Every Dollar Counts

Self-storage operators are constantly bombarded by businesses trying to get them to spend money on marketing. Whether its for a newfangled security system or an ad in the local Penny Saver, it seems everyone is trying to get you to part with your hard-earned dollars. While some of these offers are worthwhile and produce tangible results, the vast majority are worthless. The problem is figuring out which are which.

Different marketing methods reach diverse audiences at varying levels of cost. Youll get renters from the Yellow Pages, but the cost per customer is pretty steep. Other methods may be more cost-effective but attract fewer prospects. You want to put your marketing dollars into schemes that generate more money than they cost to execute. Following is a list of tried marketing methods and the pros and cons of each. Ive also included the most important element for success in each area.

Repeat Business

Most operators look at storage as a one-time sale. Although the majority of customers may only rent from you once, a small percentage will come back. If you take good care of them the first time, its almost guaranteed theyll rent with you again if the need arises.

This means of marketing is by far the least expensive. All you have to do is provide great service at a fair price. The problem is only 1 percent to 2 percent of your renters fall into this repeat-business category. Although the method is extremely cost-effective, the business it generates isnt enough to fill your facility. Thats why you need a variety of other techniques to get people to rent from you.

The secret to winning repeat business is simple: Do a great job servicing customers the first time around, and youll almost always get them back. And it will help you with the next method on the list.

Referral Business

The second most cost-efficient means of marketing is referrals. This is where you get customers to tell their friends, families, co-workers, etc., about you. It doesnt cost a whole lotmost people will give you referrals because they like you or youve given them great service. But its also a good idea to provide an incentive, like $20 off next months rent if somebody sends a new customer your way. Some operators have been successful by slipping fliers under unit doors to remind tenants of this benefit. You can also hang a sign or flier in the office asking existing customers for help in this area. Satisfied renters will be happy to do so.

The key to success is to simply ask. Many managers feel foolish or uncomfortable asking for referrals. I suspect the main reason is fear of looking pushy or too aggressive. Get over it. This is one of the best and least expensive ways to generate business. Dont be shy, or it will have a negative impact on your business.

Storage Hotline

A storage hotline is also cost-effective. You simply install a separate phone lineeven if its only a residential line in Aunt Tillies basementand attach a digital answering machine with a reasonably long outgoing message. On the message, youll include useful information about self-storage that subtly promotes your facility. After a person listens to the message, yours should be the first (and only) facility he wants to contact.

Promote your hotline with an intriguing title included in all of your marketing materials. The title is significant, as simply throwing out a number will have little effect. Use a seductive heading that will make people interested enough to call. Consider something like Seven Things You Should Know Before You Store Your Goods.

Clearly identify the hotline as a 24-hour, free recorded message. This makes it non-threatening, and people now know one thing for certain: No one will try and sell them storage over the phone when they call. This makes them comfortable and encourages participation.

The hotline script is essential to this methods success. A quick hint: Make sure the message highlights any and all of your facilitys USPs (unique selling positions). Let customers know what sets you apart from competition.

Centers of Influence

In every market, there are key players who can send you a ton of prospects if you get them to give you referrals. I refer to them as centers of influence, or COIs. These include but are not limited to real estate agents, chambers of commerce, apartment-complex managers, RV-park managers, colleges and even local churches. Relationships with these folks are worth their weight in gold. All you need is to be the storage facility of choice for these COIs, and youll have a flood of inexpensive leads.

The secret to making this work is consistency of contact. Out of sight, out of mind holds true here. Keep in touch with these key individuals on a regular basis and theyll be more apt to recommend you and your facility. Also make sure you reinforce their behavior by sending them a gift of gratitude once in a while. It doesnt have to be big, but it should be immediate to get the best results.

Yellow Pages Ads

Advertising in the Yellow Pages is expensive. This is true whether youre in Orange County, Calif., or Kenosha, Wis. Prices are relative, but Yellow Pages advertising is more costly than any other means of marketing. Most storage operators advertise in these directories because they think its necessary. This is not true. If you diligently work at all the other marketing methods, you could buy just a small ad, if you buy one at all.

Unfortunately, many storage operators are lazy when it comes to marketing. Even though every dollar spent may only generate $1.50 or $2 in revenue, Yellow Pages advertising is easy. You meet with a rep once a year; he sells you an ad that gives him the largest commission possible, and everyone goes on their merry ways until next time.

If you do advertise in the Yellow Pages, concentrate on constructing a great headline. After all, it is the ad for your ad. Do not use the name of your facility. Frankly, your customers dont care about it, and it only gratifies the facility owner. Youll get better results if you create your headline by combining your facilitys biggest benefit with customers greatest need. In a very cost-conscious market, for example, it might be, Units starting as low as $14.95! (Keep in mind that if you promote this, youll have to offer small lockers you can actually rent at this rate, but it will give you the right to advertise it.)

Other Marketing Methods

These are just a few of the top ways to generate more customers. Whenever you explore a new marketing technique, such as direct mail or Internet advertising, test it before rolling it out on a large scale. The only way to know if something will work is to give it a try. Just be cautious of overspending at this stage. If you want to attempt something new, do so on a limited budget and track your results like a hawk.

Every method of marketing has a cost. The key is to make the most of those that cost the least. Unfortunately, those methods often entail the most effort, so if you have a manager who doesnt like to work, get ready for resistance. All of us like things to come easy, but if you have the will to pursue marketing techniques that are cost-efficient, youll be much more profitable than your competition.

Fred Gleeck is a profit-maximization consultant who helps self-storage owners/operators during all phases of the business, from the feasibility study to the creation of an ongoing marketing plan. He is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing SuccessRevealed!, available for purchase at www.selfstoragesuccess.com. He is also the producer of professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive his regular insights via e-mail, send a blank message to [email protected]. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail [email protected];

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