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Let Your Customers Know

Elaine Foxwell Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive
The grand opening of your new facility is only a few weeks away. The building is almost complete and your staff hired. Now it is time to get the message out about your services, and you face some crucial decisions about advertising. Where do you start?

There are many vehicles that can carry the message about your facility. Almost daily, you see newspaper ads, Yellow Pages, fliers, direct mail, websites, and dozens of other means proclaiming a product or service. This article outlines several methods of garnering customer attention and making the most of it.

Designing Your Ad

If you choose to use display ads, it is important they are designed for maximum impact. An ad need not be large to convey your message and grab reader’s attention. When designing your ad, pay careful attention to the following:

The Headline. You must first motivate prospects to read beyond the headline. This is crucial, especially if you consider 70 percent to 80 percent of consumers do not read beyond the bold type at the top of an ad. Successful headlines present news or promise specific benefits. Keep heads simple and direct. Do not use language that confuses readers.

The Body. The body must clearly and concisely help prospects understand the advantages of responding to your ad. Be specific and use attention-grabbing phrases. Let prospects know the benefits your facility offers. If your most attractive feature is climate control, keep that foremost in your mind while developing your ad. If your wish is to emphasize a state-of-the-art security system, your approach will be different. The body of your ad must clearly reflect your objective in serving the customer.

The Five Ws. Always cover the basics of who, what, when, where and why. Make sure the ad clearly states the purpose and function of your business. Include your address and any nearby landmarks, such as a shopping mall, as well as your phone number and business hours. The more specific your text, the easier it is for readers to grasp. For example, do not say you have “high ceilings.” More effective text clearly states, “12-foot ceilings available.” If you are advertising security, make sure your ad clearly specifies what features you offer, such as “lighted, 12-foot, razor-wire fencing.”

Use Endorsements. Nothing attracts prospects like the endorsement of a distinguished hero or respected celebrity. But, to be effective, endorsements or testimonials must be believable. Don’t overdo it, or you will lose credibility.

Guarantees. Guarantees should be expressed prominently in your ad; but be careful about using ambiguous or misleading text. Use disclaimers if necessary.

Coupons. A coupon at the bottom of an ad offering 25 percent off the first month for a limited time attracts prospects to your business and provides important feedback on which printed ads are most effective. Develop coupon-code numbers to track your ad’s efficiency.

Design to Stand Out. You must use a design strategy that grabs a reader’s attention. For example, a unique or bold border can help an ad “pop.” If you are including a photo or illustration, make sure it is a clear portrayal of your primary message without a lot of frills or clutter. If you are using a sale or contest coupon, make it large enough for prospects to easily write their name, address and phone number.

Once your ad is designed, it is time to consider where it will be used. There are several ways to advertise your storage business.

Yellow Pages

Although the Yellow Pages tends to be expensive, it’s the best source of advertising, says Mary Briggs, a writer for Kevin Howard Real Estate. The bonus is people who pick up the directory are already in the process of selecting a facility; you don’t have to sell them on storage. You do, however, have to sell them on your facility— setting yourself ahead of the competition.

Keep in mind larger ads tend to attract more attention. Make sure you match or beat your competitors’ ad size. If you decide to save money and go with a smaller ad, you may end up losing a lot of business in the long run. In some areas, larger Yellow Pages ads garner preferential placement in the directory, says Briggs. If you have two or more facilities, you might afford a larger space by listing them both in one ad. Most areas have more than one directory available. Before buying space, check the circulation of each, when they are published, and if the listings are accurate, complete and up-to-date.

According to Fred Gleeck, a self-storage consultant, there is no research or evidence to support the assertion that being first in a Yellow Pages section generates more calls. Don’t rely on “image advertising” in your ads. You only need to concern yourself with one thing: renting units. To make this happen, Gleeck says you need to include:

A great headline. Do not use the name of your facility at the top of your ad. Use a headline that combines your biggest benefit with your customers’ greatest need.

A list of features and benefits.

A storage hotline. Every facility should have a number people can call with a recorded message of its features and benefits.

Maps. Every ad should have a small map with major cross streets to make your facility easy to find.

Websites. Always include your web address in your ad.

Direct Mail

More than 50 percent of U.S. recipients of direct mail read it immediately, and of those, more than 40 percent found the information they received useful, according to marketing bureau Crest Services of Torrence, Calif.

Direct mail can be a very cost-effective marketing technique for storage operators, Gleeck says. What you print at the very top of your mail piece is crucial to its success. Take your biggest benefit and match it with your potential renter’s greatest need. If people’s attention is not grabbed at this point, they’re lost, he says.

Owners can use two types of direct mailing: Send out a “solo” piece or participate in some kind of co-op mailer. The second category would include things like Val Pak or Money Mailers, where your piece is included with a group of coupons from other vendors. You have one shot, so make it your best one. Make sure you have a code number or numbers on each direct-mail piece you send out.

The beauty of postcards is they are cheap and easy to create. You can make a decision to do a postcard mailing and in less than 48 hours. If you choose to test a letter over a postcard, remember some key elements: First, never use labels, as they scream “junk mail.” Instead, use plain white envelopes with stamps (not metered mail), and have letters hand addressed. Gleeck has seen response rates jump more than 800 percent just by following these simple steps.

Special Community Events

Briggs suggests participation in community activities is especially advantageous in keeping the facility visible in your area. Participation in special events works exceptionally well in small, rural areas, but can also work well in larger cities through neighborhood organizations or local business associations. (For more information on special-event marketing, see this month’s article on “Drawing a Crowd.”)


Fliers are often used for short-term campaigns, such as a grand opening or a promotional special, says Briggs. Fliers can be distributed by the manager (or other sources) in specific geographical areas, such as parking lots and apartment complexes. Keep flier advertising simple, specific and trackable. Keep headlines to less than seven words and body copy to no more than 50 words. Readers tend to have very short attention spans, so give the message quickly.

Tenant Referrals

Word-of-mouth is rapidly becoming a viable source for new tenants, according to Briggs. In some areas, tenant referrals are rivaling Yellow Pages in percentage for sources of new customers.

“Stuff It” coupons can be included in move-in packets and/or distributed as tenants pay their monthly rent. Offering a discount to current tenants gives them a greater incentive to pass on the coupon, and it also serves as a “thank you” for their business.

Business Letter

Commercial-and business storage tenants are still a relatively untapped source of new customers for self-storage, according to Briggs. The business letter is an inexpensive method of promoting your facility and services to them. The letter can be targeted toward specific businesses or services, i.e., seasonal inventory storage. It should offer some type of discount or giveaway to track the response, such as 10 percent off or three free file boxes.

The letter can be sent by the manager on a monthly or quarterly basis, or used as an introduction for additional services or a specific event, such as storage of dead and year-end files. It should always be followed with a phone call or visit from the manager to further promote your services.

Cynthia Perun, president of Creative Communications, suggests these seven tips to writing more effective sales letters:

  1. Imagine yourself as the reader of your letter as you write.
  2. Organize your letter with a beginning, explaining why you’re sending the letter, the body, telling the reader why your offer is irresistible, and the ending, where you briefly bring your points together and ask him to take advantage of the offer.
  3. Write so the letter is easily read in simple language or a conversational tone.
  4. Capture the reader’s attention by telling him something he wants to know.
  5. Get the reader interested.
  6. Have the reader desire your service by answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  7. Ask your reader to take action.


Gleeck offers a strategy any storage operator can use to get traffic to his website. By listing your website on a pay-per-click search engine, you can keep track of how many people search for your facility. Then, by purchasing domain names that complement your original and forwarding traffic, you can capture would-be-lost surfers. For example, Gleeck suggests purchasing domains that include your city’s name and the terms “self storage” or “storage.” If you live in Portland, for example, purchase or

Michael Zervas of Michaels/Wilder Group says banner advertising is a cost effective, attention-grabbing, online mode of communication, typically found on commercial or search-engine pages. It allows you to track impressions —to learn how many times the banner has appeared in front of a potential customer.

In addition, website owners can track click-throughs to learn how many times a customer has actually been driven through to their specific sites. Facility owners can choose between commercial sites, search engines and reciprocal placements with compatible sites. Consider demographics (education, income levels, number of adults vs. children, number of men vs. women, etc.), targeted mapping (geographic locations of homework and play) and psychographics (attitudes and beliefs), Zervas says.


Your facilitiy’s sign is one of the most important advertising methods you have, says Jim Chiswell of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Choosing a facility name that ties into the community is an effective advertising tool. Keep the design simple, with an easyto- read typeface, a limited amount of information and concise message. Make sure the sign is coordinated with the same information a customer will find when browsing the Yellow Pages.

Pamela Alton, owner of Mini-Management, says although zoning regulations dictate where a sign should be placed, the key is to put it on a visible street front where it can be easily seen by drivers. For a facility located near—but not on—a main drag, consider negotiating with a local business owner on the main street to post a directional sign on his property with the name of your facility and an arrow to lead traffic in the right direction.

The right color can make the sign stand out, Alton says. The wrong color can fade into the rest of the neighborhood. Generally, yellow is a standout color, but only if the rest of the street’s signs are different colors. Stick to primary colors; pastels are too pale and earth tones too mundane. To make the lettering stand out, consider using contrasting colors, such as black or red letters on a white background.


As technology expands, new modes of advertising are born. Fax and e-mail blasts slowly replace telemarketing, websites become preferable to billboards, and direct mail ousts door-to-door canvassing. Marketing becomes complex—more economical and expensive all at once. As competition in the marketplace heightens, storage owners and managers will scramble to deliver their message to prospects. Though there are ever more options, sometimes the best ones are the tried and true methods of old. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but remember your trusty fall-backs.

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