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The self-storage industry has experienced incredible growth in the last decade. This expansion has necessitated more sophisticated marketing and sales/advertising plans for facilities to stay competitive. Without physically and strategically upgrading older, less-refined stores—including their marketing methods—these operations find it difficult to keep market share. Even savvy, high-tech locations by first-time developers cannot compete and win without solid marketing programs in place prior to opening.

Large operators spend countless hours planning their advertising activities, hence their (generally) more impressive incomes and sales numbers. Every facility, regardless of size, can effectively plan and execute basic marketing strategies. This article discusses the steps needed for successful marketing of today’s self-storage operations:

Step 1: Understand the program goal

Step 2: Cover the basics

Step 3: Establish a budget

Step 4: Understand the unique cost per lease and set targets

Step 5: Assess the situation

Step 6: Learn to meet and greet

Step 7: Take action

Step 8: Measure results

Step 9: Compare performance

Step 10: Create awareness

Understand the Program Goal

The primary goal is to create marketing programs that accomplish the following:

  • Create total service-area awareness. This means defining on a map, based on traffic flows and boundaries, the store’s service or market area. This is sometimes not a 3- or 5-mile ring, but an egg-shaped area due to major thoroughfares or natural boundaries. (Remember the customer perceives convenience as a 10-minute travel time.)
  • You will want to know as much as possible about this target area: businesses, residences, single- or multifamily complexes, major employers, universities, military bases, etc. The goal is to target this area for your marketing messages and actions. This allows you to focus specifically on consumers most likely to use your service, and denotes the area of focus for advertising and marketing expenses. Note where competitors are on the same map.
  • Increase traffic and sales by targeting the above area. When the need for storage arises, you will be the one prospects choose to visit.
  • Create more accurate sourcing and demographic information by gathering specific data and accurately accounting for customers’ buying patterns, sources, location, preferences, etc. Use the data to frequently update your marketing programs. This way, you’ll be able to create programs and services that have maximum effectiveness.

Cover the Basics

When handled correctly, these basic functions and features are responsible for the bulk of our rentals:

  • The attributes and location of the store
  • The salesmanship of the team or manager
  • Customer service and conveniences
  • Advertising and promotions
  • Friendly and motivated managers
  • A complete set of knowledge

The first thing you must realize is marketing is a normal manager function and should be discussed in the hiring process. A facility manager or team should understand basic customer- service dynamics and how important the development of awareness and community participation is to the success of the store.

Advertising and marketing expenses are normally 3 percent to 6 percent of income for stabilized stores of average size, and will be needed pre-opening as a cost of start-up. Lack of planning has caused hardships for many managers and owners. Plan adequately for marketing in your annual budget, which should address 16 key areas. These allocations are unique to each store location and market area:

  • Membership in your local chamber of commerce. Attend as many functions as possible on a regular basis, and use the membership list to send fliers, broadcast faxes or e-mails.
  • Membership in the national Self Storage Association. This is the voice of the industry and an important connection to industry activities and actions.
  • Membership in your state association. This is important for the obvious reasons of local involvement, legislative support and peer networking.
  • Subscriptions to industry publications.
  • Printed materials, such as brochures, fliers, invitations, postcards, business cards, referral cards, mailers or any other items needed to complete your plan.
  • Yellow Pages ad(s). Identify how many books you will want to be in for your market area and how large an ad is needed, along with the cost for color, etc., necessary to compete or gain attention.
  • Internet ads and/or website. There are several industry-specific providers of website design and online reservations and payments.
  • Uniforms/nametags. These are a must so you and your team members can always be identified. Rentals come from contacts made everywhere!
  • Promotional items. This could include anything from coffee mugs to nail files to candy jars or key chains with your facility name, phone number and website printed on them.
  • Postage. Include adequate postage to complete monthly and mass mailings.
  • Local events/sponsorships. Owners sometimes sponsor local school sports teams as part of their ongoing community participation and goodwill, or participate in community flea markets, carwashes, wine-tastings, etc.
  • Referral programs. Referrals are the most sought after of all rentals—their cost is the lowest, they are presold before arriving, and they can account for a significant percentage of each month’s rentals.
  • Curb appeal. Your curbside view needs to change weekly, as drive-by traffic ceases to notice the same old message. Consider balloons, street-side signs, curb paint, landscape changes, pennants, banners, etc.
  • On-site signage. Make sure your facility is easy and convenient to navigate. Consider keypad signs that welcome and instruct, gate signs with office and access hours, building numbers/letters, rules and regulations, marketing messages in models and restrooms, thank-you signs at the exit, etc.
  • Ongoing training and education of employees. This is often neglected, but it is critical. Hire for attitude, train for skill. Budget accordingly.
  • Miscellaneous. A well-thought plan, properly funded and staffed with motivated, know edgeable employees is the goal. Miscellaneous items will, from time to time, be necessary. Keep these to a minimum and include any reoccurring items in next year’s plan.

Establish a Budget

Usually, two six-month plans are easier than an annual plan and allow for updates from the prior period’s results. Remember to include a six-month supply of promotional items, printing and postage in each plan. Allow for a nominal amount of “extras” in the budget and then stick to it. In addition, be sure you understand all the costs associated with each action or item, e.g., labor, cost for renting mailing list, etc. I suggest tracking not only what percentage of income is used for advertising and marketing, but also the cost-per-foot expenses. Involve managers in this process and provide them expense feedback.

Understand the Unique Cost Per Lease and Set Targets

This leads us to another of our goals: to have a lower cost per lease (CPL). I have frequently witnessed experienced operators who have no idea what they are paying for each lease. In many cases, they are unknowingly spending several hundred dollars for each rental. The CPL is found by dividing all leases into all advertising and promotions costs. An effective CPL in the Southeast, for example, would be $50 or less. At this rate, expenses would remain within normal parameters.

Compare your store with others and weigh the unique attributes of your location, drive-by traffic, percentage of repeats and referrals, etc. Set a goal, track the number and work to improve with continued lower costs each year. Technology is a great assistance in this goal.

Assess the Situation

Summarize your current situation. What are your best traffic sources? Which programs are most effective? Drive-bys and the Yellow Pages are the two most common sources of prospect traffic. Ask yourself what percentage of your total traffic each source represents. What does each cost, in total and per lease?

Understand your team’s effectiveness at converting callers to visits and visits to leases. Know who your best customers are and why, how they found you, and what products or services they like best. Gauge the effectiveness of each marketing program and team member, and define what skills and actions are needed to meet targets you’ve set for traffic, callers and leases. The resulting conversion numbers may indicate more training or traffic is needed.

Learn to Meet and Greet

Your facility’s success starts with you. Know the difference between marketing and sales. Marketing is creating awareness, while sales is the actual production of or taking of an order.

Below are the steps for a successful marketing visit, one that allows you to leave customers feeling good about having met and interacted with you. This is the goal of any cold call. If you’ve made a good impression, you can begin developing a rapport and start to get referrals or direct business. You can accomplish 15 to 20 of these calls in an hour or two. If you are a single store manager without other team members, stop to make one call each day on the way to or from the bank or post office—by the end of the month, you will have visited 20 to 25 new prospects.

  • Prepare for success—have all materials planned and ready ahead of time. The goal is to have a well-groomed person with great attitude visiting a targeted group and distributing a clear message.
  • Before your hand touches the door, put a smile on your face.
  • Take the lead on each call. Go directly to the first person with whom you make eye contact.
  • State your business in specific terms: who you are, the company you represent, why you stopped by and what materials you brought with you.
  • Timing is everything, so plan who you’ll visit (apartment managers, real estate agents, retailers, etc.) and when (time of day and day of week).
  • Make a favorable impression and leave. You should be in and out within a few minutes.
  • Follow up as agreed, then call, mail, visit and repeat on a consistent basis.

Take Action

Set specific goals and take action. I suggest using a personal marketing-goals form on which results can be reported each month. Managers set their goals for a six-month period, indicating what actions are needed during each month. These include target numbers for personal visits, follow-up phone calls, marketing faxes, marketing e-mails, letters or fliers mailed, or any other type of marketing messages. The actual number achieved is measured against the goal number, and the percentage achieved is shown as the marketing-goal score for each month.

Some stores may not be able to e-mail or fax, but each store can and should take some action each month to assist in achieving a consistent marketing message at all times. Great, creative ideas and plans are nothing without action.

Measure Results

You can measure the traffic sources for all your rentals using a software program. Keep in mind, however, the information gained is only as accurate as the person providing the input. Be sure all marketing and advertising programs are listed as choices in the software; for example, if you are using ValPak mailers or a broadcast-fax program, make sure these choices are available. Set a goal number for each category and measure results. Inform all team members of each program and how you want to track the activity. Adjust each year’s budget based on this information.

Compare Performance

Track the results and changes of your traffic sources. I suggest tracking six major areas: drivebys, Yellow Pages, referrals, repeats, direct marketing and “other,” which includes billboards, the Internet, hotlines, ValPak, etc. If you have multiple locations, you’ll want to compare results within your group. You’ll also want to compare with other industry data. The results will bear out the true effectiveness of each program and the changes made over time.

Create Awareness

Creating awareness is what marketing is all about. Make contact frequently and consistently to ensure your impact and success within your targeted market area. Managers need to be adept at meeting and greeting, and getting the word out about their unique stores and the services they offer. Follow these easy steps, create and implement a simple and effective plan, measure your success and have fun.

Anne Ballard is the founder and president of Universal Management Co. as well as the president and executive director of the Georgia Storage Owners Society. Universal manages more than 30 facilities in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalmgmntco.com.

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