When self-storage operators become complacent in their operations, it has a negative impact on their business. Everything is going well, and then occupancies start to decline. When asked what went wrong, most of these operators claim they don’t know. This is a common result of getting too comfortable at a certain plateau of success—of putting the operation on “cruise control,” so to speak. Sometimes, when you’re just cruising along, the competition passes you by.
The storage industry has undergone great change over the past couple of decades, but none to match the amount of transformation we’ve witnessed in the past few years. Increased competition has forced operators to step up their business strategies and focus more on sales. Unfortunately, their sales programs are often overlooked.
While most operators use an informal sales presentation or even the services of a mystery-shopping company to enhance their efforts, this often isn’t enough to set them apart from competitors. What they lack is continual tracking and improvement coupled with consistent staff training and discipline. This is what will put employees at the top of their game and allow them to positively impact a facility’s bottom line.
Prospects want to be educated on how to use self-storage and what to look for when choosing a facility. Product knowledge is service if presented effectively in the sales presentation. Even though convenience often ranks at the top of the list of customers’ criteria, perceived trust runs a close second. Trust is established when a staff member convinces a prospect your business is the best choice. If your facility’s value is properly built during the presentation, trust will supersede convenience every time.
It shocks me how frequently I hear operators say something like, “I’m 96 percent occupied, so I don’t really need to spend any more time, money or energy building my business.” Many of them are the low-price providers in their market. Not only do they leave a lot of income on the table, they fail to maximize the value of their real estate investments. They have developed the attitude that they have “arrived,” and yet they’re going nowhere.
A better sales presentation means more sales. More sales mean more profit. Don’t put on the brakes! Success is a journey, not a destination. You only reach higher levels by seizing every opportunity that comes your way. For example, establish a practice of implementing consistent rate increases for new and existing customers. Even if occupancy slightly declines as a result, it will be offset by higher revenue. You can even become the price leader in your market by continually improving your facility value and operational effectiveness.
Effecting continual improvement in your sales process means consistent development of your sales staff as well. You might consider hosting workshops to provide self-storage training and provide employees with valuable sales tools. Of course, any instruction must be reinforced with regular follow-up, so make sure you have a system in place to measure the results of your team’s efforts.
A mystery-shopping service is an excellent means of tracking sales success. A mystery shopper will call or visit the facility, record conversations with employees, evaluate performance and provide feedback. Use of a shopper will help you pinpoint problem areas in your presentation and create an atmosphere of consistent vigilance for employees. This is a great way to break their bad habits and show them the direction you want them to go.
Regardless which measurement method you employ, the important thing is to help your staff make consistent, positive adjustments to their sales skills. Sometimes role-playing, in which employees take turns being the customer and the sales rep, is a helpful tool in finessing their presentation. Providing concrete, obtainable goals is also advantageous.
The self-storage industry is becoming increasingly competitive. If you adopt a policy of continual improvement, your operation will grow to new heights. You can gain an edge by becoming the “storage expert” in the eyes of customers. All it takes is a consistent and concerted effort to improve the sales performance of your staff.
Brad North is the founder of Advantage Business Consulting, which specializes in onsite sales, marketing, feasibility and operational training for the self-storage industry. He has produced two live videos and a workbook titled “Maximizing Your Sales and Marketing Program,” which can help managers improve their sales and marketing efforts. Mr. North also launched A TelePro, a mystery-shopping service that assists in educating, evaluating and improving the phone-sales performance of self-storage professionals. For more information, call 513.229.0400; visit www.advantagebusinessconsulting.com.