In the Marketing Know

Susan Head Comments
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Everyone in self-storage business wants to be successful—that’s a given. But once your facility is up and running, your job isn’t over by a long shot. Sure, you’ve made a lot of right decisions up to this point, but now you must grow your business, day to day, month to month and year to year.

How do you do that? One of the best ways to help your facility get high occupancy and sustain it is to properly market your business. To do this, you first need to do your homework.

Know Where Customers Are

A feasibility study is important for many reasons, but it is particularly critical to your marketing effort. If you have already done a feasibility study and know your location is good, you probably also know the majority of your customer base comes from within a 5- to 6-mile radius of your facility, or a 10-minute drive. There are exceptions, particularly if your facility is in a small town or rural area, in which case, the market might be larger. But generally, you can count on these distances as a good rule of thumb.

Know Your Market

Knowing your market is critical to success. Your feasibility study reveals the nitty-gritty details of your customer base. It tells you the makeup of your neighborhood, for example, whether it consists of housing developments, schools, colleges, apartments, military bases or commercial businesses. This kind of information is important because it’s a clue as to the kind of storage your customers will need (unit size, climate-control or standard, etc.) and how long they are likely to lease the space. It will also give you population counts and demographic information, such as average age, income and gender of your tenants.

Know What Customers Want

Marketing studies reveal that when selecting a self-storage facility, customers primarily desire convenience. They want to be close to their stored valuables and they want their goods to be safe. They expect a facility to be well-lighted and fenced, with security cameras and keypads to control access to the grounds. Customers also want their valuables to be dry and, in some cases, they may want climate control for items sensitive to humidity and temperature.

Statistics reveal that 60 percent of self-storage customers are women. Female customers in particular don’t want their valuables stored in a dingy, unattractive, uninviting place, so curb appeal and landscaping become important. There was a time when self-storage facilities were relegated to the wrong side of the tracks, but not today. Many are now in the midst of suburban neighborhoods or attractive business parks.

Know How to Reach Customers

You already know where your customers are located, who they are, and what they want. So how do you communicate with them? Conventional wisdom tells us the best way to reach prospects is through the Yellow Pages. After all, leasing a self-storage unit is an impulsive decision, and prospects don’t want to spend a lot of time deciding where to rent. This is true most of the time, so the Yellow Pages are an important method of advertising. But there are other proactive ways to lure customers to your store:

  • Direct mail is an efficient way to reach your customers and prospects. It’s easy to identify your neighborhood ZIP codes and avoid mailing to addresses outside your market area.
  • You may want to consider advertising in local radio spots, newspapers and magazines. These can range from reasonable to expensive, so choose wisely. The right venue will help build public awareness of your business.
  • Billboards in your market area will help direct prospects to your location.
  • Sponsoring the activities and events of schools and neighborhood organizations is smart public relations for your facility. Chamber of commerce programs, such as “Business After Hours,” can also be beneficial.
  • By no means underestimate the importance of referrals from satisfied customers. Their unsolicited comments are a critical connection to new business for you. When your customers are happy, they will tell their friends.

Encourage your facility manager to set aside at least one day a week to personally visit prospects in the market area. Arm him with refrigerator magnets, pens or other collaterals printed with the facility phone number and logo to give away as a free gift. The shelf life of free items like these is amazingly long.

Know Your Products, Services and Competition

If you don’t have competition in your market, you’re extremely lucky. More than likely, you have a competitor or two. That’s why it is important to be aware of how you stack up against other facilities in your area.

Find out about their strengths and weaknesses, because they will quickly reveal your facility’s own. By making comparisons, you can eliminate your site’s shortcomings and translate strengths into customer benefits. If your competition has longer office hours or offers RV and boat storage but your facility does not, consider making adjustments. You need to meet or exceed your competitor’s products and services.

Know How to Catch Every Call

You want prospects and customers to call your facility, and you want to make the most of every call. When your facility is closed or your manager is busy, you run the risk of losing potential business. Plus you may upset a customer who needs to talk with a person but gets voicemail instead. Statistics show only about 29 percent of callers will leave a message on an answering machine. This means 71 percent will simply call other facilities until they get a person the phone. Not only are you in the self-storage business, you’re in the people business. When someone calls your store, he wants immediate response.

One way to avoid this problem is to hire a call center that will take all calls from prospects and customers, day or night. This service not only provides a live response to all callers and frees managers to do other things, it increases your chance to make the sale. Lost calls mean lost revenue. Some of the better call-center services guarantee hot leads and additional rentals every month for a fee based on the numbers they can actually deliver.

Properly marketing your facility is a sure-fire way of maintaining occupancy rates. More important, it sends a message to the customers in your area that you’re not just a business but a part of the neighborhood and their lives.

Susan Head is vice president of sales and marketing for S&W Property Management LLC, which provides management and consulting services to self-storage owners. Ms. Head holds the same title for Phone Advantage, a division that offers an off-site rental source for facility owners. She can be reached at 888.817.9422; e-mail shead@sandwgroup.com.

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