By Richard C. Dennis
The suggestions offered in this article are dedicated to managers, new and experienced, who are willing to pick up even one tidbit that may help them rent an extra storage unit or two per week or month. I will feel I have achieved something for my fellow managers if I can accomplish that feat.
For Managers Only
Managing self-storage facilities can be a comparatively stress-free position, but one of the more difficult parts of this business is salesmanship. There are not many of us who take to the chore of "selling" to a prospective tenant easily. To some, that part of this business can be very stressful. Dare I say, there are some managers out there who reluctantly do any more than disclose what is available and show storage units to prospective tenants if they come in. From that point, they let the prospect decide if he wants to rent a unit when, actually, the manager should be helping the prospect to decide, steering him in the right direction.
But first, the telephone. The odds are less than 30 percent that you will close on a prospect by talking to him over the phone. The odds jump to more than 90 percent once he is in your office. Therefore, your mission, should you accept it: Bring the phone shopper into your office--surely not too much of a mission impossible.
When the prospect calls you comparing prices with your competitors, your cheery voice certainly will catch his ear. Subconsciously, he is going to give value to the warmth of your greeting so that, even if your prices may be a little higher than your competitor down the block, he will want to come in to see your facility and what you have to offer. On the phone, you will want to roll out your big guns.
Tell the prospect what your specials are. If there are none, point out the benefits of your facility. Yes, there are "pricers" who believe only the lowest price matters. They do not realize the many benefits a self-storage facility may offer.
When the client walks in, put that dour, sour face in your pocket. It goes a long way toward making the prospect standoffish and defensive. He is only mirroring what is reflected on your side of the counter. When the prospect walks in, it means your phone presence did most of its work. Good. Now he is going to expect to see a cheery, smiley face, so don't disappoint him. Show your pearly whites as you greet the prospect. An outstretched hand of welcome is also nice.
Get to know the prospect. Ask his name, and use it constantly. There is no better way to ingratiate yourself than to use a prospect's name. People like to hear their name--it short-circuits any reticence or belligerence that might be forming in their mind. It shows that you care. While convenience of the location is the prime reason people consider your facility for renting, your cordiality and personality is the next probable reason why a prospect will or will not rent with you.
We have all met the antsy type. He would rather be having a root canal than to be standing there talking to you. He is the person looking down his nose at you. He can't be bothered with details: what your facility has to offer, how your access gate opens with a code, that your contract calls for a reasonable vacating notice, that there is a late fee if the rent is not paid on time, that you require the unit be left as clean as it was when he received it. He just wants a storage space on his own terms and conditions.
Don't let this character run the ballgame. Be polite but assertive. Keep asking questions to help you control the situation. Ask for his identification or driver's license. How did he hear about your facility? Is there going to be anyone else who will have access to the unit? How long does he anticipate staying? How is he expecting to pay? Would he like to use a credit card with which to automatically pay each month?
When he asks a question, answer it and ask one of your own to regain control of the situation. Do not let your prospect dictate to you. If he attempts that tactic, you should politely correct him and indicate your company's policy does not provide for his request. Then ask another question. Each question you ask is designed to eventually get the prospect to initial and sign your company's contract and make sure that every page is properly filled in. If you've put your best foot forward--personally and for the facility--you've won over the prospect.
Things to Look Out For
Yes, it does take a degree of salesmanship when encouraging the prospective tenant to become a paying tenant. So, when showing the prospect a storage unit--and you'll probably show him more than one--start with the smaller size and work your way up to the largest.
By the way, the more units you show to the prospect, the less likely he is going to be a paying tenant--he's probably a tire-kicker or scouting around to open up his own self-storage complex. It could also mean you didn't do some salesmanship in the office before you took the prospect out. There is no reason why you can't help narrow the tour down to a precious two or three sizes suitable to the prospect's needs.
The most common excuse a "scout" gives to find out all he can about the prices and sizes of your facility is that he has a large home or both a home and office and isn't sure if he wants a small size or large. He wants you to provide all the sizes and prices he can get. But keep in mind: Your facility's owner is not in the business of helping others become his competitor.
You should always try to close your prospective tenant. How do you do that? While you are escorting the prospect to a unit, you should be extolling all the virtues and benefits your storage facility has to offer. Point out the keypads that add to the security of the facility, the new roofs on the units, the clean exteriors--and emphasize that fact by stopping and picking up a cigarette butt or piece of paper, imaginary or otherwise. Make the prospect feel your facility would be an ideal, clean and secure place for him to store his goods.
Now that you have helped him narrow down his choices in the office, you constantly but subtly ask for the order, asking one of the following (or some variation):
- Do you think your goods will fit in here?
- The ceiling height should accommodate more than you anticipate, right?
- Do you think judicious packing and stacking will make this unit ideal for you?
- Do you have your own lock with you? If not, you'll find our prices are very reasonable.
- I'll take our lock off so you can put yours on, OK?
After asking one of the above questions, commence closing the door to the unit in anticipation of returning to the office. Finally, ask the prospect, "Is this the unit we want for you?" If you moved up in size as you showed your prospect and have asked your closing questions, you probably have a new tenant.
During the course of your conversation with the new tenant, you have made your talk light. The banter was jovial but businesslike. While you were explaining company policy and what is expected from the tenant, you made sure to have a set mental script you followed. If you have even just a touch of show business in you, you brought it out. It helped you. You're were on stage. Like a standup comedian, you presented your lines and, if it brought a smile or a chuckle to your tenant, all the better. It served to disarm him. It didn't matter if you had heard all your lines before--your prospect had not, and that is what you, as a performer, bank on to win over an audience.
Whether it is a single person or a couple with their kids and/or relatives, you had an audience. So, yes, you were performing. You could say you were in show business. And everything you did or said was designed to close on your prospective tenant.
Semi-retired from 30 years as a California broker in most phases of real estate and other entrepreneurial enterprises, Richard C. Dennis has applied his closing technique as a self-storage manager with his wife, Barbara. Together, they manage Brook-ridge Self Storage in Englewood, Colo.