By Pamela Alton
The summer holidays and graduations have all passed, students are getting ready to return to school and the weather is getting cooler--all sure signs that summer is coming to an end. That rush of rentals you experienced in early spring may be ending also. Homes bought this summer are closing escrow, tenants are moving into new apartments and college students are back on campus. They don't need storage anymore, so it seems they're moving out in droves while new rentals seem to be declining.
Your owner or supervisor is wondering what happened to the income and what caused the drop in occupancy. The pressure is on you, the manager. What are you going to do? Throw your body in front of the rental truck and stop your tenants from vacating? Now, that is not something I would recommend to any manager, regardless of how much your occupancy drops. But there are some ways you might be able to put the brakes on that downhill slide you may be experiencing.
If you haven't already been out laying a solid marketing foundation, now is the time to start. Make up fliers and hit the local businesses in your area. Stop by the apartment complexes down the street and talk to the managers about referrals. Call other storage managers in your area. Find out what unit sizes they have available that you don't and vice versa--negotiate a referral program. Look in your local newspaper for handymen, carpenters, gardeners, electricians--any small-business owners who could use storage. Call and tell them the advantages of storing with you.
Always carry your business cards with you and be prepared to give them out wherever you are: standing in line at the grocery store, a restaurant, the doctor's office, a gas station or bank. Put on your thinking cap. To whom can you market and earn rentals that will last all year?
Downsizing Those Vacating Tenants
When your tenants come to vacate those larger units, point out to them the advantages of keeping a smaller unit to store seasonal items, excess garage items, and business or personal items. If your tenants are students who are now back from summer break, let them know you have some smaller units available to keep the personal items they don't want a roommate to get into. Asking a tenant why he is vacating gives you clues as to how to approach him about staying on board with you.
Ask for Referrals
Each time a tenant vacates, always ask him to remember you when he needs storage. Give him a discount card for the next time he rents a unit. Ask for referrals. Does he know anyone who needs storage--a family member, friend or coworker? What about his company? Does it have excess records or office furniture or supplies that could be stored? If you don't have a sign on your counter or exit gate reminding tenants to "tell a friend," you should invest in one.
Be Clean, Friendly, Service-Oriented and Professional
People will remember you and your facility and want to store with you again if you offer superior customer service. Always keep the hallways, driveways and units swept clean and locked. Your office should be inviting, professional-looking, uncluttered and clean. You should always be dressed professionally, well-groomed and ready to greet your public once those doors open in the morning. Don't forget about your relief managers--they need to be taught about marketing and how to keep those vacating tenants. Be friendly, helpful and professional and you will always be a winner in the self-storage game.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini-Management also offers full-service and "operations-only" facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call (800) 646-4648.