Technology previously available to other industries can now be applied in self-storage operations. Let’s take a look at three tools that are assisting the marketing and financial success of self-storage: the Internet, call centers and kiosks.
The Internet is a revolutionary communication pipeline that has transformed the world and the way business is conducted. A person can get on the Internet and complete in a short period what might have taken weeks or months to accomplish just 20 years ago. In fact, use of the Internet, e-mail and e-commerce has become so commonplace that it is almost taken for granted as the public at large has become accustomed to its benefits.
The beauty of the Internet for businesses is it allows them to reach their client base and potential customers from the comfort of the home or office. In regard to self-storage, it even allows customers to tour a facility without having to physically visit the space, a powerful advantage when someone is attempting to make a buying decision from out of state.
The Internet allows smaller operators to compete with larger ones on a relatively equal playing field because it helps create the perception they are professional and keeping up with the times. Self-storage websites can be elaborate, with the ability to take reservations and payments, or simple, with only pictures and general information. Whatever your budget, it is important to get the most out of your website. Think of it as an extension of your business that works to promote your products and services 24 hours a day, every day.
There are many ways to promote your website. Some are costly while others have little or no expense. One rule of thumb is to treat your web address (also known as your domain name or URL, i.e., www.ABCstorage.com) as you would your phone number. After all, the key to a successful website is getting people to visit it. This means any printed materials—letterhead, envelopes, business cards, brochures, invoices, handouts, etc.—should include your web address.
Prominently display your web address in your Yellow Pages advertising. It is interesting to find that people actually look at the Yellow Pages, and then visit your website to get all the information they can before calling or visiting you. This phenomenon increases as high-speed Internet access becomes available in more areas.
Another way to promote your website is to invest in search-engine rankings and concept sites. Treat this type of promotion as paid advertising because there will be an investment on your part. If you are not familiar with search engines, think of them as a giant Rolodex. You type in keywords related to your subject or topic, and the search engine does all the work, providing a list of websites related to your search. Yahoo and Google are two popular examples of search engines.
What is important about search-engine rankings is the position in which your website falls on any given list. For instance, the engine may return five pages of websites, but the best position is on the first page, as far to the top as possible. There are services to assist you in registering the right keywords to rank higher on these lists. Shop around and educate yourself on how rankings work before investing in this kind of assistance.
Concept sites are a different way of Internet marketing. They are hosted by companies that target specific niche markets, for example, moving and storage. Concept sites take care of search-engine rankings, banner-ad placements and website organization—you simply pay to be a member. The site host handles all the promotion and trafficking of the site, and you benefit by exposure to visiting customers. Sites like these give browsers an abundance of choices in one place. Examples include Monster Moving and Online Self Storage.
If you have the ability to take rentals and payments through your website, you may want to consider these opportunities. Stopping a customer from shopping around by making him a customer before he even moves into town is a competitive advantage. You also want to promote your online payment feature to all current tenants. This is a wonderful alternative for those who don’t want to leave a credit card on file at your office.
Call-center technology has been employed by huge corporations for many years and is fast becoming a staple technology for self-storage operators. The biggest advantage to employing a call center is availability to your customer base. Have you ever thought about how many phone calls you miss when your office is closed? Most people shopping for storage will not leave a message. They’ll simply call the next business in the phone book.
When a person answers the phone, customers should immediately get the information they need to make a buying decision. Call centers have the ability to take reservations and payments and stop customers from “shopping around.” Most can handle calls 24 hours a day, and many are cheaper than the cost to hire additional employees. You can even advertise a special “hotline” number to the center in your Yellow Pages ad and on your website. Call centers are another way of extending contact to your customer base, making it convenient for prospects to do business with you.
Kiosks are popping up at self-storage facilities all over the country. This technology is the newest to find its way into the industry. Many of you may be familiar with automated checkout stations at your local grocery store, post office or bank. Kiosks can offer similar benefits to self-storage operators and customers.
In addition to renting units, accepting payments, dispensing locks, taking digital photos of customers and printing leases, kiosks can be programmed with a multimedia tour of the property that can be viewed 24 hours a day. They can incorporate biometric scanners, offer tenant insurance, and accept all forms of payment, even cash. Kiosks, which interface directly with your management software, make your business accessible even when you are closed and, therefore, serve as a phenomenal marketing tool.
The Future Is Here
The future is now. The tools examined here are only a few that will change the way people handle their self-storage business. Modern technology allows you to offer greater convenience while communicating with and serving more customers. The day will come when renting units 24 hours a day will be the standard for the industry. As the Internet, call centers and automated kiosks take hold, we will meet with success throughout the 21st century.
Raymond E. McRae is the vice president/director of operations for Mesa, Ariz.-based Storage Solutions, which conducts feasibility studies, third-party management, market surveys, consulting, auditing, acquisitions and development for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 480.844.3900; visit www.storage-solutions.org.