Shipping Out, Moving Up

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Today, most self-storage operators carry a wide range of retail products in their on-site “stores.” It helps them grow their business and achieve a new level of service and profitability. But as customer needs become more sophisticated and the market grows increasingly competitive, the sale of boxes, locks, tape, etc., is not enough to differentiate one facility from the next. Operators find their ancillary income hitting a plateau.

Once all available storage space is rented and the possible retail sales made, what more can you do to increase revenue? It’s time to think outside the boxes!

For new growth, you need to step beyond simple products and sell service. You already carry cartons, packing materials, labels, tape and other products. The next logical step is to offer parcel-shipping services. Arranging for regular pick-ups with major carriers is easy enough, so why not turn your office into a shipping center? Provide customers with a one-stop shop and you’ll increase walk-in traffic and sales.

Stop and Shop

There are several advantages to broadening the offerings of your facility. First and foremost is the increased profitability of what was once just office space. Another is crossover sales—your shipping-only customers will likely think of you first if a need for storage does arise. This better-than-free advertising generates awareness and business.

The more shoppers you attract, the more products you can sell them. With shipping come opportunities to sell holiday-related items such as decorative gift packaging. You can even run seasonal specials. In other words, you can gradually turn your facility into a shopping destination as well as a neighborhood shipping and storage center.

Package Promotion

Before you an enjoy the benefits of offering parcel shipping, you’ll need to promote your service to the public. Here’s how:

Make the service visible in your store. Gather all your shipping products into an attractive “Shipping Center.” Ideally, it should have room for all the materials customers need, room for them to pack cartons, plus conveniences like tape dispensers and magic markers. If you don’t want to design and build the center yourself, ask your retail-products supplier for a free-standing kiosk.

Advertise your service. Let prospects know what you’ve got! Begin inside the store and work your way out. Use interior signage, such as counter cards, employee buttons and posters, and exterior signage like window banners, tent signs and door notices.

You may want to add “Parcel Shipping” to your Yellow Pages ad when it comes due for renewal, and consider a second listing under “Shipping Services.” That’ll put you in the company of established shipping professionals. If you run newspaper ads, include a reference to your new service there, too. It’s not a bad idea to create a separate ad to target non-storage prospects.

Reach out to current customers. Post fliers on storage units and send them with invoices. Consider offering a limited-time coupon to current and past tenants. Use colorful stickers on all correspondence that reads, “W e now offer parcel shipping.”

Target commercial accounts. Compose an announcement letter or mailer for your current commercial customers. Suggest your shipping service as a convenient way to send samples, ship small orders and return product. This may be especially appealing to businesses that keep inventory at your facility. Attracting them may be a bit more challenging, but the business you gain will be long-term and predictable.

As you market to these clients, ask some basic marketing questions. What businesses are they in? What special needs do they have? Are there more businesses like them nearby? Once you’ve done your homework, you can use the information to go after new accounts.

Create a mailing list from phone and industrial directories (available at your public library), or buy a list from a local mailing service. Then send a professional mailer to those businesses that fit your profile. Let them know about your unique combination of offerings and emphasize how this will save them time and money. Include testimonials from current patrons, and consider making a “new customer” offer.

Unless your mailing list is extremely large, plan to follow up with a phone call. To make it easier to do this promptly, send out mailers in small batches once a week. Convince prospects to visit your facility. Once they ’re in the office, you can use a short, concise PowerPoint presentation to help explain your services and their benefits.

Think long term. Once you’ve made a plan and put it into effect, be patient. Even an avalanche begins with just a few pebbles. It takes a while for the public to accept familiar companies in a new role. The beauty of this new venture is it involves a minimal investment and requires no re-training of your staff. That’s why you can afford to wait.

Getting Help With Getting Started

When you start to seriously consider parcel-shipping services, you’ll want all the help you can get to make things go smoothly. Begin with your retail supplier. Ask if it has any experience in the parcel-shipping industry and if it can provide a free-standing shipping center. Does it carry materials that meet U.S. postal requirements as well as those of leading parcel services? What about signage, merchandising and marketing?

If you like the answers you receive, then get started. If not, shop around for a supplier who can help you take that new direction for growth. It’s time to ship out.

Roy Katz is the president of Supply Side, which distributes shipping packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including the U.S. Postal Service, The UPS Stores, Kinko’s, Mail Boxes Etc., Uncle Bob’s Self Storage and Storage USA. For more information, visit www.suplyside.com.

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