Marketing Through Community

Susan Head Comments
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Convincing self-storage owners to grasp the value of facility marketing can be tough. Too often, they view it strictly as an expense and are reluctant to give it the attention it deserves. They prefer to concentrate on the profit centers of their business, such as leasing rates and the products they can offer to contribute to the bottom line.

This may have been an acceptable strategy a few years ago, but the storage business has changed. To be successful today, owners must do more than simply invest a portion of the facility’s operating budget to marketing; they need to develop a plan specific to their marketplace. Why the change in strategy from a decade ago? The answer is competition.

Industry statistics reveal the average self-storage market (normally a 5-mile radius) contains eight facilities. You heard right, and this is only an average. Some markets have more, some less. But the point is, unless your facility offers the same products and services as its competitors, at a minimum, you stand to lose the share of market you do own.

Shedding New Light on Marketing

Most owners have become familiar with common marketing strategies. Certainly, Yellow Pages come to mind as an industry staple. Since most customers rank convenience as their No. 1 priority, they go the Yellow Pages to find a facility near their home or workplace. Direct mail within a facility’s ZIP code can be a successful way to promote a new service or a promotion to a specific market segment. Fliers, coupons, referrals, banners and signage are also tried and true marketing ploys. Any facility in a highly competitive environment will use these strategies as a matter of course. They should be “no-brainers.”

But there are other marketing opportunities right under your feet, if you care to take advantage of them. To see them, you must look at your facility through a different set of lenses. Your site can be more than a place to store customers’ valuables; it can be transformed into a “community center,” where special local events take place all through the year, involving hundreds of citizens (prospects).

Just use your imagination and be aware of all the ways your store can be a center for community activities. Not only will it be good public relations for you and your staff; it will draw attention to your facility and position your business as a vital member of your neighborhood, willing to participate in events that help others. These occasions can also result in positive exposure to potential customers who may not be familiar with self-storage or your particular store.

Hosting Special Events

Below are several good opportunities for using your facility as a base for partnerships with community organizations:

The Toys for Tots toy drive is a long-standing, successful charity program. Volunteer your facility as a drop-off point during the holiday season to collect gifts for children.

Speaking of winter holidays, who says Santa Claus can only be found in department stores during Christmastime? Volunteer your location for a photo-taking event with Santa. Believe me, the crowds will come. You can even have Santa give all the kids a free gift from your facility, like a coloring book or stuffed animal with your name or logo on it.

Other holidays such as Thanksgiving also provide opportunities to participate in community functions. A self-storage facility works well as a drop-off spot for food donations. Check with local church groups and civic organizations that will welcome a place to collect turkeys for needy families. Or host a holiday raffle for area residents, who can register to win a free turkey or a month of free rent. What better way to familiarize the prospects in your market with the advantages of self-storage?

At Easter time, hold an egg hunt at your facility. Kids and parents love to participate in such events, where the kids can rummage around the grounds looking for eggs hidden in a downspout or tucked behind a remote building.

Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts functions are excellent ways for your site to be perceived as one of “the good guys” in your neighborhood. Scouts often get involved in charitable events and could use space to have a car wash or any kind of fundraiser. Troops may also be looking for space to conduct merit-badge competitions. Get in touch with the organizations in your area and volunteer some space.

Antique-car enthusiasts are always looking for space to show off their vehicles. Contact related clubs, and they will happily use your site to exhibit their prized collections.

Contact the Red Cross and offer to let the organization use your facility for blood drives. Its mobile units make it convenient for local residents to donate. There will also be opportunities during disaster periods, such as hurricanes, fires or floods, when your facility can house and distribute supplies for those who have been affected.

The local police are always interested in finding a place to hold safety-day training sessions. This could involve demonstrating proper infant-seat safety in autos or explaining ways to avoid identity theft to citizens.

These are but a few of the events you can use to build confidence and trust with your community. There are many others you could investigate, like Halloween coloring contests, or a carnival day for kids including clowns, face-painting and refreshments. Every opportunity you have to connect with your immediate neighborhood will build goodwill that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. If you support your neighbors, they will support you in turn. 

Susan Head is the vice president of operations, sales and marketing, for The S&W Group, which provides management and consulting services to self-storage facility owners. She is also the vice president of sales and marketing for Phone Advantage, a division of S&W Property Management, which offers an off-site rental source for facility owners. For more information, call 704.768.8402; e-mail shead@sandwgroup.com; visit www.sandwgroup.com

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