Genderizing the Self-Storage Experience: Good Business or Senseless Strategy?
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Teri Lanza
Posted on: 05/06/2011



 

Though I don’t often succumb to the temptation, there are times I just can’t resist the gorgeous greasiness of a fast-food cheeseburger complete with super-salty fries and an ice-cold … you guessed it … diet Coke. Last weekend, I caved to a craving and found myself in the drive-through at Burger King, my drug pusher of choice.

I ordered a kids’ meal to play down the portion size. After speaking my selection to the intercom, I got an unintelligible and unexpected response: “Izzida boyeragurl?” Huh? I asked the rep to repeat. “I said, izzida BOY or a GIRL?” I didn’t immediately understand the question, and then it dawned on me―I ordered a kids’ meal, and this person wanted to know the gender of my imaginary child to determine which free toy to include. “Boy,” I told him (because boys always seem to get the cooler toys), and pulled forward in line.

But then it starts to irk me. What difference does it make what gender the kid is? Why not instead ask his or her preference? What if my girl likes to play with Mighty Thor figurines (which is what I received in my bag, by the way). What if my boy wants to wear a Sif Headdress? By the time I got to the window, I was humming the tune to “William Wants a Doll” from the best-selling 70s album “Free to Be … You and Me.”

All this got me to thinking about ways in which businesses still genderize their approach to service, even self-storage operations. It feels like a dated and inappropriate strategy in this age of rampant gender bending; and yet, we do it.

Later this month, Inside Self-Storage will publish a spotlight article about a SmartStop Self Storage facility in Phoenix, which recently underwent a $300,000 makeover. According to Strategic Storage Trust Inc., the facility owner/operator, part of the renovation’s goal was to make the site more customer-friendly, particularly for female clientele. The company says women represent 60 percent of all rentals.

It’s a common belief in the self-storage industry that the majority of renters are female, and operators should strive to make their facilities cleaner and more attractive to appease/entice this market segment. Consider:

  • Last year during its annual executive retreat, the Texas Self Storage Association featured keynote speaker Delia Passi, founder of WomenCertified, who discussed the differences in gender buying paths and offered suggestions for improving the overall customer experience at self-storage facilities, with women’s preferences in mind.

  • In a 2008 article titled “Marketing Limelight: To Know Customers Is to Rent to Them,” Sue Weinman of Michaels Wilder wrote that because almost three-quarters of Yellow Pages consumers searching the “Storage” heading are female, your ad should artistically appeal to women.

  • When Mini-Storage opened in Dublin, Ireland, in 2008, developer George Bulman said, “This facility was built to accommodate the large numbers of female customers, and we’ve invested heavily in a female-friendly reception area with a coffee dock and separate children’s play area. It has a shopping center feel about it—and that’s very deliberate.”

It’s clearly good business to cater to your most popular consumer sector, but self-storage operators should concentrate less on women customers and simply focus on discerning customers who equate cleanliness, order and upscale amenities with well-run operations. These customers might be male or female, plain and simple.

Rather than create a “girly” facility to attract female customers, recognize that the design elements being labeled as feminine are really just those that bespeak quality. If it’s within a consumer’s price range, anyone with any sense is going to opt for the more pristine site, regardless of gender. Why would a man, because he’s a man, be content to toss his goods in any old metal bin? This is archaic thinking, and it will eventually hurt a business that adheres to it.

Don’t underestimate your clientele, male or female, and don’t make assumptions about what a customer wants based on gender. A person choosing a storage unit considers a number of factors: convenience, location, intended use, length of need, amenities, price, etc. Most of the time, security is a priority, but not always. Cost is often a factor weighed in the mix, but as we know, it isn’t the primary driver behind a rental decision.

If you think women want to use a bright, clean self-storage facility that conveys a sense of security, you’re probably right. But men also want these things. Why wouldn’t they?

Great curb appeal and high-end features are enticements for a specific type of customer: a discriminating one. So when you’re building, renovating or even just decorating your self-storage site, don’t aim to please your female customers; aim to please all of them! When customers come looking for their “Happy Meal,” give them the toy they really want: a perfect storage experience, no stereotypes attached.

Have a comment or story to add about catering to female customers in self-storage? Please add them to the blog!