Editor’s Note: This article contains material published in the book, How to Make Money in Self-Storage, by RK Kliebenstein and Jennifer LeClaire.
This may be the most challenging time ever in our industry. The self-storage business has been a blessing for many owners, operators, vendors and managers, as well as customers. Now, we face obstacles we have never encountered before. Some in the industry will rise to the occasion, while others will fail as a result of an unwillingness to recognize change and embrace the dynamic nature of our industry.
You may remember an old cigarette commercial that targeted women during the women’s movement with the tagline: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” About the time this advertising campaign was popular, the self-storage industry was in its early days of inception, and was often characterized by rows of metal buildings with paneled doors, chain-link fences and unpaved driveways with little or no security. Many of you will agree that we, indeed, have come a long way.
In terms of just the physical construction aspects of the industry, self-storage has changed dramatically. We have gravitated toward high-traffic locations that emulate retail sales areas. Self-storage has grown from metal garages to multi-story buildings with millions of dollars invested, where convenience and state-of-the-art security are primary selling points.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed much are the ways in which we operate self-storage stores. Many operators are still thinking Tyrannosaurus Rex, when the industry is now developing robot-operated, manager-less self-storage operations. While I am not advocating firing our managers and replacing them with robots, there is a great deal of sense in changing the way in which we conduct business.
I am amazed at the number of self-storage owners and operators, particularly those in more suburban and rural stores, who still think this business should be run the same way it was in 1970. It is important for us to change and revolutionize the manner in which we consider retail space an integral part of self-storage operations. As we develop sophisticated retail locations, we must now find ways to maximize the utility of that square footage and, in fact, we should measure our sales per square foot generated.
Much like any other retail-driven operation, self-storage managers must be trained to up-sell and cross-sell. We must begin with a paradigm shift and use consultative selling techniques to match the best possible product for our customer with the inventory we have onsite.