By Tammy Ross
One of the most commonly asked questions in this industry is, "How do we attract customers to our stores?" The more important question is, "What makes them stay?" The answer may be much simpler than you think, although this does not mean it will be an easy task.
The first step you will need to take is to evaluate your facility and the surrounding market. Begin by viewing your property as a retail establishment where you provide a service. Get away from referring to it as a mini-warehouse, lockers or sheds. This shift in thinking should carry over into all aspects of your business plan with special attention being paid to marketing concepts and hiring. Professionally training your managers will make an enormous difference in the success of your facility.
Answers to the following questions will provide some valuable insight and assist you in creating a plan to increase your customer base and maintain your current tenants--even if a new superfacility moves in around the corner.
1. How many phone calls inquiring about storage do you receive each month? If you do not know the answer to this question, you should immediately start a phone log to record each call, the customer's name, the unit size requested, and if a unit was rented.
2. Of those calls, how many result in rentals? And where are those calls coming from?
3. Are your managers trained properly in the way you expect the phone to be answered? If you answered "yes" to this question, how do you know? The most effective way is to utilize a mystery call service to evaluate managers' performance. When you receive this information, you should immediately review it with each employee. Be sure to set monthly goals for improvement.
4. Are you competitive in your market? For example, what are your office hours? Do you offer security gates, alarms, cameras, on-site managers, moving supplies and climate-controlled units? And are you selling those features and benefits on each and every phone call?
5. What makes your facility stand out from the rest? If you do not have an answer to this question, begin thinking of something you can do to accomplish this.
6. Is the property effectively and professionally managed? If you are not currently using a management company, are you really devoting the kind of time needed to keep the facility operating on the cutting edge?
Once you've established honest answers to these questions, you can begin to formulate your plan. Determining how to proceed and executing items in the correct order will eliminate major mistakes and wasted time. For example, if you are receiving an adequate number of phone calls--let's say 100 calls per month--and you are converting just 15 of those calls into rentals, you might want to implement an aggressive phone sales training program. On the other hand, if you are converting 15 calls but only getting 20 phone inquiries, you should consider some type of outside marketing.
Remember to be wise when selecting the type of advertising to use. Know where your tenants are coming from and concentrate on that area. Television and radio ads cover a very large area and can be quite costly when all you may be looking to do is draw from a three-mile radius around your store. Creativity and simplicity in constructing your marketing strategy will help you achieve top results. Don't be afraid to admit when you have made a mistake, and don't hang on to something that isn't working.
To help you get started, consider these marketing ideas and then come up with some of your own. Be sure to talk with your property managers and get their input. They normally have great ideas.
- Direct-mail fliers
- Flags, banners
- Referral programs
- Sandwich-board signs
- New signage
- Commercial-tenant-only specials
Bringing in commercial tenants should be the goal of every facility. So what makes them choose you over your competition? Try accepting deliveries. Provide free billing, employee discounts, fax and copy services. Offer an incredible business-only move-in special. Once you have these tenants, keep them happy by offering pay-in-advance programs, such as pay 12 months, get the 13th month free. Consider the strengths your facility offers that no one else does. Do not be afraid to blow your own horn.
Enticing customers with move-in specials such as free locks, discounted rent or incentive gifts upon rental, along with properly trained managers, will serve their purpose of increasing your monthly rentals. But what can you do to ensure the customer stays?
Keeping Your Customers
Now that you have captured your fair share of the customer base, how do you keep them from moving out? The answer to that is not that simple. You are always going to have move-outs. You should expect approximately 10 percent of your current occupancy to vacate each month. Now you can see how important marketing and professional management is to increasing your occupancy and your income.
To maintain happy customers and ensure that dealing with their storage unit does not become a burden, you must create an enjoyable atmosphere at your facility. Start by trying one or more of the following ideas:
- Order a pizza and have it delivered while the customer is moving in.
- Keep cold bottles of water the manager can hand out to tenants while making the rounds on his golf cart.
- Each time rent is paid on time, the customer gets entered into a drawing for a free month's rent.
- Implement a customer-referral program where they receive small rent credits for referring their friends.
- Send a postcard saying "Thanks for renting with us."
A clean, safe and properly managed facility can also help you maintain your current customers. The majority of customers visiting your facility are women. Make it a pleasant experience for them by providing intercoms throughout the property in case of emergency. Install speakers and pipe music into hallways. Use motion-sensor lighting in climate-control buildings--this will eliminate the need for them to stop and find the light switch as well as cut down on your utility bills.
Autobilling via credit and debit cards is proving to extend the life of a rental by offering a hassle-free way to pay rent. If tenants don't have to go through the process of writing and sending a check every month, chances are they'll stay longer. Knowing your market and being prepared to compete in it will be key in the success of your facility.
Tammy and Stephan Ross own and operate Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management & Consulting. Together they have more than 25 years of self-storage experience in third-party management, consulting and feasibility studies. They have managed more than 2 million square feet of storage and are currently managing facilities in Utah, Nevada, Washington, Tennessee and Florida. They can be reached at 801.273.1267 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.