Peripheral Vision

Ann Parham Comments
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How many times have you driven around town and seen a banner that reads “W e Sell Boxes” hanging on a fence in front of a storage complex? Sure, packing products are some of the most common retail items self-storage facilities provide. But there’s more to offering ancillaries than boxes and tape.

The goal of providing any product or service is to compel customers to: 1) Rent from you instead of your competitor; and 2) Buy from you an item or service he needs and might otherwise go elsewhere to find. The idea is to get him stay at your establishment and put money in your pocket rather than go to Home Depot, Office Max, Wal-Mart, the post office, etc.

These days, there are sundry ways to accomplish this. Following are a few of the most successful.

Business Centers

An increasing number of people are launching home-based businesses. Not only do many of them need office space, they require storage for inventory. In response, mini-offices that can be leased on a monthly basis are popping up in storage facilities across the country. Storage owners have also opted to incorporate small business centers into their sites, offering phones, Internet access, photocopiers, fax machines and more. From there, they can explore other services, such as an in-house notary public.

Pack and Ship

This type of ancillary is not necessarily new to self-storage, but it does open a variety of fresh ideas. Pack and ship services can be as simple as a drop-box for UPS or FedEx or the sale of stamps and shipping/packing materials, to complete parcel shipping, mailing and P.O. boxes. Depending on the extent of the operation, additional staffing may be required. But especially during holiday seasons, providing the community an optional outlet for shipping can mean a significant revenue increase.

Moving and Storage

This offering can be particularly popular—and lucrative—in areas with populations of older adults. A self-storage owner contracts with a small local moving company to market a combined service of packing, loading, transporting and unloading the contents of a customer’s storage unit. This may be more appealing to prospects than hiring a large warehouse/moving company, as most find comfort in being able to visit their stuff from time to time. Keep in mind that while services can be offered as a package, separate contracts should be signed for each to avoid legal issues and insurance nightmares.

Boat/RV Storage

When assessing added service to the boat and RV community, convenience is the key. Proximity to bodies of water or highways will make your facility more appealing to these customers, as will amenities like electricity, running water, dump stations, wash racks, propane, fill stations, battery chargers and vacuums. Some self-storage operations go so far as to offer services such as RV/boat clean-up and make-ready.

A word to the wise: These amenities may entice some folks to take up “residency” at your site. A watchful manager should ensure your RV-storage facility does not become an RV park.

Records, Wine, Trucks and Trailers

The more sophisticated services of records storage, wine storage and truck rental can require sizable startup investments of money, time and research. But they can also be extremely profitable when implemented in the right market.

Records and wine storage are usually priced by the cubic foot and demand a degree of service and space specialization. For example, wine storage requires strict temperature and humidity control as well as high security, while records storage often necessitates complementary services such as retrieval and delivery.

Truck and trailer rental boosts a self-storage business by providing an added bonus for tenants, i.e., free use of a truck at move-in, as well as attracting customers who might not otherwise visit the site. Of course, trucks require extra time and effort on the part of the facility manager, who must market, maintain and rent them. They also need the proper insurance.

Thinking Outside the Storage

Thinking outside the literal “box” is the way to conceive new services in this industry. The first step is to research your market and identify unfulfilled consumer needs. Then you must determine if there will be a return on your investment. Don’t jump into anything. Keep in mind that what works in one market may not work in another. No amount of enthusiasm can replace due diligence.

Today’s state-of-the-art facilities have only a conceptual likeness to the cinder-block buildings and graded rock driveways that launched the storage industry in the mid-’60s. Since then, every visionary step and brilliant ancillary service has been conjured in the imagination of somebody. Why shouldn’t the next somebody be you?

Ann Parham is the president and founder of Bulverde, Texas-based Joshua Management Corp. Ms. Parham began her career in self-storage more than 20 years ago as the co-owner of NDS Construction. Joshua Management was created through a quest to provide comprehensive customer service to the self-storage industry. The company offers site management, employee training, financial reports, accounting, brokerage and marketing. For more information, call 210.477.1222; visit www.joshuamgmt.com.

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