Inside Self-Storage Magazine: Tracking the Steps to Success

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Self-storage is a simple business, but it’s not an easy one. To be successful, you need to follow four basic steps: 1) Get people to pick up the phone and call you. 2) Get those who call to visit your facility. 3) Get those who visit to rent with you. 4) Get those who rent with you to stay forever and tell all their friends about you. These steps are essential, but more important, you need to track your progress in each of these areas to measure the success of your marketing program.

Step 1: Get Them to Call

Not only do you need to get your phone to ring, you need to track the number of calls you receive and the source of those calls. This number will give you key information about your marketing efforts. Don’t concern yourself with the total calls; instead, focus on trends over time. If you get 120 calls per month and another storage operator gets 250, it doesn’t mean he’s doing a better job at marketing. His may be a much larger facility, or he may be in a more populated area.

How do you accurately track your numbers? First, don’t manage them manually. You have better things to do than make tick marks on paper, and tracking figures by hand opens the door to inaccuracy. So monitor your calls automatically in one of three ways:

  1. Have your phone-service provider track incoming calls for you—if it is willing to do so, which is rare.
  2. Have all of your calls automatically forwarded to another number. Your employees and customers never know the second number exists, as the forward occurs automatically. Though this will involve additional expense, it will help you trap some of the data you need. At the end of the month, you’ll get a report on your phone bill that shows you exactly how many calls got forwarded. You’ll also get other info, such as the time and duration of each call.
  3. Buy a device that attaches to your phone and traps the data you seek. This will cost you more up front but less in the long term than the previous two options.

How do you account for non-business calls, such as personal calls and wrong numbers? Unless something unusual occurs, the number of these calls should remain fairly consistent from month to month. While they affect your overall call count, they do not change the overall trend, which is what you’re looking to discover. Watching patterns in call behavior will help you quickly identify if something out of the ordinary is occurring.

For example, one operator kept very meticulous call data. At one point, he noticed a 15 percent spike in the number of calls he received over a three-month period, even though he hadn’t modified his marketing tactics. After some investigating, he discovered that his manager had gotten involved with a person who called him at the facility five to six times a day, obviously skewing the call numbers.

There is one element of call data that will need to be kept manually, and that is the source of all your calls. As you or your staff answer the phone, you’ll want to ask callers how they found out about you: the Yellow Pages, a flier, a friend, etc. This is critical marketing information. If you have trouble enforcing this policy with employees, try this method of incentive: Tape a $20 bill to the phone to remind them of the value of every phone call. In some markets—and depending on which marketing methods you use—one call may actually be worth much more; but the method should still drive the point home.

Step 2: Get Them to Visit

After you’ve gotten prospects to call your site, the aim is to get them to visit the facility, and you’ll want to track the number of visits, too. Again, it’s best to automate the tracking process. An easy way to do this is to hook up a counter to your office door. How do you account for existing customers, employees, deliveries, etc.? Keep in mind you’re not looking for a total number but a trend. The counts related to these visits should remain constant over time and should not affect your overall data.

After you’ve collected your monthly call and door counts, focus on the ratio of calls to visits. Assuming everything else is equal, an increase in the ratio of door openings to phone calls will indicate you’re doing a better job converting callers to visitors. If your ratio stays constant or decreases over time, you’ll know you need to improve your phone-sales skills. Keeping track of the numbers allows you to pinpoint your problem areas.

Step 3: Get Them to Rent

The third step in the storage-marketing process is getting those who visit your facility to rent with you. This number is easily tracked by counting how many signed rental agreements you have at the end of every month. Thanks to your management software, tracking should be effortless.

Again, look at the ratio between the number of visits and rentals. It will tell you the effectiveness of your face-to-face marketing techniques. Look at the overall trend: If your ratio of visits to sales stays the same over time or goes down, you need to concentrate on developing your in-house sales presentation. Nine times out of 10, there’s room for improvement.

Step 4: Get Them to Stay Forever and Tell Their Friends

The repeat or referral customer is very inexpensive to obtain. Therefore, your profitability will be enhanced if you win more customers through word-of-mouth or repeat business. The average storage operator gets somewhere around 20 percent of his customers through referrals and about an equal percentage of business from past tenants. How do they manage this? By providing superior customer service.

It’s easy to track the number of customers you’ve earned through these means if you make a conscientious effort to learn the source of your business. Ask everyone who calls or comes through your door how they found out about you. If they indicate they have rented with you before or learned of you through someone they know, make note of this in your marketing data. To know whether you’re providing the type of customer service that is likely to win you repeat or referral business, consider giving people a postcard survey to complete when they move out.

Not only is it important to understand the four steps to self-storage success, it’s crucial to track the numbers related to these stages. Work on improving your numbers in each area, and you will greatly improve your profitability.

Fred Gleeck is a consultant who helps self-storage owners and operators during all phases of the business, from the feasibility study to the creation of an ongoing marketing plan. He is also an expert in the field of information and seminar marketing, the author of more than 10 books, an accomplished business coach, and the producer of professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive his regular insights via e-mail, send a blank message to tips@seminarexpert.com. For more information, call 800. FGLEECK; e-mail fredgleeck@mac.com; visit www.FredGleeck.com.

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