I RECENTLY BOUGHT A NEW RECREATIONAL VEHICLE (RV). Afterward, I set out to rent storage spaces in both cities where I have homes: Las Vegas and New York. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what worked from my discussions with self-storage operators who offer RV storage, but seeing it first-hand gave me additional insights worth sharing.
For many of you building or considering building self-storage, renting RV spaces may be a temporary means of generating revenue as you phase in your project with actual buildings. Whether that is the case or you rent an RV space yourself, this information will be extremely valuable.
People make their decision whether to rent an RV space based on very specific criteria: security, proximity, competence, cleanliness, specialization and price. Each of these categories holds a different level of importance for individual renters. Most people who own RVs tend to not be as concerned about price. Generally speaking, if they can afford the RV, they can afford to store it safely and properly. The order in which I ranked the criteria is based on the average renter. Each individual might prioritize them differently.
For me, security was the most important element. I am certain it is in the top two for everyone who rents an RV space. If I'm going to trust someone with my RV, I'm going to make sure the place is secure. I don't want to come back and find it broken into or vandalized. I paid more than twice as much to rent from a place that had security cameras and high fences with barbed wire on top. The other place I considered was completely exposed and didn't even have a fence.
The majority of RV owners I have spoken with treat their RVs like a member of the family. They are very concerned about someone being able to break into their vehicle and are willing to pay a premium to minimize the chances of this happening. So what do you, a storage provider, need?
First, you must have good lighting. From a customer standpoint, it makes it easy to get around after the sun goes down. From the standpoint of a potential crook, it makes the facility a less appealing target. Video cameras are also very helpful. At the facility where I rent, the cameras are positioned in such a way that my RV can be seen by management. The savvy manager also pointed out the actual monitor on which they could see my space. Think about it: A customer really only cares about his own vehicle.
If your facility is already up and running, proximity is something you have little control over. Everything else being equal, people will rent from a facility closer to where they live. In the case of my house in Las Vegas, my RV facility is just two miles away.
This was not the case in the New York City area, where I had to rent at a place 15 miles further away than another I considered. Why? Because security, competence and cleanliness were more important to me than proximity. This will be true with your customers as well. If you happen to be in a great location, capitalize on it. If you aren't, don't worry. Make it up in other areas.
Competence of the facility manager (or other employee who shows a prospect the space) will be one of the criteria customers will use to evaluate you. Competence, in the mind of the potential renter, will be based on two things: first, your knowledge of the product. If you're going to rent RV storage, you've got to understand RVs. If you're not interested or don't think it's important, you won't be nearly as successful at renting spaces.
How do you acquire this knowledge? Any manager who rents RV spaces should visit a place where these vehicles are sold. This will give him the opportunity to understand the different types of models out there and learn a bit of the language. Understanding some key RV terms will make you seem like a genius when people call on the phone or visit in person. It's very much like speaking another language. If you "speak RV," your chances of getting prospects to visit your facility and rent increase substantially. There are a number of RV websites and publications that can assist in this area as well.
The second area of competence is what I'd call "general" competence. People are more apt to rent from someone who is articulate and intelligent. This is something that can't be learned. Hire the right manager and you'll be way ahead of the game.
Keeping your storage facility clean is important regardless of whether you rent vehicle storage. However, the RV owner will take cleanliness into serious consideration. It may not be the most important reason he rents from you, but lack of cleanliness is a deal-breaker for most potential RV customers. Even if a prospect likes your prices and feels good about your security, an unkempt facility or parking area will hurt your chances.
At least once or twice a day, the RV area must be inspected for loose trash left by renters. You'll also need to sweep the area at least a couple times a week. Parking spaces should be painted whenever necessary to look good and keep vehicles within the bounds of their assigned spaces.
You should have strict guidelines outlining how you expect a vehicle to be stored. I've seen storage places where people let their vehicles look like something about to be retrieved by the junkyard. Make renters sign a specific document that details what you expect from them if they are storing with you. This should list all your do's and don'ts, so there is absolutely no confusion when you call them to task for an item. Remind offenders promptly and ask them to fix problems immediately. Not doing so will tell them you aren't really concerned with enforcing the rules.
At the facility I chose in the Las Vegas area, I bumped into some renters who told me about a facility down the road that was "filthy." They said even though the prices were lower, they preferred to stay at the place we had both selected. To customers, lack of cleanliness means a lack of concern about security as well. Although this may not be true, in the mind of your renters, perception is reality.
You must look like a specialist in renting RV spaces, even if you're not. How do you appear like a specialist? First, you'll need a brochure and a section on your website that specifically addresses RV customers. Will this cost a little money? Yes. Will it substantially increase your closing ratio with those who come to rent an RV space? Absolutely.
The second point overlaps an earlier one. You'll have to understand the language and be able to talk to people. The more you seem to know, the better your chances of renting. This point was driven home to me by a self-storage manager who had, at one point, spent four years on the road with his wife in their RV. He was able to rent a space to any RV prospect who walked through the door. Why? He knew the market inside and out. He was clearly a specialist. If you're just getting started and rent RV spaces exclusively, hire a manager who has retail and RV experience.
Everything else being equal, RV owners will rent from a storage facility that specializes in RV storage. If you have two facilities and one is exclusively for vehicle storage, it will have an advantage. If you're reading this article, chances are you don't rent only RV spaces. That's fine. You can still appear to be a specialist by doing the things mentioned above. The key is to give people the impression you know what you're talking about.
Many people think price is the primary criteria people use to make a decision to rent. This is not true! For the average renter, prices aren't nearly as important as some of the other criteria. For people who have older-model RVs, price will most likely be the primary concern. They figure their chances of getting broken into are slim to none. For those with newer models, price will not likely be the big issue. They will be much more concerned about other criteria, such as security.
Pricing policy is an area where I discovered a lot of problems during my research. I called four or five facilities in the Las Vegas area that said they were full. This is crazy. Your pricing policy should reflect demand. If you have 100 RV spaces, and they are all one size and rent for $100, when you get 88 of them filled up, you should raise your price to $109. If you then get all but seven spaces rented, increase your prices again to $119. Increase your prices based on demand to make sure you at least have two or three spaces to rent at all times.
Many operators and managers prefer to be 100 percent occupied at lower prices. This philosophy will not only lose you money but invite competition. Don't do it. You can always lower the prices if necessary to keep customers or attract them back. A manager who thinks price is the only criteria to sell RV spaces isn't doing his homework. Concentrate on the other criteria and let price be set by market demand.
Closing on the Phone
There are really six keys to successfully marketing an RV-storage facility. All the above elements need to be seen by the prospective renter for him to be able to evaluate your particular facility. This being the case, your first responsibility--and the sixth key--is to get him to visit your facility before making a decision.
If someone phones, use your standard telephone-closing techniques, but make sure to add this item: Remind people that with such an expensive investment, it would be foolish to make a decision before seeing all the options. Demonstrate your knowledge of RVs by throwing out some words that let them know you're a specialist. This will substantially increase your chances they will visit.
If you're considering adding RV rentals to your present storage offerings or are dissatisfied with your current results, you need to make some changes. Review the five elements above and see how you can improve in each area. Even if you were to get marginally better in each area, the overall change would be substantial. Start working on each and watch your occupancy rates and profitability soar.
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-storage marketing. 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.