You've invested a ton of money in your storage facility and it's going to open soon. "Soon" could be in the next 10, 30, 90 or even 120 days or more. What do you need to do to make sure your facility fills as quickly as possible when you do open?
About three years ago, a woman told me a very interesting story. She and her husband had put their life savings into building a storage facility. The idea was for him to manage and for her to handle the operations and "back office" functions. As bad luck would have it, her husband died of a heart attack about six weeks before the facility was due to open. Her oldest son, a senior in college, was called to help, and the two of them set about making the facility a success. They did everything I'll mention in this article and more. The net result? In less than five months they had rented 348 of 450 units. This is substantially faster than the average. How did it happen? It's very simple. They believed it to be the standard.
Many of you have been told it will take you anywhere from 18 to 24 months to get a facility 90 percent occupied. But no one communicated this to the woman in the above story. She told me that at the time, she thought the facility should be filled in 90 days. As far as she was concerned, she was doing a lousy job. The moral of the story? Make a commitment to get your facility filled in nine to 12 months. Adopt this mentality and make it happen. It can be done! Here are some of the things you need to do to jump-start your new facility:
Create a Plan
First, you'll need a written plan with some very specific numbers attached to it. If your goal is to be 90 percent rented in 12 months and you have a 500-unit facility, you'll need to rent about 40 units a month. Make this your quota. Don't let yourself go to sleep at night until you get there. Your written plan will also consist of many action steps you will take before your facility opens.
If you take the following advice, you'll have a surge of renters when you first open--but don't get complacent. If you rent 50 units your first month, don't tell yourself you only need to rent 30 the following month. Things will slow down on their own.
Locate Centers of Influence
A center of influence is anyone who has the ability to refer people to your facility. This would include apartment and condominium managers and any employees at real estate offices, truck-rental dealers, laundromats and marinas--anyone who might be asked by a prospective renter where he can go to rent a storage unit.
Take out your map and draw concentric circles around your facility. Start with one mile and go all the way to three or four miles. If you're in a rural community, double that distance. Start with people in the one-mile zone. Go to them right away, no matter how far away your opening is. And don't go there just once and think your job is done. Keep going back to them every month to keep them posted as to when they can start sending people your way.
Get to know these people and get them to like you. Each time, bring them something of modest value as a gift. More important, prepare a report for them to give people interested in renting. This "free report" should be in their hands anywhere from 30 to 60 days before you open and should be a fact-filled guide educating people on all aspects of storage. Keep it to a maximum of 32 pages. It should also contain a coupon good for $10 or $20 off A first-month's rent. The coupon should be coded so you know who sent this particular referral.
Where do you get the content for this report? Go online and find anything and everything you can. Remember, if you take one person's work and copy it, it's plagiarism; if you take five peoples' work and copy it, it's research! On a serious note, be sure to put things in your own words. People cannot copyright ideas, only the specific means and wording with which they express them.
When the people start coming to rent as a result of this marketing method, immediately go and thank the person who sent the renters your way. Thank them verbally and with some kind of a gift. Cash is great, but I prefer something with high perceived value they will keep. A good example is a nice picture frame, which can be used and kept on a desk as a constant reminder of your generosity.
Before you open, alert the media. Have the radio stations ready to do live remotes from your facility during opening week. Send out press releases to TV stations and local press well in advance of the opening date. Look for "hooks" in the news of which you can take advantage. For example, let's say you hear a story on the national news having to do with storage. You can call the local media to make a comment. News people are always looking for a local angle. Just make sure they know who you are, where your facility will be opening and when. You can visit www.radiopublicity.com for some tips.
Target and Visit Businesses in Your Area
Again, working in concentric circles outward from your location, visit the businesses in your area. Why? Commercial tenants are the best. They generally stay twice as long and tolerate price increases much better than residential customers.
Put together a brochure targeting the business owner. I'd recommend using one that can be customized for each business group you approach. An example would be to convert your "generic" business brochure to one geared toward the fast-food operators in the area. Another group might be retail stores. Research each group and discover its greatest need for storage. How? Visit them personally and ask. Do this anywhere from 60 to 120 days before you open. Again, keep in regular contact with these folks--once a month is best. Keep good notes on each place you visit.
Go around to all of the neighborhoods in your area and conduct a survey. Ask people questions about their storage needs. Afterward, give them a small gift. What would that be? The same gift you gave to the centers of influence to distribute: a free storage report with a coupon.
If you go around to the communities in your area, you'll learn a lot about your market. You'll learn more from completing this exercise than anything else you could possibly do. Why do you think politicians campaign door to door? Because retail campaigning works. If it works for them, it will work for you and your facility. When should you do this? Anywhere from 90 to 120 days before opening. Send people reminder postcards after you've talked to them.
A staff that is properly trained using professional training material will have a big impact on your results. If you attract a lot of people to your facility but you have weak people answering the phones and giving tours, you've wasted your efforts. Instead, create a staff who will know exactly what to do when people call or walk in.
Is all this work? Yes. Is it a lot of work? Yes and no. If you think your facility will fill up on its own without any work, you live on the wrong planet. Even if you're in a "hot" market, you can still increase your rents faster than you thought you'd be able. If you fill up quickly, all it means is you'll be able to start charging more money. If your goal is to have an average facility, disregard this article. If your goal is to have a massively profitable facility as quickly as possible, you now have the tools!
Spend some time, energy and money premarketing your facility before opening and you'll fill up faster. About the woman I mentioned above: The word is her facility was filling up so quickly the size of her bank deposits raised suspicions at the bank. They called the authorities to alert them they thought some "funny business" might be going on! The only funny business was a woman with her back to the wall who had no idea how long it should take to fill up and was marketing the crud out of her facility. If she can do it, you can, too.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit-maximization consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! as well as the producer of the only professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to [email protected]. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail [email protected].