What Every New Owner Must Know

Fred Gleeck Comments
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If you're just getting started in the self-storage business, this is the article you need. There is a lot of misinformation about marketing in the industry. Before you develop some bad habits, please keep reading.

Here are the five primary areas you need to work on as you get started as a new storage owner. Marketing is your responsibility--it cannot and should not be delegated to your manager, management company or any other entity or person. Implement these five ideas and you'll hit your occupancy goals faster than 90 percent of the folks out there.

Premarketing

It is never too soon to kick your marketing into gear. As soon as you've broken ground on your storage facility, start putting your marketing plan together--not just a mental marketing plan, but a physical one. You'll need to be doing this immediately after you begin building. Waiting is not a good idea when it comes to creating demand for your facility.

One of the best marketing tools to exploit before opening is publicity. Very few owners seem to spend much time in this area, and I don't know why. When used correctly, publicity in local media can generate a lot of interest in a facility for very little money. Coverage in the press is viewed much differently than advertising. Advertising of any sort might be seen as sales hype, but an article about your facility in the paper has more credibility. You should always be looking for media hooks so you can fire out a press release to your local media. Spend an hour a month working on publicity and it will more than pay for itself.

Promotional Material

One of the first things you'll need to think about is your facility brochures. You'll need a minimum of two different ones--at least one for commercial tenants and one for residential customers. Why? Because people want to feel they are dealing with specialists. A commercial tenant would prefer to think you deal primarily with people like him. The same is true of a residential customer.

Any brochure you put together must have five major components:

1. A compelling title to put on the outside. You should not put your name on the front--this gives the reader no convincing reason to even open the brochure. Instead, use a persuasive line like: "Seven Things You Must Know Before You Rent a Storage Unit."

2. An interview with a typical renter. Use a Q&A format to make it easy to read. Put this interview on the front inside panel.

3. A list of features and benefits about your facility. Depending on the brochure, adjust your features and benefits accordingly.

4. A map to your facility.

5. A web address.

Missionary Work

Before you open, you'll want to concentrate on two primary groups for doing what I call your "missionary work." This is where you'll go out and personally meet and greet potential users and reccomenders for your storage facility.

Commercial Tenants. One group to concentrate on is your potential commercial tenants. Visit any and every business within three miles of your facility. Try and get in for a quick visit with the office manager or someone in a position of authority to explain that you'll soon be opening. Offer them some special deals and leave some literature about the facility.

Residential Tenants. Another group to target before opening is future residential tenants. These are people who live within a few miles of your facility. I suggest you visit people and go door to door taking a survey on their storage needs. Give out discount coupons in exchange for their participation.

Yellow Pages Ads

Many storage owners think placing a Yellow Pages ad constitutes a marketing plan. Wrongo! There is no doubt a Yellow Pages ad should be one part of your marketing effort, but over reliance on this medium would be misguided. In the grand scheme of things, the Yellow Pages are one of the most costly means of marketing in the storage industry.

Your goal as a new owner is to virtually eliminate your need for a Yellow Pages ad in five years or less. Is this a scandalous statement? I guess it might be, but it's 100 percent true. I would much rather see you concentrate your efforts on less costly and more efficient means of marketing. Afterall, once you've designed and placed your ad, your work is over until next year.

Here are some key suggestions for when you do place your first Yellow Pages ad:

  • There are often numerous Yellow Pages books in any given market. Don't be fooled! There is usually just one that is truly used by people in a particular community.
  • Paying for premium placement is never worth it. You'll hear from every Yellow Pages salesperson how important it is to appear at the beginning of a section. Baloney! There is no research or evidence to support the assertion that being first in a section generates more calls.
  • Don't rely on "image advertising" in your Yellow Pages ads. This is how you'll find more than 90 percent of ads are designed--they try to create "brand awareness" or some such nonsense. When you hear this tag line from an ad-design consultant, run the other direction. McDonald's may need to concern itself with getting its name out there, but you need to concern yourself with one thing and one thing only: renting units.

The sole purpose of your ad is to get the phone to ring. To make this happen, you need to include:

  • A great headline. Do not use the name of your facility at the top of your ad. Frankly, no one cares. Instead, combine your biggest benefit with your customers greatest need. It's never a bad idea to use price to get them to call. I suggest you offer some very small units (lockers) so you can use a headline such as: "Units Starting as Low as $9.95 a Month."
  • A list of features and benefits. It's great to present the benefits of your facility in your ad. However, don't forget to attach a benefit with each one. For example, if you say, "Ten different unit sizes," you should then say, "so you only pay for the space you need."
  • A storage hotline. Every facility should have a number people can call with a recorded message of its features and benefits.
  • Maps. Every ad should have a small map with major cross streets to make your facility easy to find.
  • Websites. Always include your web address in your ad.

Hiring and Training Managers

Your manager is the key to your marketing effectiveness. The wrong manager can kill you. The right one can make you exceedingly wealthy. There are two components to hiring a good manager. The first is hiring right. The second is training him to effectively implement your strategies.

How do you hire correctly? There are many businesses in this industry that assist with manager placement and training. You can also visit www.kolbe.com, a site administered by experts in hiring for any field, including storage. It will help you create a profile for the job of self-storage manager. It also includes an inexpensive tool to determine whether your well-screened applicants are as good a match as you think.

On the training side, you'll want to make sure every manager learns three things:

1. How to turn callers into visitors (or phone-sales skills). The key to success in this area is teaching the manager to highlight your facility's USP (unique selling proposition) during the first few moments of a call.

2. How to convert visitors into renters. To increase your in-person sales-closing ratio, your manager shouldn't let anyone leave the facility before he tries to close them on renting a unit.

3. How to provide great customer service. If your manager does this, people will come back when they need storage and refer you to all their friends.

Five Things to Remember

1. Don't believe conventional wisdom. Most self-storage owners handle their marketing incorrectly. Playing follow the leader in this business will take you down the wrong road. Do things differently.

2. You are responsible for your faciliy's marketing efforts, not your manager. Your job is to get the phone to ring. The manager's job is to get the customer to visit and then rent him a unit. The manager should help in the marketing process, but you are ultimately responsible.

3. Don't rely on Yellow Pages advertising to make your storage business work. Many people who have done this have failed miserably. Grow your business with a strong outbound marketing effort.

4. Look like a specialist to anyone who walks in the door. Make tenants feel you know and understand their particular need.

5. Keep learning and studying marketing. You can never know too much about how to improve your business.

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 professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send ane-mail to tips@selfstoragesuccess.com. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail fgleeck@aol.com.

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