Drawing a Crowd

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From car washes to carnivals, special events can bring foot traffic to your facility. If you haven’t hosted one, you’re missing a golden opportunity to get your name out—and bring in new business.

When Jay Sundher opened Hollywood Storage Center last summer in Newbury Park, Calif., he didn’t settle for a few fliers or advertisements in the local newspaper. Rather the storage manager set out to create an extravagant event including food, giveaways, wine-tasting and balloons. And it worked. The upscale event attracted 300 would-be customers. It was also a chance to showcase the facility’s many facets. “A lot of people didn’t know there was wine storage available in the community. They didn’t realize there was such a thing as vault storage and what that meant until they came out and saw it,” Sundher says.

Marketing through special events is no longer limited to grand openings. Self-storage managers and owners are finding success with smaller events such as car shows, fundraisers and business mixers.

“It gets a lot of the community members and local business people out to the facility. These are people who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be out there unless they had a specific need,” says Sundher.

Special-event marketing is really about networking and frequency, says Tina Fleming, who runs Fleming Management Services with her husband, David. The couple have hosted a variety of different events, including a Halloween haunted house, car shows and business after-hours mixers. “We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from all of those events,” she says. “The creative-marketing part of it is coming up with new and different ideas.”

One of the most successful events the couple hosted was a haunted house on Halloween. They decorated climate-control and traditional units by themes. A 10-by-20 became a graveyard, the inside of a 10-by-15 a haunted living room, and a 5-by-10 featured a hanging ghoul and coffin. The couple used several units for pumpkin-carving, face-painting, games and food. Fleming wrote to local businesses— small and large—and asked them to assist with the costs. She also asked the local grocery store to donate apples and called Pepsi Cola of Buffalo, N.Y., for a donation of soda. To market the event, she sent fliers to her son’s elementary school.

Melissa Hermes, president of Manager On-Call, a provider of call-center services for the self-storage industry, has capitalized on special events to promote her own self-storage business, Crown Storage, which has two locations in Kentucky. Hermes has hosted everything from car shows to clothing drives. She also collected goods for the troops during the early months of the war. Hermes believes it’s important to get involved in the community any way you can. “It’s goodwill. The community will recognize your name, and it’s synonymous with a good feeling. When the need for self-storage arises, they’re going to think of us because they remember our name.”

Another marketing strategy Hermes tried was offering an athletic association a free unit in which to store its equipment. “We’d have 30 families coming to pick up equipment. And they remember that,” she says.

After-hours business mixers can introduce your facility to potential business clients and serve as a marketing tool. Brad North, founder of Advantage Business Consulting, plans to host a business mixer for pharmaceutical sales reps looking for climatecontrol units. “We’ll have giveaways, provide food and do it very professionally,” he says. “It will be a neat event because it’s specifically targeted to an audience we think will be a great customer for us.”

A car show is one of the easiest and most popular events. Fleming suggests calling your local speedway and asking for a promo car to be sent to your occasion. “From there you can build on it. Some of your customers may be storing cars and will want to show them,” she says. You can also tap into local car clubs who are always looking for places to show and socialize. Rent a hot-dog stand or cotton candy machine. Ask a local mover to have a table with brochures and goodies like pizza or snacks. “You can make it like a carnival. Have someone in a costume waving people in. Make it a family event,” Fleming says.

Once you get the people in your parking lot, offer them a giveaway bag. To ensure they’ll accept it, don’t include your logo on the outside of the bag, Fleming advises. That way the person has no idea what’s inside.

However, do add product information, such as a brochure with rates, a discount coupon, business card, and maybe something fun like a key ring or magnet.

Get the Word Out

Before reserving that clown suit or printing colorful fliers, owners and managers should make some very detailed plans. North suggests taking out a piece of paper and jotting down answers to these questions:

  • Who do we need to invite?
  • What are the best avenues to advertise our event?
  • What is our ultimate goal?
  • Who is the target audience?

The next step is getting the word out. Be creative. In addition to traditional avenues such as fliers and newspaper ads, consider nonconventional ideas like asking the chamber of commerce to announce your event in its newsletter or contacting the local radio station. Local churches may also be willing to announce your event in their weekly newsletter or just before service, or pass out fliers. Also visit any place with a bulletin board, including laundromats, car washes, grocery stores, etc., and tack up a flier detailing your event, Hermes advises.

Advertise the special event on reader boards or put a short notice at the bottom of invoices for existing customers. North suggests hand-delivering fliers to local key influencers: apartment communities, housing communities, the chamber of commerce, local businesses, customers from other sites and corporations. In addition, He recommends inviting the local police and fire departments. “They’ll bring out a fire truck and have fun things for the kids,” he says.

Finally, consider partnering with the chamber of commerce or other local businesses. “The event works for more than one person and it helps to float the cost,” Sundher says. Some restaurants or grocers will provide food for free for the exposure.

Regardless if your special event is big or small, the overall objective is the same: to create top-of-mind awareness. “It’s about making people who don’t necessarily need storage notice you,” Fleming points out. “When they do need storage, or know of someone who does, they will remember you.”

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