By Lance Comstock
One of the most effective ways to move your self-storage facility into a class of its own is the installation of a state-of-the-art communications system. Yes, the quality of the security system you select is critical. Of course, the location and general appearance of the property plays a major role in attracting customers. However important these basic considerations may be, they represent only the nuts and bolts of your operation. The key to leaping ahead of the competition is to offer an added dimension of service--which is exactly the edge a communications system can provide.
What do we mean by a facility communications system? These systems combine intercom and paging capability with the option to provide a musical background of your choice. Relatively new to the self-storage industry, a communications system is based on proven, state-of-the-art technology. Once you have purchased a system from a reputable supplier with installation expertise, the benefits are immediate.
Literally overnight, your storage facility transforms from an isolated, silent labyrinth of corridors into a more comfortable, welcoming and accessible place of business. Customer assistance is now available at the touch of a button should a problem arise. Important messages can be transmitted in a heartbeat. Let's take a close look at customer advantages as well as the new tools for sales and marketing.
Imagine one of your customers entering your facility on a Saturday morning, already burdened with a long errand list and frustrating time constraints. Perhaps the location is Miami in August--or maybe Minneapolis in January. Spending one more minute than absolutely necessary at the storage unit is the last thing on his mind. Although this customer has never encountered trouble with the lock in the past, it happens to freeze up inexplicably. After jiggling key and lock to the point he is seeing red, he finally crawls back into his car and drives to the office for help. Can you anticipate the mental and emotional state of this customer as he walks through your door?
Most customers will never require office assistance or reassurance that someone is readily available, but every customer can appreciate the level of courtesy an intercom system provides. Should a problem or question arise, the office personnel are as close as the push of a button. "We are here for you" becomes more than an empty promise or a catch phrase in sales literature. If need be, the manager can hop on his golf cart and greet the customer face to face to resolve any issues. Conversely, the facility personnel have an opportunity to convey messages to visiting customers over the same intercom.
In a world where cell phones and pagers are as commonplace as wallets and combs, the value we place on being "accessible" is beyond debate. Being able to receive personal messages during a visit to the facility will be especially valuable to busy customers who make regular trips to their unit. Whether they forget to bring their cell phone or just don't own one, with a paging system, their family, friends and associates still have an open line of communication.
Similar to the paging/telephone system in a large airport, the facility paging capability works in concert with the intercom. Should a call come into the office for a visiting customer, the manager already knows whether he is still on the premises. A facility-wide page can request a specific customer to intercom the office immediately. This approach makes it possible for the original caller to remain "on hold" for a quick answer to an urgent question.
As you can see by these examples, the ability to page customers also includes facility-wide messaging. Have you ever called a business that promoted its image, products or services in a recorded message that played while you were waiting to speak to a representative? The concept is very similar but even more positive. Visiting customers are a "captive audience" for your messages, but they are free to continue their activity without experiencing the annoyance of being "on hold."
Along with paging capability comes one of the most appealing features of a facility communications system--the ability to fill the air with soothing music. The value of music as a calming, uplifting influence has been so definitively proven that silence seldom prevails in public areas where an atmosphere of warmth and comfort is important. In fact, our culture is so accustomed to the lulling affect of background music that we are not always consciously aware of it playing. Still, we respond emotionally.
By their very nature, self-storage facilities are not high-traffic properties. In spite of the confidence encouraged by sophisticated security measures, many customers--especially women--feel uncomfortable with the isolated aspects of visiting their storage unit. Being able to listen to a constant flow of music or human voices can diminish the sensation of being alone, much the way a radio or television provides a streaming background of song or chatter to a house. Knowing assistance is available at the touch of an intercom button adds yet another layer of subliminal reassurance.
Sales and Marketing Advantages
Studies have shown customers remain at their storage units an average of 20 minutes per visit. Perhaps you are offering a special incentive for customers who refer new business to your facility over the next 60 days. Maybe you are introducing a service like the sale of packing materials in the office. The opportunity is open to create messages that enhance your image, extend appreciation to your customers, amuse and entertain, promote your business, offer helpful hints or storage tips, convey important announcements--or all of the above.
From the moment you introduce a potential customer to your facility, the added convenience and courtesy of your communications system can serve as a strong selling point. Any direct mailings, posters, signage and advertising materials can highlight these customer-oriented benefits and run circles around your competition.
Communications systems can provide value-added service to any mini-storage facility, from sprawling single-story properties to multistory structures with long hallways and elevators. The system itself and every feature can be totally streamlined around your exact needs:
- Number of intercoms and intercom placement.
- Selection and source of music, including CDs, radio or tapes.
- Type and the frequency of paging messages.
According to John P. White, marketing director for PTI Access Control Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz., the facility communications system is a relatively recent innovation on the self-storage scene, but gaining rapidly in popularity. PTI usually bundles its new communications system with its security systems. "We wanted to make this product readily accessible to as many facilities as possible. When the goal is enhancing the overall appeal of a mini-storage facility, adding a communications system is one of the simplest and most cost-effective solutions on today's market," he says.
Lance Comstock is the CEO of Preferred Technology Inc. (PTI) and PTI East, with offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., Baltimore, the United Kingdom and Australia. PTI has specialized in self-storage security for more than 22 years. For more information, call 800.331.6224; www.ptiaccess.com.