By Pamela Alton
"I want a manager that knows how to market my facility." How many times have we heard that statement? With ever-increasing competition in the self-storage industry, on-site managers are expected to do outside marketing, but what is marketing? Webster's Dictionary defines marketing as the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market. We know what our market is, but what actions must we take in order to sell our goods or services? A marketing plan should address:
- The location and curb appeal of your facility;
- The on-site manager's attitude, appearance, sales and customer-service abilities;
- Auxiliary retail items for sale;
- A referral program; and
- Advertising or promotional items used in conjunction with a follow-up program.
Location and Curb Appeal
You may not be able to control the location, road frontage, signage, etc., of your facility, but you can control its cleanliness, curb appeal, the lighting of your signage and the area in which you choose to market.
Banners should be clean and rotated on a regular basis. If you are restricted from using such items in your area, purchase a large American or state flag and fly it on the highest flag pole allowed per your city ordinance. Banners and flags draw attention to your facility. They should match the primary color used at your facility, such as the one used for your roll-up doors.
By keeping your golf cart, grounds, office and restroom neat and clean, your facility can be the best one in your area, and this will give you the confidence to sell your facility over the telephone.
Manager's Attitude, Appearance, Sales Ability and Customer-Service Skills
A manager must have a positive attitude in order to market or sell your goods or services. This is not always an easy task to achieve. Sometimes you have just had a tenant screaming at you because his gate code didn't work, or his bill was past due and he wanted you to waive a late fee and you stood your ground. You should not take these situations personally or allow them to effect you in a negative way. Always try to keep an up-beat attitude. For every tenant that gives you a hard time, there are four or five that appreciate your willingness to help them, and that is what makes your job exciting and rewarding. Always try to improve your telephone, customer-service or marketing skills. Be committed to servicing your tenants and finding new ones. If you do not provide friendly, prompt service to your tenants, they will not come back to your facility again, nor will they refer people to you.
Your first contact with a prospective customer will most likely be via telephone. That is why you must pay attention to your telephone sales techniques and continually evaluate and re-evaluate your own and your relief manager's sales performance. If your company uses an outside telephone shopping company, you should be supplied with a telephone script. Keep it near your telephone and use it. It will help keep you focused on your telephone technique to make each call count.
The way you dress at work will make a difference in the way people perceive you and the facility when they come to rent a unit. If you are wearing old, worn jeans, a holey T-shirt, curlers in your hair, house slippers, etc., potential customers will think that if you don't care about your appearance, then you certainly won't care much about the maintenance or security of your facility. You should show up at work freshly showered, dressed professionally in a clean uniform--such as a polo shirt that matches the color of your roll-up doors, a smock or cobbler's apron, and neutral-colored slacks, pants or skirt--and be ready to greet the public with a smile on your face.
Offer billing and credit-card processing at your facility for your tenants' convenience. Accept deliveries (with a written release of liability disclaimer), offer a free truck for move-in and ask for referrals from your existing tenants.
Auxiliary and Retail Items for Sale
Besides storage space, customers should be able to enjoy "one-stop shopping" at your facility, meaning they can purchase a lock, moving boxes and packing supplies. You should have these items neatly displayed in a retail center, such as a revolving or wall rack. Boxes should be put together (so people can judge their sizes) and stacked neatly on top of each other, with prices clearly marked. Typically, you should double your costs of these items to get the retail price.
Consider offering mailbox rentals, FedEx or UPS services. Some people will come to your facility just to use these services or purchase items and never rent a unit. Offering these services will bring in added revenue. Other related items could include rental trucks. By offering this service at your site, you will have access to people who would not otherwise come to your facility, but just come to rent a truck. However, if they ever have storage needs and you have offered them friendly customer service, they will come back and rent from you.
Yellow Pages Ad and Other Promotional Items
Your largest advertising or marketing dollar should be spent on your Yellow Pages ad, so make it count. A full-page ad could cost $1,800 or more per month, which is why your telephone closing techniques are so important. Statistics tell us that, typically, a perspective tenant will call four ads before they choose the site at which to rent. Hence, logic tells us that you do not have to be the first ad in the storage section. Of course, the larger the ad, the more visible it will be. Don't expect your new facility to be full in six months when you have an eighth-of-a-page ad. Use graphics or photos. Let a picture or graphic speak 1,000 words for you.
A large map showing people where you are located is a must. Personally, I don't think you should waste your money on colored ink such as red or blue print, or white background. Spend the extra money to enlarge the size of your ad. If you accept charge cards or have rental trucks, extended access hours, door alarms or video cameras, state that in your ad. Consider having a graphics professional design the ad for you if you don't have artistic talents. When placing your ad, you may want to contact a national Yellow Pages advertiser that groups several ads together to receive a discount.
Other promotional items could be free gifts in the form of magnets, pens, key chains, letter openers, etc. These items could be used for trade fairs, door-to-door sales, chamber of commerce mail-outs and welcome-wagon gifts. They can also be given out to apartment managers, mobile-home-park managers, retirement-home managers, contacts, colleges, military bases, real-estate agents or current clients. These items could cost as little as 25 cents, or as much as $5 an item.
Occasionally, you may need to market your facility in other advertising mediums, such as radio, the Pennysaver, Auto Ad, Coupon Clipper or a newspaper. You need to decide what your market target area is before designing a flier ad. A college town will market to a different clientele than an area populated by several apartment complexes. The cost of these ads will vary, depending upon circulation and ad size.
Attracting Commercial Business
Business or commercial storage could make up more than 50 percent of your tenant base. These are usually good paying tenants, and they seem to store longer than the average person storing household items. Besides your normal avenues of advertising, there are several things you can do to attract businesses to store with you. A flier or postcard can be designed for record or excess office items and mailed to accountants, dentists, retail stores, attorneys, hospitals, small offices, doctors, computer companies, restaurants (non-food items) and so on. These people are likely to take your smaller 5-by-5- to 10-by-10-foot units. Check in the local newspaper under the service directory for electricians, gardeners/landscapers, plumbers, handymen, contractors or construction companies. These people will normally take your larger 10-by-15-, 10-by-20- or 10-by-30-foot units.
Marketing Follow-Up and Referral Program
Marketing is a program of consistency. You can't do it once and expect a return, especially when it comes to flier or postcard distribution. This should be done again and again. In real estate this is called "farming"--you plant the seeds of interest and they will grow. By keeping your face and name in the public eye, when people need storage, it's you they will call. Design a marketing checklist to keep you focused. List the names, addresses and phone numbers of your contacts, when you last saw them, what marketing item you used and when you are to follow-up again. When someone does rent from you, find out how they heard about your facility. You need to know which marketing efforts are working and which are not.
Once you have contacted the local apartment, mobile-home, condo or retirement community, follow up in a week or so by dropping off a small vase of carnations with your business card. Tell them you received a rental from their complex last week--whether you did or not--and you just wanted to say "thank you." Those flowers will sit on their desk for a week, and every time they look at it, they will remember you and your facility. All of a sudden, your referral program becomes real. The same principal will apply if you take a pizza and some sodas, or give the manager a referral fee.
We have all heard of "tell-a-friend" programs, where your current or past tenants refer someone to you and receive some sort of discount on their rent. Be sure you keep track of this by using a coupon or flier and attach it to the new tenant lease. Always ask for referrals wherever you go.
Marketing Is an Attitude
Marketing is not just placing an ad in your Yellow Pages. It is an attitude, a way of thinking about business. Always try to create a clean and professional appearance for yourself and your facility. After all, you are your facility to the community. Try to keep a positive attitude and think marketing all the time. Be consistent in your efforts and follow up to see how your efforts are paying off. And be flexible. If something is just not working, try something else. Your marketing efforts should pay off through increased rentals and income at your facility, which in turn could mean an increase in your paycheck.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, one of the industry's largest nationwide manager-placement services. Mini-management also offers policy and procedures manuals, sales and marketing training manuals, inspections and audits, consulting, telephone shopping and training seminars. For more information on the services offered by Mini-Management, call (800) 646-4648.