Retail Results: Getting to Know All About Them

An old friend and customer asked me how he could improve his retail marketing. I said, First, get to know your customer. Its surprising how many self-storage operators dont really know who their tenants are. If they are a mystery to you, making sure they stick around and getting more in your facility sure wont be easy.

For example, while you may be able to distinguish your commercial and residential customers, can you identify the three largest categories among your commercial tenants? What do you know about their businesses? Are they seasonal? Is their market area local? How often do they visit their storage units? Who makes the visit and what time of day? Are the owners and employees more comfortable with a language other than English?

And what do your residential customers have in common? What are their demographicsage, race, income level, etc.? Why do they need storage space and for how long?

As my friend and I continued our discussion, another question occurred to me: Do you know enough about your customers to attract more of the same kind, and sell them ancillary products or services?

Thats when our conversation turned to sleuthing. We knew we needed to identify ways to get answers, and how to use the information. Our first decision was to send every customer a survey asking no more than six important questions with simple check the box answers. To entice people to response, each entry was entered into a sweepstakes for moderately priced prizes. (The promise of a coupon for discounted goods or services would have worked as well.) 

Survey results revealed lawn-care and remodeling businesses comprised a significant portion of commercial tenants. A second survey, made by phone to loyal customers, indicated facility location, pricing and ease of access were favorite features. Based on the feedback, my friend sent a mailer stressing those advantages to all the lawn-care and remodeling businesses in his area, generating new business that more than paid for his investment.

Next, my buddy did some onsite marketing to this same group of commercial tenants. Hed observed that most of them visited their lockers in the early morning and preferred to speak Spanish, so he posted signs in Spanish, thanking them for their business and inviting them to enjoy free coffee in the office. After a pit stop at the office became a client norm, the facility organized other sweepstakes at the coffee-service counter with entry forms and surveys asking more questions. In time, my friend became a wizard at making friends and learning about their businesses. He added many new customers and expanded his merchandise to include grosses of gloves, dust masks, ear plugs and safety glasses.

And what about the residential customers? Though the survey couldnt identify a common reason for their storage rental, my friend did discover many of them lived in apartments or were in the midst of real estate transactions. Consequently, he called local Realtors and convinced them to keep a supply of his brochures on hand. He also hired a mailing firm to contact apartment complexes in the area. To enrich his data, decided to include past customers in future surveys.

With apologies to those with marketing degrees who will doubtless find flaws in our seat-of-the-pants approach to research, I think most of you have enough sales savvy to get my point. A keen insight into prospects helps stimulate new business. So start asking questions. The answers are out there. 

Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Extra Space Storage, Uncle Bobs Self Storage, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinkos and Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.

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