Golf is one of those games a player loves or hates. But no matter how he feels about it, the average “Joe Golfer” will use an endless array of tools, gimmicks and gadgets to get to the top of his game. He will buy any products that claim to help him improve his handicap: balls that fly farther and are “guaranteed” to get more loft, titanium or custom-fit clubs specifically designed to help swing and improve distance, not to mention tees, shoes, gloves, range finders, etc.
Truth be told, these tools can actually aid “Joe Golfer” in achieving better results. It is simply a matter of how he sets them up and if he uses them properly and regularly. Similarly, mystery-shopping is a unique and necessary implement designed to improve your game in the self-storage arena. All businesses look for ways to increase revenues and expand their customer base. Mystery shopping has become a heavy hitter due to the extensive benefits it provides. It is a serious, convenient, economical device designed to aid owners in achieving that ever-evasive “birdie” or “eagle” in their businesses.
I am sure a few of you have already mastered your golf game (yeah, right!), so the tool analogy may not pertain to you. However, as a storage operator, you will still find the following information helpful.
Basic Revenue-Generating Factors
When your storage facility is not producing projected revenue, it makes sense to take a step back and get a fresh perspective. There are many reasons profits can be lacking. By using mystery-shopping services to analyze the basic revenue-generating factors below, you can decide how to make the best use of various tools to improve your business. The following should be in place at every storage facility from day one:
Advertising. Advertising dollars should be budgeted at an appropriate level to generate the traffic required to rent up your store. Note that it costs an average of $16 in advertising (Yellow Pages, etc.) to generate just one phone call.
Visibility. Make sure your store has the necessary visibility to generate drive-by business as well as create convenience for other prospects and tenants. Your store should have easy-to-read signage visible from the main roads and surrounding areas.
Maintenance. Your store should be professional-looking, with fresh paint, well-maintained pavement and concrete, and attractive landscaping. It should present an atmosphere that projects a “secure” environment to potential customers.
Management. How are your sales “consultants” at providing customer service? The employees running your store should be friendly, outgoing and personable enough to close the sale on walk-ins as well as win appointments from incoming calls. You can have a great-looking location, but if you don’t have the proper people running it, it will be beautiful and empty.
Competition. What are your competitors up to? How can you have an edge on competition if you do not know what they provide? Make it a point to shop neighboring facilities and be aware of their features and offerings.
Legal Issues. Delinquency, overlocks, notices and auctions—are these items being handled in a timely, appropriate manner? Are your employees adhering to applicable laws?
In addition to providing feedback on how these basic factors are working in an operation, on-site mystery shopping directly benefits self-storage owners in the areas of training, auditing and bonus structures for employees. Soliciting the observation of an unbiased third party is a cost-effective way to obtain a bird’s-eye view of your business.
Obvious Revenue-Generating Factors
The ins and outs of the self-storage industry are not common knowledge to the general public. To the potential customer, one store is just as good as the next—after all, storage is storage. Because most stores offer the same features and benefits, an objective view of your store is extremely useful in determining if the tools you have in place to better your game are, in fact, working. If they aren’t, you need to direct your mystery-shopper’s attention to more obvious revenue-generating factors:
Advertising. Now that you’ve spent that $16 to get your phone to ring, who is answering the call, and how is he handling the potential business? Is his speech clear and inviting? Does he make the customer feel like he wants their business? Does his sales presentation sound natural and unrehearsed? Potential customers rely on advertising to find the products and services they need. If the sales consultant does not pursue the customer, “selling” his site and actually getting the prospect to visit, the advertising money for that phone call is wasted.
Visibility. When your sales consultant provide directions to your store, can customers find you without difficulty? Or are you are having trouble with prospects calling your location but visiting and actually renting from your competitor across the street? Shopper input is extremely helpful in this area, as there seems to be a storage facility on every corner these days. One wrong turn, and your customer could end up at your competitor’s location—oops!
Maintenance. Is your facility perceived as a safe and attractive environment to store personal belongings? Is it site well-maintained, well-lit and secure? Are your driveways paved and well-tended? Is your landscaping appealing to passersby? Is your office clean and free of smoke and unpleasant odors? If your site is in need of repairs or looks “dumpy,” your competitor may get the business you are trying to earn. No one likes to put his treasures in a dive.
Management. Your staff is the key factor in sales and revenue. Mystery shops can reveal information imperative to the success of your store. Are your sales consultants always in uniform? Do they sell your site based on features and benefits? Are they present when signage indicates the store is open? Do they offer any specials or promotions? How is the daily paperwork handled? Are deposits being made in a timely fashion? Are late fees being applied and collected? These are just some of the important items mystery-shoppers look at when visiting facilities.
The most important aspect of your management team is “obvious customer service.” This means your employees go out of their way for customers, and the customers not only notice, they appreciate the attention. A few great examples are:
- Driving up to customers in the golf cart when they are loading or visiting their units and asking them about their day.
- Asking customers about their opinion of your store and letting them know their input is important to you.
- Offering a nice cold bottle of water on a hot day or coffee/hot chocolate on a cold day.
- Keeping umbrellas next to the front door so you can walk customers to and from their car or unit when it rains.
These are just a few simple things that tell your customers you care about them. They are acts of kindness that go a long way and build trust and security, which in turn makes the customer loyal to your store.
Competition. Competition shops are a must in any industry. To stay ahead of your rivals, you should know the same things about their operations that you know about your own store. For instance, what does their site look like? What is their occupancy rate? How does their management team treat customers? What specials do they offer? You should have your competitor shopped on at least a quarterly basis. It is a very cost-effective way to maintain your edge. Warning: If you think your sales consultants are checking your competition for you, you are probably wrong. They are most likely making a phone call and just getting a price list.
Legal Issues. Mystery shopping can be used as an auditing tool to track revenue as well as adherence to company policy. Do your late notices go out on time? When do you overlock units? Are your auction dates published legally?
To take mystery shopping one step further, a mystery renter will actually visit your location and rent from you. He’ll pay each month’s rent in cash so the deposits can be tracked. Once all necessary information has been obtained through the rental process, the renter’s unit goes delinquent and you can track the late and legal notices, publications, etc., right up to the actual auction of the unit. This is to ensure your managers are following the proper legal channels required by law.
Mystery shopping is an extremely useful tool for business owners. It is not only used to uncover negative information but to celebrate good customer service. Since service is a huge component of business success, evaluations should be used to acknowledge the positive aspects of your business, just as negatives should be noted and corrected.
This article provides a general idea of how mystery shopping can offer an eye-opening perspective for you and your sales consultants. Make sure you are up to speed on what you offer potential customers by putting your tools to the test. Don’t assume you are at the top of your game. Without mystery shopping, that little chip shot and putt for par could turn into a double bogey. Wouldn’t you rather have a hole in one?
Lori Niemczyk is the owner of Littleton, Colo.- based A Top Shop!, which specializes in customized physical or phone mystery shopping and site audits. For more information, call 720.283.8377; e-mail email@example.com; visit www.atopshop.com.
Par 3: Customer Service
Here are few quick suggestions for on-site management to win new business: