How many self-storage facilities can boast openings with guest appearances by pop icons Marilyn Monroe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Lucille Ball, Dorothy Gale, Cleopatra, Charlie Chaplin and Fred Flintstone? Only one. On Wed., March 19, Conejo Valley's Hollywood Storage Center teamed with Aileen Stein Public Relations and the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village Regional Chamber of Commerce to host a business mixer and grand opening unlike any seen before in the self-storage history.
Spoony Singh-Sundher is an entrepreneur at heart. According to his son, Jay Sundher, he's dabbled in several unusual ventures, including farms, and copper and gold mines. In 1965, he opened the Hollywood Wax Museum, and later, the Guinness World of Records Museum. After purchasing land in the now affluent area of Newbury Park, Calif., he took on the business of self-storage, opening the first phase of Thousand Oaks Self Storage--now Hollywood Storage Center--in 1982. His three sons worked as the construction crew.
"We barely knew how to hammer nails into pieces of wood," jokes Sundher, who runs the self-storage portion of the family business. His two brothers operate the museums.
While the valley has developed with upscale businesses and a prosperous resident profile in recent years, the area was deeply suburban when the facility originally opened. Regardless, the store was able to expand, and a second phase was added to the site in 1986. For phase three, Sundher wanted to change the direction of the facility entirely, playing off the Hollywood theme used by the family's other businesses and using cross marketing. "I wanted to get people's minds off of storage, because it's kind of a negative industry as far as how it is frequently used--for businesses downsizing, divorces, deaths in the family, etc.," he says.
To avoid causing any geographic confusion with the name, the $6.4 million facility uses its tag line--The Conejo's A-List Space--on all of its marketing collaterals. This opens possibilities for Hollywood-themed centers in other prime locations, regardless of their proximity to the actual metropolis.
Previews, Trailers, Promos!
Promotion of the March kick-off event, as well as the business as a whole, bordered on the extraordinary. Hollywood Storage Center has spared no expense to advertise its services to the local communities. It began with the creation of an enticing, fun environment for prospects that draws on the Hollywood theme.
"When customers come here, it's like entering a motion-picture lot," says Sundher. "We use Hollywood street names, and label the buildings as Stage 1, Stage 2, etc." The store lobby includes life-size figures of a "Seven Year Itch" Marilyn Monroe, the "Terminator" and Batman. And, of course, free popcorn is always available. "By making it fun, people want to come back. They go to their buddies and say, 'You've got to come with me to this storage center! You've got to see this place!' We're getting business that way. Referral business is really picking up," Sundher says. As an added perk, all tenants receive two free passes to the Hollywood museums.
Specific marketing tactics for the grand-opening event, aptly named "Hollywood Nights: A Wine-Tasting Affair," included:
- Fliers included in the chamber of commerce monthly mailing to 1,600 members.
- Postcard invitations to all chamber members.
- Postcard invitations to local media, corporate facility managers and other specific business contacts.
- Media coverage, including a press clip in local weekly newspaper.
- Personal calls to targeted members of the chamber member list.
- 60-second radio spots provided free by event sponsor 92.7 Lite FM.
- Post-event thank-you letters and tickets from both affiliated museums.
Sponsorships were solicited from local businesses, including Serendipity Cheesecakes, Westlake Village Florist, Epicure Catering, Balloon Designs by Jeanne, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Costume Alley, Lister Party Rentals, Wilshire Home Entertainment and Conejo Wine & Provision Co. To add to the excitement, attendees received a welcome package containing information and discounts for each of the facility's services as well as event sponsors. Every envelope contained a key to a locked unit in Hollywood's lobby containing a grand prize. A zydeco band provided entertainment, and a complete assortment of gourmet foods, desserts and beverages was provided.
Ancillary Services Play Leading Roles
Hollywood Storage Center offers more than traditional self-storage. It also provides Penske truck rental, fine-wine storage, vehicle storage, safety-deposit and high-security vault storage, records management, a "Studio Store" with boxes and packing supplies, packing and shipping services, and a business-service center. The facility supplies a conference room for business clients, as well as a gourmet kitchen for wine tastings and other events. It even has a playroom for children, converted from a 5-by-5 unit, in its lobby.
"The main reasons I included the ancillary businesses were, one, you get a higher return on your investment," says Sundher. "But the other reason was, depending on the density and demographics of an area, they expand your target market. So, now, in addition to Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park, I reach out to Malibu and Westlake and these different areas. People come in for specialty services at their convenience. I now have farther-reaching abilities as far as storage customers are concerned. In essence, you're breaking the location barrier, because you're luring them with specialty service."
Each facet of the business is marketed distinctly, with separate business cards and other promotional materials. Each is even given its own memorable name--Fortress Records Management, Hollywood & Wine, and The Vault. By advertising these services independently, Hollywood Storage Center can uniquely identify and address target markets' needs. And this approach opens opportunities for cool and fun attention-grabbers. For example, the door to The Vault is designed to look just like the heavy steel door to a bank vault. The wine-storage area is painted with murals of wine barrels.
Customers: The Real Stars
According to Sundher, the real stars of Hollywood Storage Center are its clients. He invests 100 percent into the careful training of his staff to best serve customers, using a finely tuned phone script, mystery-shopping services, and routine, one-on-one meetings with employees. "My employees know my manager and I mystery shop them, because we bring them into the office and listen to their tapes and teach them how to be better. I don't want them to be afraid of this process, but there are certain standards they must meet," Sundher says.
Sundher has devised his own particular phone script together with StorageWorks' Greg Call, an industry expert and consultant. Using the script, employees are expected to assess a customer's needs, ask whether he will need a rental truck, inquire about the need for boxes and packing materials, set up an appointment, find out where the caller learned of the facility, and obtain contact information--all while using the prospect's name at least three times. At the close of the call, they should ask, "Have I provided excellent service for you? Are there any other questions I can answer for you?" If a caller won't be visiting the facility within two days, he receives a full welcome package via mail.
"It's extremely important they get the phone script, that part of the process down," Sundher says. "Otherwise, all that advertising money you're spending is for naught. You've got to monitor it.
Dealing with the prospect visit is a whole different animal. Then, the employee gets up, greets the visitor, shakes his hand, takes him over to the menu board and explains all the different services we provide. Then he finds out what the customer needs. If it's a truck rental, we bring him over to the truck-rental area. If it's storage, we walk him over to the show units and size up his needs. We try to cross-market as many of the different services as we can. And we try to sell them in the office instead of running around in the golf cart. We train our staff to do it all."
On the weekends, the Hollywood staff drives a utility trailer around the facility to distribute free sodas and glasses of ice or, when it's cold outside, coffee. As a final convenience, the facility does not operate on a five-grid system, limited to 5-by-5s or 10-by-10s. It offers shallow units for easy viewing of contents, or others with extra-large doors. "I don't cram somebody into what we have available--I put them into what they need at the lowest cost. We've been very creative in our unit mix," Sundher says.
He disagrees the Hollywood theme is what makes his center so special. "No. 1 is the good service you get here and the good value--the peace of mind, the security, the staff who go above and beyond, and the services. Customers can do everything here at this one-stop shop."
Hollywood Storage Center is located at 3425 Old Conejo Road in Newbury Park, Calif. For more information, call 805.499.2700 or visit www.hollywoodstoragecenter.com.