Rick Crumley has spent the past 17 years working in the communications industry. He has spent five years in the self-storage business, including a partnership with Eddie Bell running Lubbock, Texas-based Magnetic Marketing as well as two storage facilities in Texas. Crumley and Bell's newest venture, yourstoragenamehere.com, is a website-development and hosting service specializing in complete and interactive websites for self-storage facilities. The company is an offshoot from Magnetic Marketing, best known for its Rent Reminder Magnets now used by thousands of storage facilities nationwide.
Inside Self-Storage is now pleased to present an interview with Rick Crumley...
What background do you have in the storage business?
I've been involved in all phases of the self-storage business, including design, construction and facility operation. In fact, the sample storage facility you see when you visit yourstoragenamehere.com is our latest facility, the South Loop Storage Zone in Lubbock, Texas. I've also attended many of the industry trade shows and seminars, both as a vendor and facility owner.
How is the Internet currently being utilized by the self-storage industry?
Most storage facilities now have listings on directory-type websites. These sites guide potential renters to a list of available facilities, usually by searching for a city or zip code. These directories are very useful, and it is important to be listed with them. Other facilities have their own websites, which would include the larger operators and chains.
How do you see that changing over the next one to two years?
I still have contacts in the communications industry, and I'm hearing a lot of information about phone and cable utilities devoting vast amounts of resources to what they call "the last mile," which means providing digital or high-speed access to individual homes or offices. It's already available in the form of cable modems, and ISDN and DSL lines in a lot of places. Many companies are battling now to establish their presence on the Internet because they know consumers will use this resource. In the next couple of years, I think self-storage operators will also need to establish their own personal presence on the Internet because customers will soon just expect them to be there.
How did the idea for yourstorage namehere.com come about?
We've personally used the Internet for years to do research and conduct business, and we understand what an important tool it can be if used properly. The idea for our service came about while developing websites for our own storage facilities. In doing research, we discovered the majority of self-storage facilities, excluding the big chains and franchises, do not have websites. Also, most of the operators that are on the Internet do not even own their domain name.
Why does a storage facility need a website?
Most potential customers want information before making a purchase. They look in the Yellow Pages, usually call the storage facilities closest to them, then make a decision to come out and rent based on what they've learned. This is not likely to change; however, they can only call during business hours. A storage facility with a good website is open 24 hours a day. Your site can be the perfect sales pitch every time, and you can offer timely specials that change with your demand. No Yellow Pages ad can do that. We have designed storage websites structured to give customers--and potential customers--the information we know they want based on our own experience as facility operators.
What services does the company provide?
A good website requires a lot of information to be useful. We've set up a process to collect that information, using simple step-by-step forms, tips and instructions. With this information, we design and publish a facility's site on the Internet. We also reserve the facility's domain name (or Internet address) so, just like a phone number, they basically own it. And, finally, we host and handle updates to each site, which will be available on our servers for all to view 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
How are your web-design services different from others?
There's an abundance of excellent web-design companies to choose from out there. However, most don't know anything about your business, so you're paying for them to learn. They also design for a wide variety of companies, so they start with a blank page when designing a site. On the other hand, we know the storage business. We know what information a site should include and have designed templates to speed up the implementation of the site. You still have control over the colors and styles that give your site personality, but why re-invent the wheel? By doing this and utilizing technology, we can give our customers effective, well-designed Web sites for a lot less than they would expect to pay elsewhere.
Why not just use one of the existing storage directories that are available for free? Why invest in a full-fledged website?
I think directories are great resources for potential tenants, but most directories are designed to help locate you from a distance. We know the average storage customer lives within a three- to five-mile radius of our facility and will never use the Internet to look us up. They will, however, visit a website address they've seen in the Yellow Pages or heard about in an ad, especially if it's afterhours and they can't call around. And to get the most effective use out of a website, you need to include all the kinds of information a potential tenant is wanting when they look you up. For example, our websites provide an online tour. This is accomplished with pictures and short descriptions showing off your facility step by step, just as you would if they had come out to your office. We know from experience that the chances of closing the rental are much greater if the customer visits the property, but if they can't, why not give them the next best thing?
Another very important reason to have your own website is to control your own domain name. Abcstorage.com is an example of a domain name. When you register a domain, you own it much like a telephone number. And just as dialing a telephone number is the way you can be reached by phone, typing in your domain name on the Internet is the way someone reaches your website. So you can see that it's very important to control your own Internet address, especially if you plan on putting it in printed advertising.
How is a storage website promoted once it's on the Internet?
We submit each site to all the major search engines on the Internet. We suggest registering a site with all the storage-related directories available. Most are free, and you can include a link to your site. However, the most important thing for a facility to do is list its Internet address in all of its advertising, such as Yellow Pages, business cards, fliers, signs, radio and anything else you can think of.
How does a website differ from regular advertising like the Yellow Pages?
A website is interactive and provides space to give customers useful information that a Yellow Pages ad just doesn't have. The tour I talked about before is one example of a feature you can offer. Another good example is showing unit sizes. You can list sizes in a Yellow Pages ad, but that doesn't mean a whole lot to some customers. On your website, you can show them you have 5-by-10s and that the units are about the same size as a large walk-in closet. They understand--it's something they can visualize. Finally, it's very easy to change a website. If your office hours change--no problem, just update your site. If you have a particular unit size that's not renting, offer a special discounted rate to see if that helps. Need to run a special in April for university student summer storage? Just add a coupon to the site. The possibilities are endless.
Are storage websites expensive to implement and maintain?
We've set up a system to design a site and register its domain name for a low one-time setup fee. We then provide hosting and make any monthly updates requested for about the cost of what most facilities charge for one of their smaller rental units. We also offer affordable rate structures for facilities with multiple locations.
What does the future look like for self-storage and Internet marketing?
The future looks very bright for the Internet and storage facilities that learn to utilize it properly. I think in the very competitive storage market of today and tomorrow, it's what you do better than the facility around the corner that will justify higher rental rates and help you maintain high occupancies. And I think a well- organized website providing useful information to your customers is one small, inexpensive part of doing it better.