By Harley Rolfe
Last month we discussed how developing convenience in our offerings might assist in our battle against competition. Recall that General Mills converts a few cents worth of commodity cake ingredients into $1.75 by selling the stuff mixed and packaged. This concept was radical when it was introduced 30 to 40 years ago, but now it's commonplace. Have you ever compared the price of a frozen dinner with the cost of its ingredients? What makes the public so willing to pay more? Convenience. Self-storage can market convenience, too. In doing so, we can bypass the competition.
We want the prospect to look at our product and say, "Oh, this is different." That difference needs to stop the prospect cold. Convenience does that. It is a separate product element that carries its own value.
Bumps in the Road
There are often a number of bumps in the road for a self-storage prospect. Creating convenience is the process of paving them over. In the broadest sense, we are trying to mitigate three things: buyer risk, plus the time and aggravation of doing unattractive things associated with the use of self-storage units. We know most buyers of self-storage are first-time users. So, let's look at the unattractive elements of self-storage we can eliminate for the prospect:
- Decisions: Making decisions when one doesn't know much about the ins and outs is not pleasant. No one likes to err even if on a small scale. The ideal situation would be for a prospect to have to know nothing except what he's trying to do. When a person makes a purchase, he trades a real asset (money) in exchange for a promise. He hopes the promise is kept, but must make the expenditure before he finds out. We want to take the concern out of his decisions.
- Effort: There is grubby "necessary evil" labor involved in the use of storage facilities. How can we help eliminate the manual labor involved?
- Time: Shopping takes time. We certainly want to relieve the prospect of that. Packing, loading, carting, etc., takes time. Saving users time--in any form--will unfailingly signal to them that we offer something special.
- Correct mix, proportions: How big a truck? How large a unit? How long will I need it? How much packing material do I need? How much loading/unloading help will I need, and where will I get it? These are problems the self-storage operator can eliminate for the prospect who doesn't want to learn much or run around trying to find what he needs.
- Special knowledge, tools, materials: Kits or packages often work because certain needs require specialty tools the subject doesn't have. Those items can be provided, allowing the buyer to do something that might be difficult otherwise. Packing materials, dollies, carts and rental trucks are examples of items that can be provided for self-storage situations.
- Rationale: Most people don't like to admit they will pay a premium for convenience. It would make them seem lazy. They want the convenience and will pay for it, but will use a "cover" to avoid admitting they are paying a big price for it. We marketers must arrange our offering such that it can be justified on some other basis than simple convenience.
Lemonade From Lemons
Some combination of the above elements is faced by the user in the process of renting a self-storage unit. Our mission? To reduce to zero the negative elements in the purchase and use of self-storage. And we'll try to do it for one price. How? By first identifying all the steps a prospect doesn't want but must endure. Then we methodically eliminate each of them. Either by doing it yourself or through collaboration, you will vastly simplify the process the prospect goes through to achieve his end. He simply pays one lump sum and gets his job done.
To operate in this fashion requires comprehensive knowledge of user habits. For instance, various market segments have a characteristic storage interval. To know what it is, you must know what the prospect is up to. Let's say the prospect is moving from one residence to another. Here, typically, the interval is a matter of a few months. It is different for the lawyer, doctor or bank that uses us for records storage. Their need is ongoing. It is still different for the interior designer who needs to strip and store the restaurant fixtures while he renovates. And the list goes on.
Savvy marketers will catalog each of those segments (there could be quite a few) and design a set of packages for each. Your measure of success is your ability to reduce the obstacles the prospect must overcome--and offer the package most suitable for his needs. Inherent in the self-storage situation, for example, is transportation in some form, so the most basic packages will probably integrate those two elements. Anything additional will depend on what is needed to tailor the offering to the user segment/use.
What's the Big Deal?
Some may say, "I already offer packing materials and rental trucks. What's so different about this approach?" Simply this: The prospect must still make decisions about how big, for how long, how many, etc. He doesn't know and doesn't want to know. You do. You must relieve him of his discomfort and reduce his decision to the one that solves his problem. You are assuming more responsibility--and get enhanced rewards for doing so. You also obviate the competition because your offerings are clearly not the same as the others'.
Everybody's Doin' it...
Since I began publishing these "Hard-Nosed Marketing" columns two years ago, we have been discussing fundamental market stances. We indicated there were only three broad possibilities: You can control the supply; you can accept price competition as your way of life; or you can engage in product differentiation. The latter is the choice for most suppliers in any competitive market. There is nothing particularly original in these suggestions. The advent of competition dictates the need for differentiation--as well as the need for adding convenience to our offerings.
Missed some previous issues? Check the web at www.hardnosed.com.
Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includes 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.