There are many ways to boost your marketing efforts, and the PC can play an important role. Marketing is about forging relationships, which is best done by educating potential customers about your services. In the 70s and 80s, the buzz phrase was "mass marketing." Today, there are numerous other approaches, such as target marketing, where direct marketers are able to pinpoint prospects with intelligence rather than just information. Following are some suggestions for using your PC to bolster your facility-marketing program.
Boost your visibility. Start by displaying your computer clearly in your office. Show prospects you are an automated facility that provides professional services. Would you rent a car from a company that wrote leases by hand? Why is self-storage any different? Use your PC to print professional looking statements, receipts, contracts and letters.
Make use of the web. If you don't yet have a website, get one. Respond to e-mails from potential tenants in a timely manner. Not all leads come through the telephone! Make sure any specials are clearly explained and visible, as well as anything that differentiates your facility from the competition (access control, climate control, 24-hour access, etc.). Your website is also a good place to collect e-mail addresses and information from your customers--but make it easy for them to "join" or sign in. Your website should enable visitors to easily sign up for your monthly newsletter, for example. Don't require them to provide their life history to add their e-mail address to your list.
Dangle creative incentives. Using Word, Publisher or another desktop-publishing product, create some informative fliers with coupons to educate potential customers and add incentive for them to act within a certain time frame. Include a map with directions to the facility and your hours of operation.
Take your business to them. There are many ways to educate your prospects, but if you have a laptop, why not prepare a presentation using Powerpoint or a similar product and take it to potential businesses in the area? Instead of coming directly back from the bank each day, try to visit one potential customer and make him aware of your services. If you don't have a laptop, use a flier you create and update periodically. And again, be sure to include directions to your facility.
Create a database of potential customers. This can be done using many different tools: management software, a spreadsheet such as Excel, or a professional contact-management product such as Goldmine or ACT. Having reusable lists is important to maximize your marketing effort. In addition to contact-management software, there are add-on products that work with it, such as software to create professional quotes, maps, etc., that can really boost your professional image.
One cost-effective yet sophisticated way to manage e-mail lists is ListBuilder, which is provided by Microsoft and can be found at www.bcentral.com. This is a tool to send information, such as a newsletter, to a list of potential customers you define. You can also purchase lists based on your own search criteria from that same website. Costs per name are 10 to 50 cents, depending on search criteria. Considering no postage is necessary, this is a very attractive way to solicit business. Another interesting product, Rocketsales, can be found at www.anconia.com/products/features.asp. There are many tools available to assist you in this effort. The most important is to find something easy to use that integrates readily with other tools in the marketplace.
Use e-mail marketing. Once your lists are created, use e-mail to "educate the masses." Unwanted bulk e-mails are known as "spam." Service providers frown on users sending spam from their sites. If the lists of prospective tenants are kept reasonable and you are sending a newsletter, not just a solicitation, it shouldn't be a problem. E-mail is not spam if it is relevant to a subject of interest and arrives from a source with permission to send. You can create simple HTML documents using Word or other easy-to-use tools. The postal expense is zero and delivery is virtually immediate.
In self-storage, customers are often transient. Contacting previous tenants via snail mail may be impossible. Even though many don't have a reliable permanent address, that neat Hotmail e-mail address is one they never give up. Allow new tenants to sign up for your newsletter in the office as well as on the web. Welcome new tenants with the latest newsletter after move-in. This will provide positive public relations and helps confirm the e-mail address.
Use direct marketing. Once your database is populated, determine a schedule to contact prospects via regular mail or e-mail. The frequency of contact is crucial, and keeping statistics on responses will determine the activity level that works best in the future. It might take four or five attempts before any response is seen. Only time will tell.
Direct marketing via the post office does not seem to be as inflammatory as direct marketing by e-mail. People are used to receiving unsolicited commercial correspondence via the post office and, I suppose, are getting used to unwanted e-mails as well. The registration process for a website and joining an e-mail list is one of the most valuable data-collection avenues. E-mail marketing makes great commercial sense. However, always give people on your mailing list an easy way to "opt out."
While PCs can perform a variety of tasks--from running your access-control programs to management software to desktop publishing--they are extremely useful in assisting with your marketing efforts. The answer to finding new customers may be right in front of you.
Tom Garden is the president of Syrasoft LLC, based in Syracuse, N.Y. Syrasoft's flagship product, The Storage Management System, is a state-of-the-art management program for running a self-storage facility. For more information, visit www.syrasoft.com.
Syrasoft Management Software LLC
Contact: Alison Kiesa
Product(s): Storage Management System
Software Type: Management, accounting
Price Range: $995-$4,000
Designed specifically for storage? Yes
Current version on market since: August 2002
New version to be released: 2003
Demo: Trial package available by phone, website, e-mail.
Tech support: Three months with purchase. Annual program available for $399 per year, including unlimited calls through an 800 number. Hours are 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. EST, Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. EST, Saturday.
Since 1991, Syrasoft's Storage Management System software has provided an automated solution for charging rent and fees to customers, keeping customer records, and providing reports for owners, managers, and operations directors. The company's Windows software interfaces with access- control systems, credit-card processing software, digital cameras, PDA devices and QuickBooks accounting software. It also runs on many computer networks. The Storage Mangement System free trial package provides an opportunity to "test drive" the software. Company settings can be changed; tenants can be added, moved in or moved out; reports, letters, contracts and statements can be viewed on screen or printed; charges can be added; and payments can be posted. The facility map can be manipulated or changed. Syrasoft sales personnel can provide a tour of features and functions, or answer questions regarding setup and use of the software over the phone or via individual presentations.