All Aboard!

Mel Holsinger Comments
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Every storage facility seems to sell basic storage and moving supplies, and has a retail area devoted to promoting and displaying these products. It makes good sense for owners to consider selling ancillary supplies for several reasons:

  • Additional income 
  • Convenience for customers 
  • Commission opportunities for the manager 
  • Any combination of the above

Best Sellers

Once the decision has been made to stock the shelves with retail options, the next question becomes, What products should we sell? Depending on whom you talk to—suppliers, customers, competitors, management companies—you’ll get a different point of view. Suppliers like to sell you as many items as you can handle; customers tell you what they buy; competitors (if you’re friendly with them) and management companies may be willing to share what has sold best for them.

In my experience, locks, boxes, bubble wraps, tape and mattress covers are big sellers. Still, it’s best to ask others who’ve been in the business for a long while what sells the most at their sites.

What if you have RV storage? Should you sell RV supplies? They’re usually more expensive and don’t sell as fast as moving and packing supplies, but several of our RV-storage facilities have been successful selling ancillaries. On the bestseller list are toilet paper and chemicals for waste-removal systems. Campers need these items frequently; if you sell them, you save customers from a trip to the specialty RV store and you can pocket the change.

Bundling and Selling

How you present your products often determines how successful you’ll be. For example, if your supplies are out of the way and unnoticeable, customers may assume you don’t have them. On the other hand, you might choose to display products where people can’t possibly avoid seeing them.

When we train staff in selling supplies, we explain that some products sell themselves if they are in front of customers. Our managers are trained to walk potential tenants past the ancillary display area on their way to units. While passing by the products, the manager might say something like, “Will you be needing some boxes for your dishes?” or “We recommend using covers over your valuable furniture to keep it dust-free.” or “We sell disc locks to a lot of customers. Would you like to have one as well?” The idea is to plant in the customer’s mind that we have products they need and it’s convenient for them to purchase right now.

Another suggestion is to bundle several items and sell them as a package deal. For example, a “5-by-10 Convenience Pack” might include five medium boxes, one wardrobe box, two mattress covers, one roll of tape and one magic marker. Discount the price so it’s a good deal for the consumer. Moreover, it’s good for you because you move inventory more quickly.

As another incentive, offer tenants a small discount over street rates with a signed lease. It’s a small gesture, but sometimes people receiving a 10 percent or 15 percent discount buy more because they think they’re getting a good deal.

Staff Incentives

Selling ancillaries should become as important as matching tenants with the right size unit. There is a substantial profit margin in the average markup of supplies, so the goal of the manager should be to sell to everyone who walks through the door.

Offer managers commissions of 5 to 10 percent and you’ll still earn greater profits. Further, if you are a manager and your facility isn’t already selling ancillaries, make a suggestion to your owner or management company. Tell them you’ll create a small retail center and split the profits. By taking the initiative, you show them you’re willing to create more revenues and will work harder in return for a small piece of the pie.

Ancillary supplies can serve as an extra income stream, inspire managers to make more money through commissions, and provide added convenience to self-storage customers. Select appropriate inventory, and let customers know what you offer, and you’ll be on track to a great sideline business. 

Mel Holsinger is president of Professional Self Storage Management LLC, based in Tucson, Ariz., offering facility management, consulting and development services to the self-storage industry. For more information, call 520.319.2164; visit www.proselfstorage.com

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