All of us want a crystal ball to predict with absolute certainty our most profitable services. We want to know the hottest trends and which ancillary services will be viable in the future. There is no magical solution, but you can make wise choices by looking around your area. Notice traffic patterns, hard-to-find services and customer preferences. Then tailor your facilitys offerings to fit your target audience.

For example, at my company, we know our largest segment is males aged 36-45 years; 74 percent of all tenants live within 5 miles; half are moving, and the other half are long-term customers. About 20 percent of the client base is commercial, preferring facilities with hi-tech devices and automated systems.

In crafting a service program and determining products, you must know your customer. A successful plan also considers the following:

1) Each store is unique. What works at one may not be correct for another.
2) Retail items need great visibility to produce sales.
3) Know the area to stay ahead of the competition and predict which future services will be in demand.
4) Great customer service is always a factor.
5) Allocate appropriate resources of time and money.
6) Track activity to measure effectiveness.
7) Know your customers, and listen to their comments and suggestions; combine this input with local demographics to identify trends and create desirable programs.
8) Set budget targets for income and expenses, then measure the results.
9) Train and retrain staff.

A lot of successful planning is commonsense. If your store has poor drive-by visibility, then its retail sales wont compare to those of a facility next to a McDonalds. However, if you have the only contractor space offering easy entry for trucks and trailers, yours is a unique situation to market to the right prospects.

Get With the Times

Lets say you have a site with great visibility and access, and youre in the planning or remodeling stage. Todays consumers expect a facility that is upscale, high-tech, sturdy and rich with retail options. Consider these top amenities:

Drive-Thru Buildings. This is an immeasurable benefit in areas with extreme temperatures. Customers love to get out of the elements when moving loadsparticularly commercial tenants, who are often onsite. Also, moving companies will refer their clients to your facility because its easier for their staff.

One-way traffic flow is important. Youll need enough width (30 feet) and height (15 feet) to allow access to all users, especially moving vans, as well as 24-hour access and digital cameras.

To increase visibility in your drive-thru buildings, install glass-panel section doors like those used in car-dealership service lanes. They allow drivers to see what is on the other side of the door while they are in the building, and the view enhances peace of mind during after-hours access.

Drive-Thru Window. Make it easy for customers to drop off payments or rent another unit by adding drivethru window service. (Office configuration and street egress may determine feasibility for your facility.) Make sure the window can be seen by passersby to generate demand. If no one else in your market offers the service, advertise it as an exclusive benefit!

Glass Storefront. I cant say enough about the importance of an all-glass storefront to retail sales. Try to minimize mullions and wall partitions on the office side facing the street.

Laptop Work Stations and WiFi. Allow plenty of electrical outlets and multiple Internet connections. Outfit your entire site with wireless Internet access so reps can do online inventory reporting and check e-mail while in their unit.

Business Center and Conference Room. This should be free for customers and marketed to nonprofits and the public as available for a small fee. Offer print, fax, scan, color printing and enlargements, copying, etc., free to premium customers who pay extra for 24-hour access.

Coffee Bar and Neighborhood Board. Add the human touch to your high tech-environment by keeping hot coffee next to a business-card board. This is a great way to direct customers to various vendors, including those with loading services.

Click-to-Talk Button. Visitors to a facility website see a Push to Talk button on the left side; they click it, enter a phone number and almost instantly a manager calls to discuss their needs. I have an Australian client doing this. To see this cool feature, visit the website

System Displays and Controls. They are used at the managers desk to control the intercom, music, gate operation, DVR camera views, and allow remote communication with customers needing help in other buildings.

Electronic Locks for Multiple Users. On one of their newest sites, Bill Bohannan and Ray McRae of Arizona-based Storage Solutions have a remote-controlled electronic lock that can be activated from almost anywhere. Commercial users greatly appreciate the ability to easily program keyless entry.

Referral Programs. The best and brightest in our industry build their referral base to keep an unending supply of traffic coming through the door. We aim for a minimum of 30 percent of monthly business to come from repeats, referrals and marketing. Pay a referral fee (hand-deliver the check) to anyone who sends you a new customer.

Box Delivery. If you already offer a free move-in truck, why not deliver retail-box sales of more than $199 free within your service area? This keeps the truck out and about with everyone seeing your name. The order form can be on your website or faxed to you.

Other valuable ideas are self-serve kiosks, truck rentals, wine storage, and adding a digital-time and temperature display to your facility street sign to keep people looking at it. In this day and age, you want to offer web-based transactions enabling tenants to pay online; and you should also conduct e-mail marketing and invoicing. With web-based systems, you can also tie into third-party vendors for leasing and rentals.

Continuous Improvement

Even new stores need to be focused on continuous improvement. Evaluate your customers regularly and ask yourself what you can do to make them happier (and where theyd be willing to pay more).

In many affluent areas, service and convenience are worth far more than the rental charge for a storage room. Consider offering an Express Check-In and other privileges for premium-level renters. Gold-star customers deserve your best and will spread the word about your high-level customer care and benefits. Always look for something new to bolster profit. To reach into the future, pay attention to what others are doing, talk to your peers, tour other operators websites, and get out there and see for yourself what works. 

M. Anne Ballard is President of Atlanta-based Universal Management Co. (UMC), which provides global consulting for evaluations, feasibility studies, training and development services. The company also offers full-service fee management in the United States, where it manages more than 35 locations. For more information, visit

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