All of your marketing decisions need to be looked at in relation to their return on marketing dollars (ROMD). Your goal is to get the greatest number of renters while spending the least amount you possibly can on marketing. After repeat and referral customers, those who rent from you as a result of contact with one of your centers of influence are the least expensive.
Centers of influence (COIs) are those individuals and/or organizations in a position to recommend storage to potential tenants. Frankly, anyone can fall into this category, but there are a few obvious ones every storage operator seek to know on a regular basis. The reason you want to target these groups is the marketing efficiency you'll gain. If you get a few powerful people or companies to recommend people to you, it could become your single largest source of business--if you handle things correctly. Following are possible COIs and strategies for maximizing the number of referrals you receive from them.
Real Estate Brokers--Real estate brokers are your most obvious example of a COI. They are constantly being asked by people who are moving into or out of a neighborhood where they can find storage. If they have a good relationship with their clients, their reccomendation will be taken seriously and probably heeded.
RV-Park or Apartment Managers--People who live in RV parks and apartment complexes are ideal prospects for renting storage. The folks who manage these places are generally not well paid and will respond well to a referral fee for sending people your way.
Moving Companies--Many moving companies will provide full-service storage, but few provide self-storage. This is your opportunity to set up an alliance with them for those customers who want to store but don't want to pay the moving company to do it for them. Naturally, the moving company will try to earn the customer's business first, but you can give them a less expensive option for customers that will still make them a few bucks on the referral.
Truck-Rental Companies--These are a great source of referrals for obvious reasons. They should be vigorously courted, as the people they serve are the same people you are looking to attract.
Churches--When people move or think of moving, they often consult the churches in the area for referrals for services they need.
Schools--Some people who move will consult the schools where they enroll their children for information about many things, including storage. Make sure you are the one they recommend.
Chambers of Commerce--Join your local chamber! These are a fairly standard place to look for referral sources, but they shouldn't be neglected as a possible business sources either.
Large Organizations/Corporations--Large companies are frequently transferring their employees in and out of different cities. Why not be the place they recommend people to store while waiting for their homes to be built or ready to occupy? Arrangements with organizations like this are often created as a result of a savvy operator having the gumption to walk in and ask for the business. Don't wait to find out your competition has beat you to the punch.
There are three primary ways to approach your COIs. First, you can send them a letter. Second, you can send them an e-mail (if you can get the accurate contact information). Third, you can visit them in person. In this high-tech world, I suggest you use the "high-touch" approach. Walk in their front door and ask to spend a few minutes with the "head honcho" face to face. Depending on the size of operation, this may not always be possible. But you'll never know until you try.
If you're an owner, you may be tempted to send your manager to do this missionary work. I recommend against it. It's much more powerful if you, as the owner of the business, make the initial call. After that, you can have your manager maintain the relationship.
Before you walk in a business' door, you'll have to have three things prepared. First, you'll need to know your pitch. Second, you'll want to have promotional material to leave with the person you meet. Finally, you'll want to have some referral cards that will identify this business as the referral source. When you walk into the office, be prepared to speak to Mr. Big. He might be there, and you had better be prepared with what you're going to say. I suggest something along these lines:
Hi, my name is Joe Smith and I own ABC Self Storage down the road. Have you heard of us? (He answers). Great, I'd like to introduce myself and find a way to make sure that if you have any clients that need storage that you might send them our way. Do you get requests from your clients/customers for storage? (He responds.) Who are you currently suggesting they use? (He responds.)
No matter what he says, you should show him why you are the one to whom he should send referrals. Do this by asking him what he thinks would be important to his clients in a storage company. This will tell you what you need to highlight when you have a chance to respond. Just before you leave, hand him your promotional piece and the referral cards. (If you give him these items at the beginning, he'll be distracted looking at them.)
When you hand him your brochure, highlight some of the key elements and show him how easy it is to use the referral card. What should your brochure look like? It should like the standard brochure you would hand prospects if they walked into your storage facility directly--but with one major difference. This brochure should be coded in a way to let you know which of your COIs sent the referral.
What Will They Want in Return?
Your COIs will likely want two things of you before they agree to give you referrals. First, they want to know their clients will be going to a reputable company to store their belongings. Second, they will expect some expression of gratitude when they do send you people. They may not verbalize this second point, but trust me, it's equally or more important than the first.
Always call and thank them for a referral immediately. You can save whatever compensation you've agreed to for your monthly visit (unless they specifically request otherwise), but a thank you should follow quickly. Remember: Reinforcement, to be effective, must be immediate. Don't get lazy in this area. Even if you have to call every other day, thank them for everyone they refer. It's only right to do so.
What kind of referral fee or compensation should you provide your COIs? Ask them. I suggest you present two options--first, cash. It's easy. Everyone seems to like it and you don't have to figure out whether they will appreciate it. The second option would be to give them points they can accumulate and use to purchase items of their choice out of a catalog. These catalogs are available from a lot of incentive-premium companies. You can find them easily on the web by using the key words "incentive premium." Give people both options because some aren't allowed to accept cash. Some companies won't even allow employees to take gifts at all. If that's the case, a "thank you" will still go a long way.
Don't do any of the above unless you are committed to following up. COIs need to be courted. Visit them once a month. Bring them pizza or some other small gift. Make sure what you give them isn't trite. How many more cups or customized pens do people need? The monthly visit should be done to remind them you're still very interested in their referrals and drop off any compensation you owe them.
COIs are a great way to build storage business with an extremely small investment of time and money. For every dollar you put into these efforts, you can make up to 20 or 30 times that amount. The nice thing is once the relationships are established, they are there forever and will pay you dividends long into the future--as long as they are maintained. Use this method of marketing and you'll be glad you did.
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 an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail email@example.com.