Signs of the Times

I recently visited  two self-storage businesses that were similar yet very different. The owners were smart, hard-working and ambitious. The facilities were well-located, and their sizes and pricing equal. And theyd been in business the same length of time. But at one store, most of the units were rented and the owner spoke of opening another facility. The other said business was just OK. He was wondering whether going into self-storage had been a mistake.

There was another fundamental difference: The more successful facility had great retail sales. I mentioned to the struggling owner how nice the office looked at the competing site. He said, Yeah, when Im doing better, I may spruce up my place, too. I suggested that making a good first impression was something that shouldnt be left for later (and assured him I wasnt just trying to sell him merchandise!).

I reminded him that lot of his customers are probably using self-storage for the first time. People feel most comfortable at chain stores, restaurants and gas stations, even if theyre visiting a place thats new to them. Why? Because of the way the place looks. Im no expert on interior design, but I have learned that a neat, bright, store-like setting not only conveys a professional image, it puts customers at ease because it seems familiar.

Show me a Sign

Professional signage also plays an important role. Major retailers use exterior signage to trigger an immediate response in customers. Popular choices are enticements like Back to School Sale and Two-for-One Sale. While many self-storage facilities advertise with signs that read, We Sell Boxes, how many use ones that say, Moving, Shipping and Storage Supplies or Garage Organizer Sale? Signs should promote your products and services in terms of how they relate to consumer use.

Interior signage, on the other hand, is meant to steer sales. Take, for example, signs that persuade you to do something: Super Size It! or Try Our New Desserts. Studies have shown that featured products sell even without sale pricing. Want to sell more than locks? Feature kits with boxes, tape, packing materials and labels for one package price. And the price, mind you, doesnt have to be discounted. It must, however, be well-displayed and properly promoted with signs.

Sign me up

What types of signs look best to you? If youre like most people, hand-written signs (and the products they feature) come across as low-quality. A store dotted with handmade signs looks like a rummage sale; and a self-service business with shabby signage looks unprofessional. To inspire confidence in your customers, follow these simple rules:

  1. Convert your office into a store. People are more comfortable in a retail environment than an office, so use your products to create a more familiar atmosphere.
  2. Consider your retail products, displays and signage as decor. In the interest of consistency, buy these items from no more than one or two sources.
  3. Get free merchandising ideas from your products supplier. The best vendors provide plan-o-grams that identify what to stock and how to arrange it on displays. Do not leave this task to your employees.
  4. Use displays and signs that look good together. When in doubt, ask your merchandise supplier.
  5. Get the opinion of friends. Ask people who are not in the business to critique your store. It might give you a fresh perspective.

Finally, its hard to convince customers you run a tight ship if your premises are not shipshape. Its just smart business to look every bit as good as you really are. Remember, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.

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 Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinkos and The UPS Store/Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.

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