Marketing Through Special Events

Sharon Pallas Comments
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In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s extremely important to capture every opportunity to promote your self-storage facility. Whether you’re a new site with a 1,000 units or an older store with 200, special events can bring you increased rentals and revenue.

Before you begin planning an event, do some research to determine what might work best. For example, if your facility is brand new, a grand opening through your local chamber of commerce is just the ticket to unveil your offerings to local businesses. If yours is an older store with a limited budget, there are still plenty of economical, effective possibilities. It just takes a little patience and a plan of action to be successful.

Special events are a chance to put your best foot forward and allow the residential and business communities to experience everything you have to offer. With a little creativity, social functions can be extremely effective marketing tools. Following are some suggestions and guidelines for your own efforts.

Grand Opening ($3,500-$7,500)

A grand opening is an opportunity to create a lasting first impression that will earn valuable business and referrals. As soon as possible before launching your new business, join the local chamber of commerce. Check its calendar for a suitable time to host a “business after hours” event you can combine with an opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony. Most chambers have a waiting list, so you may need to plan ahead several months. Your event should take place at least 45 days after you have officially opened. This will give you time to make sure your systems are working properly, the facility has been thoroughly cleaned, and your managers are well-trained and ready to meet the community.

This kind of function can run anywhere from $3,500 to $7,500, depending on the number of attendees and its level of sophistication. As part of your budget, make sure you include funds for catering, door prizes, decorations and goody bags for all attendees. The bags can include promotional items such as bottle openers, pens and key chains imprinted with facility information. They can also include coupons and special offers from neighboring businesses. Don’t forget to include a business card and facility brochure!

The chamber of commerce will usually list your event on its website and mail an announcement to all members. To increase attendance, purchase the mailing list and send a personal invitation as well (invitations should be mailed at least six weeks before the event). If the chamber doesn’t limit attendance to members, also invite other business acquaintances, friends and family. Remember, everyone is a potential customer.

If your grand opening includes a ribbon-cutting, the chamber will usually appoint members of its staff and invite a local dignitary to participate. If you have connections, you can also invite the mayor or other city personnel. Don’t forget to invite the local news stations and newspaper staff. They may be willing to run a clip on the news or write a feature story about your facility.

Create a theme for your party to make it more entertaining. For example, organize a treasure hunt. Give each attendee a map that will lead him to different units and the goodies he will find there, such as food or beverages. This takes guests on a fun tour of your site and then brings them back to your main office, where they each receive the aforementioned gift bag.

You’ll want to start getting bids from caterers at least six weeks before the event. You can estimate a head count by calculating five percent to 10 percent of your total guest list. Check the chamber’s rules and regulations before you plan on having alcoholic beverages. If the policy allows alcohol, limit your choice to wine and beer, and provide only two drinks per person to prevent any potential liability.

Remember, a well-planned event is a successful one. Create a detailed checklist to follow right up to the day of the event, and make sure to have adequate staff on site during the party. They can help keep order as well as answer questions, conduct facility tours, and talk to attendees about the benefits of storing with you.

Luncheon for Apartment Agents ($300-$600)

You should already be marketing to local apartment communities with fliers and brochures on a regular basis. If not, start immediately. You can find a list of apartment complexes in your area by using MapQuest.com and targeting those businesses within 10 miles of your site.

Once a year, hold a luncheon for the apartment leasing agents at your facility. This should be buffet-style, which will allow you to extend the lunch over several hours (e.g., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). This way, the agents can rotate and send more of their staff. Keep the menu simple: sandwiches, salads, chips, dessert and soft drinks.

Give each attendee a tour of the facility and a gift bag that includes a facility business card, brochure and small promotional item. You’ll also want to provide each agent with a referral card coded for the particular event; for example, the code might be AMGRL1005 to represent “apartment manager luncheon, October 2005.” This way, you can track how much business the event generates. Finally, make sure you have a couple of door prizes.

Follow up with each attendee at least 10 days after the event to see if he needs more referral cards or fliers. Continue to market to each apartment complex at least once a month or every six weeks, depending on the number of facilities you cover.

Breakfast for Real Estate Agents ($300-$600)

Real estate agents are another great source of referrals. All agents know uncluttered homes sell faster, so they’re usually looking for a neat, clean, dependable storage facility to recommend to clients.

To get in with this crowd, offer to host one of their weekly sales meetings at your facility and provide breakfast. After the meeting, give attendees a tour of the facility and, again, pass out goody bags and coded referral cards. As door prizes, consider giving gift certificates good for two months of free storage that agents can pass on to clients. Don’t forget to follow up.

Yard Sale ($200-$400)

A yard sale is a great event for a small facility with a limited marketing budget, as it brings in a lot of foot traffic for very little expense and effort. You simply offer local residents and businesses—non-tenants included—the opportunity to rent an empty unit for a day. For a mere $5 or $10, they have a covered space to sell their goods! The facility uses the money for advertising, refreshments and even entertainment.

At least eight weeks before the event, send a letter to all existing tenants inviting them to participate. Drop off fliers at all local apartment complexes and businesses. Run an ad in the garage-sale section of the newspaper on the Thursday and Friday before your sale.

Arrange for a food vendor to offer snacks and soft drinks. Consider contacting local delis, diners, etc., that might be interested in a little extra business in addition to the opportunity for free advertising. You might also consider hiring a clown (or convincing a friend or family member to dress up as one) to pass out balloons, pens, candy, referrals cards and other items. This person can stand out on the street and entice people to the event.

For marketing purposes, make sure you track the number of people who enter your site, and try to get their contact information whenever possible. For example, collect business cards or have people fill out slips for door prizes. Don’t forget to give each attendee a map of the facility that includes unit numbers, a list of sellers, parking instructions, and information regarding food and restrooms.

Each person who rents a yard-sale space will need to sign a temporary lease stating he is responsible for a full month’s rent if his items are not removed from the premises by a designated time. There are other guidelines you might want to consider as well. Following is an example of what you might include in a rules-and-regulations sheet to pass out to yard-sale participants:

Thank you for participating in our annual yard sale. Our goal is to provide you with a safe, controlled environment to sell your goods. We hope you have a successful day—and some fun!

We consider you a temporary team member of our property today. In an effort to maintain our standards of neatness and cleanliness, we ask that you abide by the following rules:

1. NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ARE ALLOWED ON THE PROPERTY. Anyone caught with alcohol will be asked to leave the premises immediately.

2. You may NOT SELL the following items:

a. Food or beverage of any kind (with the exception of churches, who may sell bakery items if prearranged with the office manager).

b. Animals of any type.

c. Items of adult entertainment, including but not limited to movies, magazines, etc.

d. Drugs or drug-related accessories.

3. All participants will be asked to sign a temporary lease on their space. You may move in your items any time after (time) on (date); and they must be removed no later than (time) on (date). Please keep a lock on your unit during this time. You will also be given a temporary gate code to enter the property, which will expire at the end of the sale (this does not apply to existing tenants). If items are not removed by the time allotted, the regular monthly rate for the unit will apply.

4. EVERYTHING MUST BE TAKEN WITH YOU AT THE END OF THE SALE. Please do not leave any trash or items in the unit. If items are left, you will be billed a $100 dumping charge. If you need to use the dumpster, you may do so for a small fee. Please see the office manager for details.

5. Trash cans have been placed on the property for your convenience. Please use these for beverage cans, lunch papers, etc. Please do not place any large items or trash from your unit in these cans.

Our office will be open all day, and staff members from our corporate office will also be on site. Please do not hesitate to stop us and ask questions. We want this day to be profitable and fun for all so we can continue to make this a yearly tradition!

Local Business Associations or Community Events ($500-$3,000)

Research events held annually by local charity groups, business associations, etc., to see if there are any in which your facility can participate. For example, Elmwood Self Storage & Wine Cellar in New Orleans once turned its covered drive-thru area into a mini dining oasis for the annual Taste of Harahan food festival. This event is planned for a different location each year by the Elmwood Business Association. The hosting facility provides the tables and dining space, and the association arranges the participating restaurants, which provide samples of their special dishes.

Trade Expos ($300-$1,500)

Local expos are an excellent way to capture a large audience in one day. Costs will vary depending on the size of the booth (small expos may offer only a table, others a 10-by-10 space), your decorations and door prizes. Your exhibit should be attractively arrayed with flowers, decorations, brochures, promo items, signage, etc.

For effect, consider modeling your decorations around a theme, such as a holiday or other creative idea. For example, for a pirate theme, create a sign that reads, “Store Your Treasures With Us,” and display a treasure chest, fake gold coins and other related items. The goal is to create something attendees will remember and associate with your facility.

Door prizes are a great way to bring traffic to your booth. Once people visit you to sign up for prizes—giving you valuable marketing information—you have the opportunity to tell them about your facility and its offerings. Give them a small promotional item and special show coupon to help them remember and contact you after the event. Also send a follow-up letter thanking them for stopping by your booth, and include another copy of the coupon. You can also explain your referral program and include a coded card.

Marketing with special events can be fun and profitable. Plan something for the holidays such as an Easter-egg hunt, haunted house or cookies with Santa. Support a local sports team, sponsor a cancer walk or host a customer-appreciation day. You can also participate in local expos or other community events. For some creative ideas, browse www.brownielocks.com for unusual holidays such as National Chocolate Day, Cranky Co-Workers Day and Ice-Cream Month.

Social events make people remember your location when it comes time to rent a unit. For current tenants, they translate into exceptional customer service. And the best part is they’re only limited by your imagination. So plan an event, large or small. Go wild or mild. Have a great time, sit back and bask in your success.

Sharon Pallas is vice president of administration at Atlanta-based Universal Management Co., one of the nation’s 50 largest self-storage operators. She is also area manager for seven sites and handles all special events for the company. Universal manages stores in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Okalahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. It also provides consulting and training throughout the United States and abroad. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalmanagementcompany.com.

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