Marketing Self-Storage Religiously ... Are You an Atheist, Agnostic or Believing Marketer?
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
Posted on: 05/08/2012


By Randy A. Smith

No, this isn't a treatise on religion in self-storage, it's a short discourse on the prevailing marketing philosophies in our industry. In the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of certain types of marketing in this business, I listen between the lines to ascertain the assumptions people have when it comes to marketing self-storage. Almost everyone falls clearly into one of three camps. To borrow some theological terms, I call them the atheist marketer, the agnostic marketer and the believing marketer.

The Atheist Marketer

The atheist marketer is someone who doesn’t believe in marketing. His philosophy is, “If you build it, they will find it and rent it. So why should I waste a bunch of money advertising it?” Thankfully, this is a very small group, and we all see the error in this way of thinking. I won’t spend any time debating this mindset.

The Agnostic Marketer

By far the largest camp is that of the agnostic marketers. This is the most dangerous camp to be in. Whereas the atheist marketer doesn’t believe in marketing, the agnostic marketer doesn’t care where his marketing message appears or how customers find him—only that they do. The agnostic marketer’s main (if not only) consideration is cost-effectiveness. If it generates a rental at an acceptable cost, then he’ll do it.

Herein lies the danger. These marketers are not giving thought to their ways. They’re pursuing a philosophy that in essence says, “If it feels good, generates a rental at a good price, do it!” This is a shortsighted outlook. There is no pause to consider the long-term implications of certain choices by the agnostic marketer.

Let me give you two examples, one wild and the other very close to home. Let’s say you’d consider adding skywriting to your marketing mix if it would produce rentals at an acceptable acquisition cost. You call the local Sky-Writers-R-Us and find it will guarantee 10 rentals for a $500 investment (two hours of time sky-writing your facility name over your city). You think, “$500 for 10 rentals equals $50 an acquisition … I’ll do it!”

You sign up, and the next day is a beautifully sunny, cloudless Saturday with thousands of people outside. The plane takes off and fills the sky with your facility’s name and phone number. It also manages to write “move-in special.” Everyone in town has their eyes glued to the sky. You’re at the office expecting calls and they start rolling in.

But wait, now there's an angry voice on the other end. What’s that they’re saying? “Destroying the environment … carbon footprint … irresponsible … air pollution …?” It’s hard to discern all of the conversation due to the quantity of expletives. Then you get another angry call, and another and another. At the end of the day, you did manage to get those 10 rentals, but you also offended three quarters of the town’s population because your only consideration was cost-effectiveness.

Had you stopped to consider your ways and looked at the long-term implications of this marketing channel, you would have come to the realization that it was a horrible idea. You would have deduced that you live in an area with a lot of environmentally conscious people. But being an agnostic marketer that considers only cost, you missed the not so obvious and created a huge problem for yourself.

Of course, this is a wild example, so let me bring it closer to home. Many self-storage operators say they use online aggregators because they provide rentals at an acceptable cost. Well, step back for a moment and consider the type of renter you get and what the long-term implication will be if thousands of your fellow self-storage operators adopt this mindset. Do aggregator rentals stay as long as other tenants? Have you checked? Aggregators say their customers aren’t mainly looking for best price, but their pay-per-click ads with headings like “Cheap Units” say otherwise.

Patronization of aggregators by facility operators gives “credibility” to aggregators in the mind of the consumer and further conditions them to use them in the future. Since aggregators market with a cheap/discount price message, they also condition consumers to make price the main consideration on storage-unit selection, commoditizing our product even further, which hurts everyone in the long run. Not to mention you’re basically funding your competitor to compete against you online and driving up your own online-marketing costs. The agnostic marketer who follows this path should consider his ways and think through the long-term implications.

The Believing Marketer

The believing marketer believes in marketing and sees the world in black and white, not shades of gray. Adopting a core set of sound business principles, he believes there’s a right and wrong way to market self-storage. He’d never “dance with the devil” or sell his soul just to get a few more rentals. He thinks through the long-term consequences of his actions and doesn’t use cost as the only consideration.

Unlike agnostic marketers, believing marketers care about their message, where it appears and how it’s perceived. They market their facilities with an eye toward the future, not with campaigns of cost-effective convenience. Believing marketers know you cannot escape the universal principle of "whatsoever you sow, that will you also reap." They choose to build their own brand to own their own marketing, not simply farm it out to another.

Let me bring this marketing “sermon” to a close by saying I have faith that you can succeed in building a business without compromising sound marketing principles. Don’t adopt a “don’t care" approach to marketing. Don’t sell your soul to a third-party entity just because it might be cost-effective. Believe in your brand. Believe in your business. Believe the “good news”—that you can free yourself from marketing sins. Become a believing marketer today!

Randy A. Smith is director of operations for Another Closet Self-Storage in McAllen, Texas. The company operates seven facilities in Texas. To reach him, e-mail