As I travel around the country, I continually drop in on self-storage facilities. As you might expect, I see the good, the bad and the ugly. There are some incredibly well-managed facilities, and those that need a complete marketing overhaul. Those that do it right concentrate on the basics. That’s the topic for this month: getting back to the basics.
The self-storage business is relatively straightforward. There are four steps involved. First, get people to pick up the phone and call you. Second, get those who call to come in and visit. Third, get those who visit to sign a rental agreement. Fourth and last, get those who rent from you to stay forever and tell all of their friends. If you were to get just 5 percent better in each of these four areas, you’d be making a lot more money. Let’s take a look at how you can do that.
Step 1: Get People to Call
Getting people to call is all about your total marketing efforts. For this article, I’d like to skip right to the way the phone is answered.
Most prospects will have called you before coming to visit. The first thing people hear over the phone is your greeting. Frequently, I hear some pretty awful greetings. The best one I heard recently was, “Hi, do you mind calling back? I’m eating lunch right now.”
There are two components to a good greeting. First, there’s the verbiage —what you actually say. Second, there is the way in which you say it. Here’s a sample greeting: Thanks for calling ABC Self Storage. This is Fred. How may I help you? This is pretty good, but in my opinion, there is something missing. Instead, I suggest the following: Thanks for calling ABC Self Storage, the only place in town with individual door alarms. This is Fred. How may I help you?
The basics of the greeting tell us who the person has called, what makes the facility unique from others (its unique selling position, or USP), who the person on the phone is, and offers help to the caller. It is essential to put your USP in the greeting. If the caller knows or remembers nothing else after he calls you, he’ll remember what it is you have or offer that is different from everyone else in town.
Many managers answer the phone with a fake-sounding vocal tone that let’s me know the person on the other end of the line is a loser. Don’t do this. Be real. Be yourself. Don’t try and put on an act when you answer the phone. Naturally, you should be polite and upbeat, but don’t put on that “fast-food restaurant server” voice—the one that makes you sound like an automaton.
Step 2: Get Those Who Call to Visit
Remember the goal of every phone call: to get people to visit your facility. Understanding this is your goal, make sure you do everything you can to accomplish it. How? Do three basic things. First, ask the caller a lot of questions. Second, build rapport. Third, highlight your USP.
By asking potential renter questions, you’ll get him engaged with you. The more questions you ask, the greater that engagement will be. Help him figure out how much space he will need and what size unit will be right for him. As you go through the standard questions everyone else will ask, find some openings to ask questions that are not business-related. Get him engaged in conversation about himself and his individual situation. Remember, people buy from people they like. To be likeable, you must engage people and get them talking to you about things other than business.
It’s inevitable that yours isn’t the only facility the prospect is calling. Chances are, you are one of many—usually right out of the phone book. This being the case, you’ve got to show the prospect how your facility is different, what you have or do that your competition does not.
To get this right, you’ve got to survey your competitors and see what they offer. Then you’ll be able to find something you have that is unique. If you can’t find something, you’re in trouble. You must offer something that makes you different, or you’re just selling a commodity. It’s just like gasoline—most people who buy it, buy the cheapest brand.
If you do not offer anything unique, create something. The easiest way to do this is to offer super-small units you can rent for $9.95. I’d prefer you use something other than price to compete (like you’re the only facility in town with individual door alarms), but in a pinch, offering really cheap units will get people in for a visit. Get a hold of some old high school lockers to legitimately offer the really low price point.
Step 3: Get Those Who Visit to Rent
Once you’ve got people at your facility, you should close 90 percent or more of them in a rental. The fact they came to your facility means they will most likely rent. How do you increase your odds to make it a slam-dunk? By making sure your facility is well-kept and clean. Nothing will make people change their minds faster than a poorly kept property. Think of the Disney World standard. Keeping your facility “sparkling” clean will make it impossible for prospects to walk away.
When people don’t rent from a facility, it is mainly because of three things: they thought the facility was unclean or unsafe, or the manager was perceived as incompetent. Keeping your facility looking good will create the assumption it is safe. Make sure you have good lighting and highlight your security system to prospects when you give them a tour. The only way to ensure your manager doesn’t appear incompetent is to hire one who isn’t.
Step 4: Keeping Customers/Generating Referrals
The key to making this step work is to service your customers after they become renters. Most managers spend a lot of their time trying to generate new customers and not nearly enough time taking care of those they already have.
The most important aspect to servicing customers is to listen to them. And don’t just listen to them—act on what they say. If a customer bumps into you in the hallway and suggests it might be a good idea to have a pair of jumper cables around, listen and then act. The most successful facilities I have ever seen are those where managers actively listen to customers and then do what they are asked.
Customers will give you referrals if and only if you ask for them, so don’t be shy. After having done something for a customer and he has thanked you, ask him if he knows anyone else who needs storage. Let customers know how important their referrals are, and ask them for their help. People who are satisfied with what you’ve done for them will be happy to oblige.
Many facilities will compensate tenants for their referrals. This is a great idea, but no one will give you a referral if they aren’t 100 percent delighted with the job you’re doing for them. Happy customers will generate referrals almost automatically.
There are lots of little things you can do to rent more units, but nothing will help you more than concentrating on the basics. If you can get 5 percent better in each of the four areas mentioned above, your occupancy rates will increase and your profitability will go up as well.
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.