Turning Self-Storage Customer Service Into Gold (or Green): Money-Making Tips for Facility Operators
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 11/01/2013



 

By Molly Bilker

When Penny Casassa came on board as a part-time manager at South Harrison Self Storage in Mullica Hill, N.J., one of six facilities operated by Affordable Self Storage Group LLC, she carefully assessed the facility’s retail items and discovered something was missing—twin mattress bags. But when she suggested the store carry them, she was met with skepticism from her coworker, the full-time manager.

Refusing to back down, Casassa ordered a dozen of the mattress covers on her own dime and began selling them to customers. After she sold them all, her coworker was in awe. Casassa attributes her success to educating customers on the benefits of using the product.  The items are now part of the facility's regular stock. Cassasa, however, is now a full-time manager at Atlantic Storage Solutions in Jobstown, N.J., also part of Affordable Self Storage Group.

Self-storage operators know the key to success is about more than just renting space. It's about offering customers what they need and want and easing them through tough transitions. Here's the big secret: The better you understand your business and customer base, the more money you can make.

Give customers what they need—everything they need—even if they don’t know what that might be, like mattress covers. Also give them what they want. Go the extra mile to make their storage experience smooth and ease what could be a traumatic time. By doing so, your profit will transform from a drizzle to a downpour.

Be a One-Stop Shop

Another secret to earning more profit is to upsell your products and services to every customer who walks through your door. Offer the products they need to enjoy a high-quality experience and you can't go wrong. From truck rental to boxes, locks to dish-packing kits, if your customer might need it, offer it. Not only can you generate more revenue, you create the convenience of one-stop shopping.

You're the expert on storage and should take your customer's needs into your own hands, Cassasa says. "There are so many circumstances that people will need storage in three hours. When you take control of the sale and tell them step by step, it's such a weight off their shoulders."

Brad North, owner of Advantage Consulting & Management, which manages 11 self-storage properties in the Midwest and Southeast, says his locations offer Penske or U-Haul truck rentals. The retail stores also carry boxes, moving supplies and tenant insurance. “Customers are looking for a place where they can come and take care of all those needs in the way of unit rental, truck rental, boxes, locks, moving supplies and insurance," North says. "They can take care of all of that in one location."

If you tell customers what they need and then provide it, they'll appreciate the help and usually spend the money, says Matthew Van Horn, vice president of operations for Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, which manages 22 facilities in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Offering a higher perceived value is what makes this strategy work. “Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. You’re moving items, which is something no one likes to do.  You have to rent a truck, load the truck, unload the truck, and place the items in a storage unit. You would rather be doing anything but this activity, but it has to be done. So paying a little more for a little less pain is a bargain."

Think Beyond Storage

Telling your customers what they need is a good first step, but it's still only the beginning. To turn the best profit possible, think outside the unit. A great example is to offer a facility conference room, Van Horn says. By offering unlimited use of the room for an additional $10 per month, a facility can generate new income and provide a valuable service.

Refreshments are another way to add a few dollars to the coffer. Casassa sells candy and soda at her facility’s front counter, a place where customers often make impulse buys, especially if they have children.

Eric Isaacson, director of marketing for Isaacson Family Enterprises, which owns two A Mini Flex Storage facilities in Montgomery, Ala., says his stores have implemented several services to add to the perceived value of renting with them. In addition to offering customers free water bottles, A Mini Flex recently opened a business incubator adjacent to one of its facilities where customers can rent an office. He also offers a truck-and-driver program where a driver will bring a truck to the customer's location.

Giving customers more options and services is what makes A Mini Flex successful, Isaacson says. "Offering the full service is the way to go because we're just a small, family-owned and -operated company down in Montgomery,” he says. “We're taking on the big boys, and we're staying in business."

Build Relationships

A large part of driving success is building successful relationships. It’s imperative that operators talk to their customers to uncover their needs and communicate regularly with vendor partners to ask what trends they’re seeing.

Taking initiative and talking to other companies will also help your company in the long run, says Isaacson, who asked Penske agents to let him know if a truck became available for sale. When one did, he was able to jump on the opportunity and buy it for his truck-and-driver program. A Mini Flex Storage company also works with a recycling company to buy boxes that are larger and stronger than average, allowing it to compete with The Home Depot's weaker, cheaper boxes.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is knowing the customer, Casassa says. After working as a waitress, she learned the same rule holds true everywhere: People will always return for personalized service. "When your phone rings or you have a prospective client who walks in your door, you have to stand up," Casassa says. "You have to make eye contact. You have to ask them their name."

The best tactics to making more money all come back to customer service. If you want to bring in a few more bucks, put your customers first. The better their experience, the happier they are, and the more money they're willing to spend. "If you show them you truly care about them, they'll rent with you,” Isaacson says.

Molly Bilker is a sophomore journalism major at Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix. She is part of ASU's Barrett, the Honors College, and is completing a minor in Spanish. She comes from an arts-focused middle and high school with a creative-writing background. She actively participates in the arts, including creative writing, guitar and vocal music, theater, photography, ballroom dance, drawing, and film. To reach her, e-mail mbilker@vpico.com .