Storage is a simple business, but it's not an easy business. It's simple because the steps are obvious. First, you have to generate phone calls from prospects. These result from a strong and well-executed marketing campaign. Second, you have to get those who call to visit your facility. After they visit, you must get them to sign a rental agreement. The fourth and final step is to get them to stay "forever" and tell all of their friends about you.
Four steps. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.
I'd like to explain how to convert a higher number of your callers into visitors. To see if you're improving, you're going to have to track your numbers. Based on my own research, I've learned the average conversion ratio in this industry runs a little less than 50 percent. That means less than half the people your manager talks to on the phone come into your facility to visit. Frightening, isn't it? Half of your marketing dollars are being wasted.
To understand how much each call is worth, calculate how many total dollars you spend on marketing in a set period of time and divide that number by the total number of calls you receive. If you do this over the course of a year, you'll get a fairly accurate number. I've seen the cost per call range from a low of $20 in a small market to as high as $100 in larger, more expensive markets. To stress the importance of each phone call, one of my clients has even taped a $20 bill to the phone receiver.
If you blow an opportunity with a customer over the phone, it's going to cost you money. For some of you, it will cost big money. That being said, there is only one goal for the phone call: to get people to come in and visit your facility. The goal is not make them think you're a nice person or that you have the best telephone technique; it's to sell them on visiting your operation. Don't get me wrong--you should be perceived as a nice person over the phone and have a pleasant technique, but for purpose of maximizing revenue, this is not the end goal.
If a prospect is calling you, he is probably calling your competition as well. To have the best closing ratio, you need to highlight your unique selling proposition (USP). If you don't have something unique about your facility, you'll need to come up with something. Without a USP, all you have to sell is your price.
It is also perfectly acceptable to bribe people to visit. What kind of a bribe do you use? Whatever generates the greatest number of visitors at the least cost. Some managers use what I refer to as a coupon system. They get local merchants to contribute a coupon on their products and services. A restaurant owner may agree to a two-for-one offer on dinner, for example. If you can collect a good number of coupons from your local merchants, you can put them together in a book and offer it to prospects. This has very low cost to you but a very high perceived value.
Let's make it even simpler. Assume each phone call to your facility is costing you $20. If you offered callers $10 in cash just for taking a tour, would this increase the number of visitors you received? You bet. Is this what I'm suggesting you do? Perhaps. It's the lazy person's way to entice people, but I have seen it work. If the average rental customer is worth $300, it would be worth it to give away $30 (the cost of the phone call plus $10 in cash) to get people to visit.
The most important thing to remember in converting callers into visitors is you must not give out your price before you let people know your USP. Here's how a typical call should go:
Customer: Hi, I'm interested in knowing how much you charge for a 10-by-10 unit.
Manager: Let me grab the price sheet here (stalling). Do you mind me asking how you heard about us? (It is essential you record the source of your calls.)
Customer: I got your name out of the Yellow Pages.
Manager: Could you give me an idea what you'll be storing so I can make sure you actually need a 10-by-10?
Customer: You can skip to the price, because I've stored the exact same stuff before and I know I need a unit that size.
Manager: Great. I'll give you the price in just a moment; but please remember, if you're shopping around, we're the only facility in town that gives people a crisp $10 bill just for coming in to take a tour.
Manager: Yup! We're so confident you'll like what you see and want to store with us, we're willing to pay you to come by and visit.
This example uses cash. You could come up with any number of items. Test a few to see what might work better. You might offer people a free pizza or movie tickets--anything you can think of to get them to come in and visit. In addition to the bribe, you'll want to present any other USPs. Instead of the line above, you could change the dialogue to: "If you're shopping around, we're the only place in town that has individual door alarms. That way we know when an unauthorized person has attempted to enter your unit. In addition, we're also giving people $10 just for taking a tour of our facility." Never give out your price before you give people your USP(s).
Be sure to track your numbers meticulously. This is the only way to know if a certain system is working. Most managers are resistant to tracking. They often look at it as busy work. You, as an owner, need to explain the "why" behind the tracking you're doing. This will help secure the cooperation of your manager or other employees. I also suggest auditing your facility to see if employees are following your phone directives. There are a number of companies that can help you in this area.
Your short-term goal should be to raise your closing ratio by 10 percent. If you can move your closing ratio from 50 percent to 60 percent, you'll be doing a great job and your occupancy rates and profitability will increase accordingly.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit- maximization consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! as well as the producer of the only professional training videos on self-storagemarketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail email@example.com.