By Pamela Alton
It’s already time to think about your marketing plan for 2005. With new facilities being built almost daily, competition for tenants will surely play a major role in maintaining or increasing occupancy levels at some facilities. What is your plan to achieve these goals? By designing a cost-effective program now, you can achieve the results you need.
The term “marketing” has been a buzzword in this industry for years. It refers to the advertising and selling of goods and services—in our case, self-storage units. Although the idea of marketing has become commonplace, the execution requires effort. It is a long-term proposition and requires a strong commitment of time, energy and expense to be successful.
Create a Plan
The first logical step is to set up a marketing plan. Without a plan, you plan to fail! Those who fail to develop a strategy will be only reactive to the marketplace and end up spending more to advertise in costly, one-time media promotions. Prepare a proposal for the upcoming year, and you can determine in advance what money will be spent and set your expectations accordingly.
To design an effective marketing program, you need to begin with a goal. Do you want more commercial tenants? Do you have a certain unit size you need to promote and rent? No matter the objective, it is usually obtainable through hard work, commitment and, of course, sufficient funds.
Next, you need to research the cost for the type of marketing you want to use. Get quotes from several vendors and compare the services they provide. Once you have done this, you will have a good idea what your annual budget for outside marketing will be. Keep in mind those times when advertising outlets will offer deals that can work to your advantage, for example, the offer of a discount to renew your Yellow Pages ad.
Once you’ve gathered all your information and sketched out a reasonable budget, you want to identify a daily, weekly and monthly program to keep you focused on what you need and want to do. Schedule your monthly “shoe leather” marketing (off-site marketing, such as visiting other facilities or businesses in the area) for when you know your site is least likely to be busy because of a rental due date or the distribution of late letters.
Many national self-storage companies employ a director of marketing to help with their plans. Some hire outside professionals such as an advertising agent to assist in the design and preparation of brochures and media and print materials. You only have one chance to make a first impression, so even if you are a smaller owner, you should have professional-looking literature. And remember that everything you use to market your facility should contain your facility name, address and telephone number along with a map showing the site in relation to something people in the area would recognize.
Successful marketing also involves establishing relationships within the community. Being friendly with managers at local apartment complexes, mobile-home parks, retirement homes, marinas, colleges, military bases and real estate offi ces is a fantastic way to earn residential referrals. Making regular visits to businesses in your area can win you essential commercial tenants.
Commercial storage could make up more than 50 percent of your clientele. Business customers are usually good paying tenants and seem to store longer than residential users. Besides the normal avenues of advertising, you can do several things to attract businesses customers. Consider mailing a flier or postcard promoting storage for records or excess office items and inventory to accountants, doctors/dentists, retail stores, attorneys, hospitals, computer companies, restaurants, etc. They are likely to use your smaller 5-by-5 and 10-by-10 units. You can also target local electricians, landscapers, plumbers, handymen, contractors or construction companies. They will use your larger 10-by-15, 10-by-20 or 10-by-30 units.
After your initial contact with a referral or commercial prospect, follow up regularly. Continual contact is part of a successful marketing program. When you make follow-up visits, have a reason, such as replacing fliers you have stacked on a counter or filling the candy dish you provided (which, of course, has your facility name on it!).
Finally, consider using promotional items and incentives. These could be free gifts in the form of magnets, pens, key chains, letter openers, etc. They can also be used for trade fairs, door-to-door sales, chamber of commerce mailings and “welcome wagon” gifts. They can cost as little as 25 cents a piece or as much as $5 an item. The important thing is to keep your facility name fresh in the minds of prospective customers.
Consistency Is Key
Marketing is a program of consistency, especially when it comes to flier or postcard distribution. You cannot do it once and expect a return. If you keep your face and name in the public eye, when people need storage, you will be the one they call.
Create a marketing checklist to keep you focused. Include the names, addresses and phone number of your contacts, when you saw them, what marketing tactic you used, and when you need to follow up with them again. When someone does rent from you, find out how they heard about your facility. Tracking your marketing efforts is extremely important. You need to know which ones are working and which you can do without.
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini-Management also offers full-service and “operations only” facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call 800.646.4648.