By Harley F. Rolfe
Your self-storage facility needs to be as enticing at its 15th birthday as the new customers coming to visit it. The facility must attract prospective tenants for decades. There's no sentiment among prospects.--they don't care that you have been paying your dues for a number of years.
The "newborn" facility will get attention just because of the bustle of new construction. Let's admit it: There is a lot of natural curiosity about a new project of any kind, which translates into the prospect focusing his attention away from you. Plus, the added prospect kicker: A new facility may mean deals. The more new facilities that appear, the greater the possibility that there will be discounting. You know it, the prospect knows it. Though no solace, you were once the new kid, and your facility once got its share of the attention. But that's no help now, is it? You still need to be signing up new tenants.
You can be "new" forever--that's the function of marketers. The key to appearing fresh in the market is to change. Change catches the eye. It's basic to the human psyche, which registers change and motion. We want to accommodate those human characteristics, make them work for us. Remember sales rule numero uno--get attention!
In previous articles, we mentioned that the two favorite promotion themes were "new" and "free." The great Chicago advertising innovator, Leo Burnett, first enunciated these. While you must make your changes relevant to the needs of each market segment, doing so is not difficult. What you're after is a series of announcements to continually remind your prospects there is always something interesting going on at your facility that is relevant to them.
Your product or service offering can and should consist of a lot more than just your physical plant. The trick is to renew your offerings, not your facility. There is a need to present to the market a fresh new face ... continuously. It is important for a couple of reasons: Current owners need to be attractive to the population of new users. Then, there is the need to be able show prospective facility buyers that they will be able to maintain and grow the income stream through the coming period of their ownership. The last thing the current owner needs is to have worked to get the facility income in good shape only to see the prospective buyer want to discount the capitalized value because he's convinced he can't improve revenue.
Of course, a buyer may use any pretext to get the price down but, fundamentally, he will buy if the price is correctly related to current income and he is convinced that he can grow the income into the future. He is not just buying your physical asset. What he really wants is an improving income stream. He needs to inherit a program that you have already installed, which is poised to deliver those revenue enhancements. How can he know this to be the case? Because it's working for you.
Mercifully, the least of the "age" problems is the physical deterioration of the plant. We're not confronted with pesky mechanical systems that get very expensive to live with or replace. We can keep the appearance of the place respectable, so you can concentrate on value-enhancing programs indefinitely.
In addition to the long-term effects of intelligent marketing are the short-term "bennies." On a day-to-day basis, marketing efforts are aimed at getting the prospect to include you on his short list of facilities when he gets ready to select a self-storage facility. How do you do that? Part of it is to recognize that the product you're selling is not confined to the bricks and mortar making up your facility.
The use of "packaging" gives you the chance to change and update your offerings to the various segments that utilize your facility. (I have taken the liberty of using some terms outlined in previous columns, which are available on the Web at www.hardnosed.com.You might wish to review specifically the March and May articles, which offer more orientation on the process of identifying segments and using packaging.) The units are in good physical shape. But you now need to adjust the various other things that you can wrap into your offerings. These "other things" depend on the segment with which you're dealing. Those changes become the source of your announcement of something new. Packaging is your "Fountain of Youth."
Next you must consider how to get the word out. It may be sufficient to use your packaging plan in responses to incoming calls generated by the Yellow Pages. You may be more aggressive in using other kinds of media. But preceding any of that is the need to create change and make relative offerings (as viewed by the prospect).
The bottom-line is that you have only four ways to respond in a competitive market: You can fight with price, keep lowering price or control the supply (be the only game in town). Or, you can engage in product differentiation. Packaging is one way to do that.
Some may feel this is not at all what they bargained for when they entered this business. I don't make the rules. I try to report them to you in a useful way. Take a look at the larger world. Look at the array of promotional activity using these approaches. Each supplier is vying with his competition, seeking to distinguish himself to prospects. The rules employed are rooted in our humanness and, as such, are universal.
If your facility is moving along OK, then by all means, don't get involved with marketing. It's a lot more trouble than working with a commodity. And trickier. As the old adage goes, "If it ain't broke..."
Missed some previous issues? Check the Web site at www.hardnosed.com, which has been modified to include a search engine. It permits you to locate an expanded discussion of certain terms or concepts as they appeared in the original nine-part series.
Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career included executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039. Further information can also be found in Mr. Harley's book Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.