Marketing ToolboxTune up your business with basic advertising techniques

Marketing Toolbox
Tune up your business with basic advertising techniques

By Mary Briggs

There was a time when a good-sized Yellow Pages ad was all your self-storage facility needed to remain competitive, when your facility was the only one within a five-mile radius, when free-rent giveaways were non-existent. That time is gone. In the past five years or so, competition has increased so much that in some areas, self-storage facilities are rivaling the convenience store--one on every corner. Consequently, the increased competition has made a remarkable change in advertising and marketing strategies, forcing owners to take a closer look at customers' needs and wants. Competition has made them look beyond their Yellow Pages advertising and test additional marketing avenues.

Surveys have revealed that customers have the opportunity to be selective because of the increase in facilities within their immediate area. "Good services" are a factor for selection. Move-in specials and giveaways have become determining factors. Convenience has emerged as a determinant as well. Market area has decreased from three to five miles, to one to three miles in radius.

With this information, owners defined their marketing area and began looking for advertising that would assist them in attracting customers in the immediate area. They began surveying the market area as to the highest percentage of current tenants in specific zip codes, and then by customer type: homeowners, apartment dwellers, commercial tenants, senior citizens, etc. Through the years, self-storage owners have used and re-used many kinds of advertising. Here are some conclusions:

The Best Marketing Tool

Your first and best marketing tool--which is also the one most often overlooked--is your on-site manager. A manager should be sales-oriented, know the competition and know how to sell the advantages of a particular complex. Also, he needs to be involved in the facility's marketing plan. If a manager believes in the marketing plan, he will make it work. Some of the best and most often used advertising ideas come from managers.

The Basics

Marketing and advertising tools come in varied shapes, forms and costs. Once you've defined your market area and customer type, decide what you want to say and how you want to say it. The following are some pointers:

  • List all your major benefits and what they will do for your customers. Decide which benefits are most important and stress those in the ad. For example, a facility that features wide driveways can offer the benefit of a wide-turn area with easy access for large trucks.
  • An effective ad will grab the customer's attention and motivate him to use your facilities. Build the ad around the benefits, listing them in order of importance. Begin with a rough draft, rewriting and revising it with improvements. Write it in plain, simple language--like you speak--so that readers can easily relate to it.
  • Always use words that sell: free, new, discount, easy, improved, save, profit, money and you. These are the nine most powerful words in advertising.
  • Your ad should also contain a persuasive headline that gains the reader's attention and promises a benefit. For example: "We can save you money." The headline should speak to your identified target market.
  • Always proofread carefully: An error-free ad will enhance your image. Errors and omissions of specifics can tarnish your image and be costly.
  • Define precisely any and all specials and giveaways. If your ad states "one free month with one paid," and the words "new rentals only" are omitted, current tenants may feel they are entitled to this special. You may have to honor the special in order to remain reputable and maintain good customer relations.

Inexpensive Advertising Tools

Numerous formats for advertising can be done inexpensively on a routine basis. An ad can be produced for a nominal cost through a print shop, or it can be reproduced on a copy machine as needed by the manager. Fees are kept at minimum if the advertisement is distributed directly by on-site personnel at the facility. Here's a review of some of the most inexpensive forms of advertising:

Tenant Referral. "Word of mouth" is rapidly becoming a viable source for new tenants. In some areas, tenant referrals are rivaling Yellow Pages in percentage for sources of new customers. To enhance this new customer source, one facility uses a tenant-referral coupon entitled, "Tell Your Friends to Stuff It." The coupon is 3.5-by-8 inches (three coupons can be reproduced on a standard 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper), offering an incentive for use by both the current tenant and the "friend." For example, each receives $10 off one month's rent.

"Stuff It" coupons can be included in move-in packets and/or distributed as tenants pay their monthly rent. Offering a discount to current tenants gives them a greater incentive to pass on the coupon, and it also serves as a thank you for their business.

Business Letter. Commercial- and business-storage tenants are still a relatively untapped source of new customers for self-storage. The business letter is an inexpensive method of promoting your facility and services to them. The letter can be targeted toward specific businesses, or toward a specific service, i.e., seasonal inventory storage. It should offer some type of discount or giveaway in order to track the response, such as 10 percent off or three free file boxes.

The letter can be sent by the manager on a monthly or quarterly basis, or can be used as an introduction for additional services or for a specific event, such as storage of dead and year-end files. It should always be followed up with a phone call or a visit from the manager to further promote your services.

Apartment-Tenant Referrals. Contacting apartment managers can be a good source for new tenants. For these, a "Space Invader" coupon, reproduced in the same vein as the "Stuff It" coupons, is an excellent tool that can be distributed by your manager.

Have your manager visit apartment complexes in the market area and supply them with coupons. The "Space Invader" coupon should have an incentive for the apartment manager as well as tenants. For example, a $10 referral fee and $10 off the first month's rent.

Every few months or so, re-contact the apartment managers in order to keep them supplied with coupons. Or, have an open house for apartment managers--invite them to the facility, show them around, offer refreshments and, most importantly, promote your services.

Thank-You Letters. Send out letters to "good" vacating tenants, offering them a discount on their future storage needs--such as a $20 discount on the first month of rent. For tenants who are leaving the area indefinitely or know they won't need storage within the next year, allow the tenant to pass the coupon on to a friend or relative. Transferable coupons increase the exposure of this marketing tool.

The Next Level

As competition increases, we often have to increase our advertising expenditures. Fortunately, there are several viable advertising options in the mid-dollar range that can be very effective. Here are some of the mid-range advertising options:

Fliers. Fliers are often used for short-term campaigns, such as a grand opening or a promotional special. Fliers can be distributed by the manager (or other sources) in specific geographical areas, such as parking lots and apartment complexes.

Keep flier advertising simple, specific and trackable. Keep headlines to less than seven words and body copy to no more than 50 words. Readers tend to have very short attention spans, so give the message quickly.

The cost of fliers varies greatly depending on quantity; the greater the quantity, the lower the cost of printing. Keep in mind the cost of this advertising has to include the cost of distribution as well.

Direct Mail. With direct-mail advertising, it is extremely important to know your specific market area. Coupons are sent to residences in a specific zip code. Computerized facilities can easily generate the highest percentage of zip codes for their current tenants, and use that as their primary marketing area. With a manual bookkeeping system, it takes a little more research in order to target your main zip-code area, but once this is achieved, it will greatly enhance your advertising effectiveness.

Direct-mail advertising requires that you offer something free, such as 10 percent off the first month's rent. Offer only one special. Don't confuse the reader by offering a choice of 10 percent off the first month or a free lock.

Direct mail can be sent through bulk mail by a manager, or through a direct-mail company. Normally, it is more cost-effective to use a direct-mail company, when you take into consideration the printing costs, employee time, mailing and the bulk-mail permits. With the direct-mail company, the cost is all inclusive, and these tend to average as low as 3 cents per piece, up to approximately 6 cents, depending on the area and quantity mailed.

Coupon Tabloids. This type of advertising is similar to direct mail, but normally the marketing area is not as specific. The cost is generally lower than direct mail. Promoters of these periodicals say that because the tabloids contain coupons for numerous businesses, the time use is generally longer because people keep these periodicals for an extended period of time. Once again, with this type of advertising, you need to use something that can be tracked for response.

Special Community Events. Every community has some type of local event that offers an opportunity for additional advertising, i.e., the chamber of commerce, Rotary or Kiwanis clubs. Participation in community activities is especially advantageous in keeping the facility visible in your area.

Facilities have conducted canned-food drives in cooperation with local organizations. They might offer $1 off a month's rent per can, up to a 20-can maximum. Prior to the drive, send a press release to the local newspaper promoting the community service. Also, send an additional press release after the campaign is over, announcing the amount collected and thanking all those who participated.

Participation in special community events works exceptionally well in small urban areas, but also can work well in the larger cities where there are small neighborhood organizations or local business associations.

The High End

The more expensive range of advertising is the Yellow Pages. It's the best source of advertising and tends to be the most expensive. The bonus is that people who pick up the Yellow Pages are already in the process of selecting a facility; you don't have to sell them on self-storage. You do, however, have to sell them on your facility--setting yourself ahead of the competition.

Keep in mind that larger ads tend to attract more attention. Make sure you match or beat your competitors' ad size. If you decide to save money and go with a smaller ad, you may end up losing a lot of business in the long run. In some areas, larger Yellow Pages ads garner preferential placement in the directory. If you have two or more facilities, you might afford a larger space by listing them both in one ad.

Most areas have more than one directory available. Try to evaluate directories as if you were the end user. Before buying space, check out the circulation of each, when they are published, and if the listings are accurate, complete and up-to-date.

When designing the ad, you should include several items: a headline with a promise or location, because most readers want a business that is nearby; business name, logo, phone number and operating hours; one or two key selling points, such as "we can save you money" or "credit cards accepted"; confidence-building information, i.e., "established in 1984"; and a closing command that spurs the reader to action--such as "call today to save money." Keep it simple, concise and easy to read.

Remember: Advertising is only as good as the response it draws. No matter what type of advertising you use, make sure it is trackable, so you can keep score on its effectiveness. Always keep it simple, yet specific. If it works, use it again; expand on it. If it doesn't work, eliminate it. Always keep an open mind, be creative and willing to try something new.

This article was written by Mary Briggs for Kevin Howard Real Estate, a management, consulting, brokerage and development firm based in Portland, Ore. For more information, visit

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