In my last column, I suggested many self-storage operators have--perhaps unconsciously--concluded that product retailing and merchandising is "unfamiliar territory." As a result, they do not attempt retail; or if they do, it is in an uncommitted manner.
What I would like to point out is good merchandising is not hard or difficult. It's just "unfamiliar territory." All it really takes is some planning and research--activities you are certainly familiar with and value. You plan for financing, you research appropriate site locations, you determine demographics and the selection of building materials and so on. You do not question the necessity for planning and research when developing your property or creating its success strategy. But you are comfortable with the process because it's familiar to you; or if it isn't, you know the importance of seeking sound professional advice.
Developing a good retail plan is no less or more difficult, and the reward can be equally worthwhile. Supply sales can and do represent 5 percent or more of a self-storage operator's overall gross sales. There is no mystery in determining which elements of merchandising require research and planning. Below are some of the basics you need to create a catalyst for retail success.
1. Plan your office and retail area to best accommodate and merchandise product. Something to consider is to build box slots into a wall or counter, or use attractive box-bin fixtures. Moving and storage boxes are large and take up a great deal of retail space. By creating a display "home," you eliminate box clutter and make selection easy.
Use signage over box slots or on fixtures to indicate sizes. Try to purchase boxes with copy and graphics on them that indicate their use. This takes the guesswork out of box selection and eliminates the need to have many assembled boxes on the floor. Clutter conflicts with making the right first impression.
Monitors, bulletin boards, notices and, in some cases, windows should not interrupt retail space. When creating your retail area, it is best to keep all retail products together. Merchandising is all about presentation. If you create the right appearance, you will increase regular as well as impulse sales. Merchandise your supplies so they are easily seen and logically organized.
2. Use signage to inform and create an image for your property. Attractively designed, colorful and properly worded signs tell your customers a lot about your property. Signage is like the icing on the cake. You may have a delicious cake, but no one is going to try it if it doesn't look appealing.
A sign over your moving and storage supplies frames them and creates a supply department. The use of an informative sign such as "Pack Your Cherished Belonging the Professional Way" brings attention to a previously unrecognized need. Signs may also be used to build incremental sales, i.e., "Buy 5 Boxes and Receive an Economy-Size Roll of Bubble Wrap FREE." Remember, however, that like good retail packaging, signs need to look professional. A primitive-looking sign or poorly designed retail package is actually worse than no sign or product at all. It creates the wrong impression. You are a professional; everything about your property should reinforce this.
3. Product packaging should communicate a product's features and benefits as well as enhance the image of your property. Undoubtedly, the self-storage customer, like any retail customer, is attracted to products that are easy to understand and use. He doesn't have time for personal explanations (and often times, nor does store personnel). That's why it's so important the retail packaging does most of the selling through the use of dynamic graphics, demonstrational photography and helpful copy.
The average customer does not know what a cell kit is used for, that larger diameter bubble wrap is better for packing heavier products or that disk padlocks provide a greater level of security. In many cases, they must rely on the packaging to communicate all this. Good retailers know an informed customer is more likely to make a purchase--in fact, multiple purchases.
Private-label products aren't always the answer, either. I understand everyone likes to see their name in lights. However, if you make packaging concessions that compromise perceived product quality or use poorly designed graphics, you aren't accomplishing your goal, which should be to increase product sales and enhance the professional image of your property. Your retail customer is pretty sophisticated, so your products and packaging need to reflect this. If you're interested in developing a private-label program, make sure the packaging looks first class. Spend a little extra to do it right; it'll pay big dividends.
Retailing and product merchandising may be "unfamiliar territory," but with such a substantial upside, it's worth coming up with the right plan. Start small, but think big!
Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinko's and Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.
The debut of "Retail Results," published in the July 2002 issue of Inside Self-Storage, included two photographs of a Shurgard facility retail area. These photos were neither submitted nor approved by Supply Side. Shurgard is not a client of the company. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.