has grown by leaps and bounds and today we have 5 full-time team members who are experts in their respective fields, and we layer on a lot of support from agencies. All-in, we have about 25 team members from various companies supporting our internal marketing team.
At some point around 2010, a small side project came around to build a series of webinars to train store managers on how to sell self storage to our customers. That eventually blossomed into another full-time job and the Training department was born. I am blown away by Garrett and his team! They have taken things to a whole new level (and won some notable awards along the way #ShoutOut)!
What are some qualities of strong leadership that have proved important but are often overlooked in a professional setting?
Someone once gave me some misguided advice in saying “It’s lonely at the top.” And for a long while I thought that must be the path to leadership – and that even caused damaged to some of my professional relationships. Over the years and in the process becoming more confident in who I am as a woman, I’ve come to realize that success gained by stepping over and on top of others isn’t the sort of success I want.
“We rise by lifting others” is a quote I try to live by in my personal life, and professionally. I believe leaders can impact their entire company culture by using their platform to recognize the success of others. And that when you get to the top of the mountain, you can celebrate with all the folks who came on the journey with you.
Based on your experience, what is one thing managers or execs could do better to support and encourage women in the workplace?
There’s an interesting dynamic in how others perceive men versus women in leadership. Just speaking statistically in general, women are expected to bring compassion and compromise to the workplace whereas men are viewed to be risk takers and negotiators.
The lot of women leadership at StorageMart would get a good laugh at that! We like to shake things up and don’t back down for the sake of “femininity.” Of course, we do it all with style and panache because – we are women!
I’d suggest that, as leaders, we make space for women and men who are timid and not prone to speak up and offer their ideas. The quietest one in the conference room is the “thinker” and likely has the most valuable input! Talking one-on-one at the start might make these team members more comfortable sharing, and eventually they will be leading those meetings.
What is one thing a leader has done to help promote women in the workplace — either organizationally or for you personally?
Cris and Mike come by their support of strong women leadership honestly. Their mom, Mickey Burnam, was a self-made success story. She and her husband, Gordon, founded countless businesses, including StorageMart.
When you look around at the leadership of StorageMart, there are women in leadership roles at every level.
Tell us a bit about what you do when you aren’t busy being a rock star at work.
I’ve got two amazing young men to raise. We like to stay busy traveling on adventures. Our bucket list includes “kayaking in every state.” So far we have Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Delaware, New York/New Jersey and Florida checked off the list. I’m looking forward to the day we get to check off Hawaii!
I’m kind of addicted to self-improvement books about any topic and I’m likely to have two books going at any one time. I’m crafty and handy, so a weekend project list might include tiling the shower and painting a landscape. I recently stepped way outside of my comfort zone and took the lead role in a local theatre production of Pollyanna. I was both terrified and thrilled – and ended up loving every minute of it! I will definitely do it again. Perhaps someday you can catch me on Broadway!