There are four steps to effectively marketing your self-storage facility. First, you need to entice people to pick up the phone and call you. Next, you’ve got to get those who call to visit you. Third, you’ve got to get those who visit to sign a rental agreement. Finally, you must convince your tenants to stay “forever” and tell all of their friends about you.
In this article, I’d like to give you some tips to maximize your effectiveness in each of these areas. If you were to get just 5 percent better in each of these categories, you’d be making a lot more money. To best track your marketing efforts, you have to measure all their essential elements: the number of calls you receive, where they come from, how many of those calls turn into visitors, and how many people who visit actually rent a unit.
Keeping track of those numbers will allow you to determine the effectiveness of your marketing. Without those numbers, you’ll have no way of knowing if the dollars you are spending on different marketing options make sense. In short, without data, you can’t make intelligent business decisions. If you don’t keep track, you’re shooting in the dark.
Get the Phone to Ring
The first thing you need to do to be successful in the storage industry is to get the phone to ring. Without people calling, you won’t be getting much business. Sure, you’ll get a certain number of people who rent from you without calling first, but for the most part, people call before coming in to rent.
The majority of self-storage operators concentrate on Yellow Pages advertising to get the phone to ring. In fact, for many owners, it is their entire marketing plan. In actuality, the Yellow Pages are one of the least efficient means of getting your phone to ring.
The best way to optimize your marketing efficiency is by using the R.O.M.D. (return on marketing dollars) system. This is a ratio that allows you to compare different marketing methodologies and determine which are more efficient. This allows you to prioritize your efforts based on their effectiveness. To get the highest R.O.M.D., you need to put out the least amount of money and get the greatest dollar return.
The “cheapest” customer to earn is the repeat customer. There are two primary ways to ensure people will come back and rent from you (if they have to leave in the first place). First, you need to give people outstanding service. For example, you need to offer all the little things people might need, like jumper cables, a hammer or a flashlight. Have them available to lend when people ask for them.
Another essential ingredient to repeat business is to keep your name in front of past customers with an occasional postcard that gives some information of value so it doesn’t get tossed without being read. Few, if any, operators think to continue to mail customers who are no longer renting. Keep mailing to people even after they have moved out. It’s inexpensive, and the payback is incredibly high.
Referrals are another extremely inexpensive method of marketing. There are a number of different ways to stimulate them, but the key to getting more of them is simple: ask! Have your managers ask for referrals when people first sign the rental agreement, when a customer has a problem solved to his satisfaction, and when a tenant moves out. Do not be embarrassed to inquire. Asking at these crucial times is essential to maximizing the number of referrals you receive.
Another great way to stimulate referrals is to provide incentives. Offer tenants a discount on next month’s rent if they give you a referral. A lot of facilities offer this kind of program but very few have any massive success. Few of your renters will send you referrals for the money. Instead, they will be happy to send you referrals if you treat them right and ask them for their help. The postcards you send to previous customers won’t hurt referrals either. Past tenants who receive mailers will be much more likely to send you business.
Centers of Influence Centers of influence are those individuals who have the potential to give you a lot of referrals and send a ton of business your way. These are the individuals with whom you must cultivate relationships. Examples include real estate agents, chambers of commerce, and heads of social organizations in your area.
If you can get these people to send you referrals once, they will usually continue to do so. Make sure to thank them for sending you business. You need to show gratitude each time they send a tenant your way. For example, it wouldn’t hurt to show up with a pizza for them at lunch on occasion.
Direct mail is any and everything you send people through the mail. Despite the prevalence of the Internet, direct mail should still be part of your marketing mix. In fact, with all of the e-mail people receive, direct mail is even more effective.
Whatever you do, concentrate on a specific niche. Rather than mailing an “everyone” piece, concentrate on a group that has already demonstrated interest in renting from you. Whether it be a group of lawyers or pharmaceutical reps, pick a niche and target it with a mail piece specific to its members. Test a postcard rather than sending a more expensive mailer that requires an envelope and inserts. Postcards are often more effective because they don’t need to be opened.
If you can find a way to encourage your local media to cover a story about your facility, you will get more renters. This approach is a lot better than advertising in the newspaper, or on radio or TV. Not only are these media expensive, they are generally ineffective. Advertising is perceived as sales puff. Getting news coverage by the media is considered a tacit endorsement of your facility.
How do you get coverage? Host special or charitable events in your area. There are a multitude of options for community involvement. Be proactive about communicating with local newspapers, radio stations and cable TV stations. Don’t be afraid to send out a press release about hosting a car wash for the high school band or that after-hours mixer.
Your storage hotline is a separate phone line and voicemail containing a recorded message listing all the features and benefits of your facility. Be sure to list your hotline in all of your marketing. If you advertise it as a “recorded message,” people will be more apt to call, as they know no one will be waiting to sell them something on the other end of the line. This is a nonthreatening approach and can be a tremendous sales tool.
Your message should be three to five minutes long and be accessible 24 hours a day. The hotline essentially becomes your mechanical salesperson that never gets tired, gives a perfect pitch each time, and only costs $20 or so each month. Getting the phone to ring at your facility is crucial to success. By offering a message during off-hours, you can only bolster your chances.
Even though advertising in the Yellow Pages is expensive and has a relatively low R.O.M.D., you should still place an ad—but make sure to do it right! Here a few things you must do to create an effective Yellow Pages ad.
The most important element of your ad is your headline, which is the “ad for your ad.” Don’t use your facility name as your headline. Instead, use your USP, your unique selling proposition. Highlight what you offer that no other facility in your market area does. People couldn’t care less about the name of your facility. Only you care about this. Your customers care about their wants and needs.
Next, make sure you attach benefits to any features you list. The majority of potential renters reading your ad have not used storage before. This being the case, you can’t assume they have a working knowledge of the storage business. Never just say, “Lots of different size units.” Make sure to add, “So you never have to rent more space than you need.”
In addition to your storage hotline, a small but readable map should be included in your ad. It must provide your major cross streets to give people a good idea where you’re located. The map should also highlight well known landmarks in the area, such as the local Wal-Mart or other popular retailers close by. Finally, let people know if you accept credit cards and which ones, and make your web address prominent.
Getting Callers to Visit
Once your phone rings, your goal is to convert those people who call into visitors. This is all about phone-sales skills. If you can get people to visit, there is a very good chance you can get them to rent a unit. Here are some tips.
When people call, find out how they heard about your facility. This is essential to monitoring your marketing efforts. Then tell them your USP. Explaining what’s unique about your facility will ensure that if prospects call other facilities, you’ll leave them with something that makes you memorable. Your presentation might go something like this: ‘Thanks for calling ABC Storage, the only facility in town with individual door locks. How can I help you?’’ Not only should you use your USP in the initial greeting, you will want to remind them of it before the end of the call.
Create a sense of urgency. People are more likely to buy if they feel in danger of losing something, such as the last unit of a particular size. Understand that your only goal is to get prospects to visit your facility. Try to commit them to a specific appointment time. Doing so will make them more likely to actually visit. If you can close more than 60 percent of those who call, you’re doing a great job.
Converting Visits to Rental Agreements
Getting those who visit to sign a rental agreement requires you to have great face-to-face selling skills. Most managers are closing upward from 90 percent of prospects who visit their facilities. There are few things you need to do to increase your closing ratios.
People buy from people they like. Being a grumpy old man (or woman) certainly won’t help your chances of getting people to rent from you. Be friendly and affable, but don’t overdo it. Be yourself, but be your nice self.
The first thing a manager will usually do when someone visits a facility is take him on a tour. The cleaner and more well-maintained your facility, the higher the chances he will rent from you. On the tour, make sure to highlight the security features of the facility, as security is one of the most important features to prospects.
When you’ve finished the tour, make the assumption the prospect will be renting. Pull out your paperwork and get started. If someone has taken the time to come to your facility, he is likely going to rent a unit from someone. If it isn’t you, it will be your competition. If the prospect decides not to rent from you, ask him why. Very few managers do this, but it’s a great way to find out what you can do better next time.
Get Them to Stay ‘Forever’
(and Tell All Their Friends)
Once a prospect rents from you, the key is to get him to stay as long as you can. Attracting new customers is much more costly than keeping your current ones. In most cases, you have little control over when a person needs storage. When a tenant’s new house is completed and he’s ready to move in, storage may no longer be necessary. These aren’t the tenants we’re focusing on here.
People who do continue to need storage will generally only move out under two conditions: if they are treated poorly or you raise prices too drastically. The way to avoid the first situation is fairly obvious. However, if someone complains about his rental rates, find a way to keep him. If you have to freeze his rates, do it—unless your occupancy is so high you are actually trying to get people out of their units.
So there you have it, the simple four-step process for storage marketing success. There are other marketing options to explore in greater detail, such as your facility website and other marketing collateral, such as brochures. The basic recommendations provided above will supply an excellent base. Follow them, and you will be more competitive, have higher occupancy, and grow your bottom line.
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.