By Fred Gleeck
One of the three biggest mistakes I see made by self-storage operators is not having a comprehensive marketing plan. Over the past several issues, I've shared information about specific marketing techniques. But in addition to individual techniques, you should have a plan in place for their implementation.
As a self-storage operator, you fall into one of three categories: a) you are considering opening a storage facility; b) you are already building a self-storage facility; or c) you are an existing owner of a storage facility. No matter which category you belong to, you need a marketing plan for your facility. Those considering getting into the business should create one to see if they are willing to do the work. Those who are building should do so to ensure they open the doors and have people flock to them. Exisitng owners should have a marketing plan to move occupancy rates in the right direction or keep them steady.
You say you have a marketing plan in your head? That's not enough. You must have a written plan. The plan should list actions that should be taken daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly. Let's look at each time period.
Here is a list of things you should be doing on a daily basis:
1. Track all incoming calls to determine their sources. Without accurate measurement, you have no idea what's going on in your business. Keep track of the total number of calls, sources of the calls and the percentage of calls that turned into visits.
2. Speak with your manager once a day to see if he needs any help. Support your manager. I met a CEO on a plane not long ago, and I asked him what he felt his primary mission was. He said, "To be a broom. I'm here to sweep problems out of the way for people who report to me."
3. Make at least five to 10 outbound calls each day to drum up business from commercial accounts. All managers should have a quota of outbound calls to make. If they don't like the idea, they are in the wrong business. This is a sales job, not a caretaker job.
4. Send out postcards to those people who called during off hours. Use a caller ID device to record the phone numbers of people who call when the office is closed. Use an online reverse directory to get their addresses. Then mail them a postcard with a time-sensitive offer. Calling those people back might be perceived as intrusive. A postcard is not.
On a weekly basis, you should:
1. Call all the "centers of influence" in town to remind them you exist. Call the real estate offices, truck-rental places and all of the other folks who have the potential to send you business. The key is "non-pushy" persistence. If you keep reminding people you're there, they are less apt to forget you.
2. Call your own facility and disguise your voice to hear how your employees really handle themselves when they talk with customers. I'm amazed at how few owners call their own facilities. This is such a simple but important thing to do. I got one owner to call his facility, and he was appalled at what he heard. It was only then he understood why occupancy was down.
3. Look for opportunities to get coverage by the local media. There are countless opportunities to piggy-back storage onto a current-events news story. Find one angle each week and send out a press release. It's not that difficult, and if you get coverage, it's well worth it.
4. Consider running specials to rent slow-moving units. Look at those units that aren't moving and make weekly adjustments if necessary. Waiting until the end of the month may not give you enough time to properly react to your competition or the changing market in your area.
On a monthly basis you should:
1. Call and/or visit your competition to see what they're up to. You say you have done this? How many times? This is an activity that needs to be done at least once a month. To defeat your "enemy," you must know him. If you're uncertain, read Sun Tsu's The Art of War.
2. Conduct regular training sessions with your managers to keep them up-to-date. Conducting monthly meetings for your managers and other employees makes a lot of sense. Most managers are willing to learn, but most owners claim they don't have the time to teach. Make time for this activity and you'll make more money in the long run.
3. Read industry trade magazines to keep abreast of current issues. Owners and managers must be committed to staying up-to-date with the latest industry information. If a manager isn't willing to read and discuss the trade publications, you have a problem.
4. Schedule a monthly coaching session by phone with an outside self-storage expert. Managers will listen to experts above owners. Using an outside expert to give basic feedback is a great idea. Doing this over the phone takes an hour each month and pays off in spades.
5. Go to monthly networking events, such as at the chamber of commerce. Managers and owners should make an effort to get out into the community to network, but most networking is done incorrectly. There should be a purpose. Networking should be done to get business, not just schmooz people.
6. Review occupancy rates by unit size to make necessary price adjustments. Most people tend to look only at the overall occupancy rates and adjust prices upward or downward on that basis. That is misguided. Instead, look at your occupancy rates specifically by unit size, then adjust accordingly.
7. Hold a contest for your managers, and vary them from month to month. Yes, your managers are already getting paid a salary, but you need to keep them motivated. Give them some realisitc goals to shoot for and then reward them for meeting those goals. This strategy is inexpensive and effective.
On a quarterly basis, you should:
1. Hold unannounced, random events for your customers to thank them for their business. There is no better way to get a buzz going about your facility than to do some random act of kindness for customers. For example, wash the car of each one of your tenants who comes into the facility on a given day.
2. Create seasonal fliers. Fliers are inexpensive and effective. You can create them for any and all services at your facility. In addition to handing them out off-site, you can design ones you put under people's unit doors to announce various promotions
3. Test a piece of direct mail on a targeted group within five miles of your facility. Direct mail and Value-Pak mailers can be effective. Make sure to constantly test new offers. I've seen promotions that pulled nothing and I've seen those that pulled a 7:1 return on the dollar. You won't know until you test.
4. Find an additional item to sell at the office based on customer feedback. If you aren't selling retail items in your storage office, you're losing a lot of potential revenue. You've established a relationship with your renters, now sell them something. Listen to customers and test the items on a limited basis to start.
5. Work at your own facility one day each quarter to find out how things really work. Owners sometimes never even see their storage facilities. Working at your own facility is the single most-effective means I've seen for owners to understand what really goes on in their businesses.
Once each year, you should:
1. Go to the annual self-storage conference and expo in Las Vegas and bring your manager. Not only is it the best convention of the year, there are great educational seminars. The trip can serve as an information-gathering event as well as a thank you for your manager's efforts throughout the year.
2. Have a qualified consultant do an external marketing audit of your facility. Looking at your business yourself is a worthwhile endeavor. But nothing can beat having an outside expert visit your facility and provide feedback. An expert can usually discover some hidden profits. One word of caution: Be sure to hire someone with a valid reputation.
3. Review your numbers with a qualified expert to see what areas of your business can be improved. You'll be surprised what a well-trained pair of eyes can find.
If you think this is a lot to do, you're right. But if you have a marketing plan soundly in place, you'll keep your occupancy rates high and experience less of the yo-yo cycle so many operators encounter. You don't just need marketing when times are tough, you need it when things are going smoothly. This will help keep occupancy and profitability high.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit- maximization consultant. He helps storage owners before and after they get into the business. His is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! and numerous other training items for self-storage operators. To get regular tips on self-storage, send Mr. Gleeck an e-mail at email@example.com; call 800.345.3325.