Everything in life requires maintenance. Without it, things become worn out, stale and lifeless. Your facility image is no exception. In a competitive environment, an appealing look will deliver increased occupancy by attracting new customers. It also helps maintain current business by keeping existing customers happy and content in the knowledge that they made the right choice by renting with you.
According to Webster’s, image refers to “a popular conception projected especially through the mass media.” A storage facility’s image is not only created by advertising and marketing activities but by other means, such as the quality and condition of your facility and staff and how well you deliver what you promise to customers.
Prospective Customer Type
Your facility image will be one of the first things customers encounter about your business. Generally, there are different types of prospects, and they respond to and interact with your facility in various ways. Characteristics of these customer types may overlap, but to keep things simple, we have separated them into three basic categories: call-in prospects, drive-by prospects and walk-in prospects.
These are people who will generally call you before coming to your facility. They respond to all of your printed materials, such as advertisements, fliers, brochures and postcards, but often are looking in the phone book at your Yellow Pages ad when they call. If they have a positive experience with you on the phone, they will rent from you, even though they have never seen your facility.
These prospects are often “shoppers.” They will call at least one other facility that has a similar or better image than yours. They will generally call you three to four days ahead of the date they need storage and call at least twice before showing up to rent space. They represent the largest group of prospective customers, so it is imperative your image is projected to them in a positive and convincing way. Your facility is seen by them through every means you choose.
These people regularly drive by your facility in their normal day-to-day routines. Because of the high rate of visual impressions they have of your facility, you are high in their “top of mind” awareness regarding storage. They come to you because you’re the most familiar to them. They are your second largest group of prospects and possibly higher if you have high traffic counts (above 40,000 cars per day). Your facility image is projected to them predominately by the physical condition of your site and signage.
These people generally live or work very close to your facility (within 1 mile). Convenience is high on their storage shopping list. They usually arrive without calling ahead with an immediate storage need, and they rarely leave without renting space. They are often repeat customers who have had a positive rental experience with you in the past. They are the most desirable prospects because they are already sold when they arrive. Unfortunately, they are the smallest group of prospects you encounter. Your facility image is projected to them predominately through the physical condition, appearance and location of your facility.
How Do You Look?
One of the best ways to gauge the present condition of your facility image is to simply ask current customers how you’re doing. This can easily be done by giving them a “report card” form to fill out and mail back to you. If you send invoices to your customers, consider including this form as a business-reply card in each billing envelope. To do this, you’ll need to get a business-reply permit from your local post office, which costs $150 annually. Each reply card you receive costs 83 cents.
Since the responses come directly from your customers, you’ll get a very accurate reflection of how they see you. Send the postcard regularly, and it will keep you in touch with the pulse of your facility’s image. The following is a good example of what this card might include.
A strong facility image is maintained by having nine irons in the fire at all times; in other words, you need to have as many image-building tools as you can implement and afford. The old industry theme of “build it and they will come” is a dangerous approach in today’s competitive environment. By relying solely on your facility’s location and physical condition to project your image to prospects, you miss a variety of opportunities to capture occupancy.
Review the following list of image-building tools and the accompanying questions. Consider adding some new tools to your repertoire. Also ask yourself if the ones you currently employ are functioning as efficiently as possible. Do they need to be updated? Do they convey a solid image? Are they attracting a continuous flow of prospects? If your answer is yes, congratulations! You’ve got a winning image-builder. If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to freshen things up.
- Banner—In good condition? Brightly colored? Easy to read from the street? Needs replacing?
- Billboard—Mounted nicely on building or fence? Has wind slits to minimize wear? Bringing in customers? Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Grabs reader’s attention? Includes logo, phone number, address and website?
- Brochure—Professionally designed? Nice graphics, photos and layout? Includes phone number, address, testimonial, office hours, website and maps? Readily available to take and/or hand out? Well-displayed?
- Business Card—All information current? Professionally designed? Nice graphics, photos and layout? Includes phone number, address, testimonial, office hours, website and maps? Readily available to take and/or hand out? Well-displayed?
- Door Hanger—Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Includes logo, phone number, address, website and maps? Grabs reader’s attention?
- E-mail Ad—Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Provides an opt-out link? Available in text and HTML formats? Collects e-mail addresses from customers?
- Employees—Professional appearance? Wearing uniforms? Good with customers? Accurate? Neat? Organized? Self-motivated? Punctual?
- Facility—Lawn is healthy, trimmed and mowed? Trees and shrubs are trimmed? Trash and cigarette butts removed? Weeds removed? Flower beds manicured? Facility entrance clean? Parking-stall stripes freshly painted? Paving in good condition? Entrance gate in excellent condition? No visible deferred maintenance on buildings? Office entrance and door immaculate?
- Forms—Accurate? In need of modification or updating? Easy to read? Include logo, address, fax and phone numbers?
- Fliers—Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Include logo, phone number, address, website and maps? Readily available to take and/or hand out?
- Letterhead—Professionally designed? Information correct? Has matching envelopes? Looks consistent with business cards? Includes logo, phone number, address, website, e-mail address and maps?
- Logo—Looks professional? Needs updating?
- Newspaper Ad—Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Includes logo, phone number, address, website and maps? Grabs reader’s attention?
- Postcard—Professionally designed? Nice graphics, photos and layout? Includes phone number, address, testimonial, office hours, website and maps? Too small or large?
- Radio Ad—Professionally produced? Memorable? Consider secondary radio stations? Consider a live remote?
- Signage—In good condition? Lights all in working order? All information current? Easily seen? Too short or tall? Too small? Need another pole or building-mounted sign? Consider adding a reader board or digital message board?
- Phone—Microphone is directional? Caller doesn’t hear excessive background noise? Consider a second line or hold music? Have an answering machine or voicemail? Voice messages sound professional? Use the same line for fax machine? Have the right equipment to ensure all callers get through?
- TV Ad—Professionally produced? Too long or short? Consider late-night or cable TV? Mention discounts? Airing when people are moving or making plans to move?
- Website/Internet Listing— Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photos? Includes logo, phone number, address and maps? Consider budget for Google Ad-words? Site is resubmitted to all major search engines monthly? Web host maintains 99.9 percent uptime and provides activity statistics? Web address appears on all printed materials?
- Yellow Pages Ad—Professionally designed? Nice graphics and photographs? Includes logo, phone number, address, at least three unique features, website and maps? Stands out on page? Right size? Include listings under other categories such as boat and RV storage or warehousing?
More Than Price
What price level best describes your facility: upscale, moderate, discount or bargain? Don’t get caught up in the misconception that prospects are shopping only on price. On average, 17 percent of consumers are regular discount shoppers with price as a primary motivation. These are the most disloyal customers because as soon as they can buy a product cheaper somewhere else, they do. In self-storage, they are the first tenants to leave when you raise rates.
Use your facility image to reach out to price shoppers, but understand the vast majority of your prospects are simply price-sensitive, not price-determinate. They equally seek other features, such as convenience and security.
Consider the following list of adjectives to incorporate into marketing materials, especially when using a new image-building tool. If you can effectively convey and offer all of these qualities, you will position yourself at the top of most prospects’ lists. If you can convince them of your value better than your competitors, they will rent space from you. It’s that simple.
You have a facility image whether you want one or not. How much you care about your image shows in your level of service and the presentation of marketing materials. And prospective customers want you to care. From their perspective, care for your image translates into care for their needs and welfare. That’s attractive to customers, and they will rent from you when it’s obvious.
Consider, for example, the following Yellow Pages ads. Both cost about the same, but which conveys a better image? Which do you think will attract a prospective customer? The ad on the right says “I care about you and my facility” far more than the one on the left.
Designing and implementing image-building tools takes time, thought and focus. Be willing to make minor and wholesale changes to the facility image you project to customers. Play with ideas, and have fun. Not every concept will work, but as long as you maintain your image, it will always be new, fresh and attractive to prospects.
Bill Jinks is the president of MarketingPower CD, which provides industry-specific marketing software and an accompanying CD of royalty-free images, clip art and templates that self-storage owners can use in ads and other promotional materials. The Windows-based program makes it easy to produce ads, fliers, brochures, websites, postcards, e-mail blasts, business cards, letterhead, displays and more. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.marketingpowercd.com.