Stabilizing Self-Storage Occupancies in an Unstable Economy

Mel Holsinger Comments
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Unless you happen to live in an area not affected by the economic slowdown (maybe on Mars?), you are probably wondering how to recoup what you’ve lost due to vacancies, lower rates and higher delinquent accounts. You’re not alone. Based on the frequent conversations I’ve had with other self-storage managers, frustration is being felt by many.

Up until January 2008, most storage businesses were running along just fine. As we experienced the gas and fuel prices increase, the world went a little lopsided. The cost per gallon shot up from an average of $1.70 to nearly $5. With the increase cost for fuel, everything went up: food, clothing, recreation, you name it.

Then, just to make things more interesting, a high percentage of adjustable rate mortgages adjusted (higher), values of homes declined and, for the first time in a long time, we had people losing their homes to foreclosure. Construction practically stopped, development ceased and now, well, we all know unemployment is at an unthinkable high.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, though. There are still ways to turn the bad into positives for you and your facility. Keep in mind that much of our business depends on customers with discretionary income, who have a need for temporary or even permanent storage for their household/commercial goods, and place a value on those goods.

Still, when economic times get tough, that extra $50 to $200 per month tenants pay for storage space may become harder to fork out when other more important items come first, such as gas, food, clothing, etc. How do we jump these extra hurdles and entice customers to rent from us and stay longer?

Get Off Your Duff

Its time to remember that customer service begins with special courtesies. A good place to start is with thank-you cards to all your current customers. Use it as an opportunity to remind them that you have referral programs and will reward them for sending you new customers.

Contact nearby chambers of commerce and let them know you are still in business and have a special offer for members of the chamber. Go to your local churches or other houses of worship and let them know you can help parishioners with their storage needs. Stop by the local schools and remind them you have plenty of space for extra desks, chairs and tables.

Visit area restaurants and other businesses to offer them a great deal on storage and help them free up valuable space for other needs. In other words, get off your duff and re-introduce yourself to your neighborhood.

Take an inventory of how your property looks: Is it neat, clean and well-maintained? Need to touch up some paint or fix the fence? Is it time to change some light bulbs in the hallways or in your sign? How about your golf cart: Is it clean and ready to take customers around the facility to show it off in style?

Measure Up

Perhaps now is the time to see how you measure up to the competition. Are you priced higher or lower in the market? What kind of deals are nearby facilities offering and can you match or beat them? Do they have any particular sized units that are full? If so, will their managers recommend your facility to customers if they are full? Start the give-and-take process by offering to do the same for their sites.

How about brushing up on your selling skills? Now is a great time to consider taking some online courses to become better at your job and learn new strategies for increasing business. Have you considered the Qualified Storage Manager program offered by Inside Self-Storage and the Self-Storage Training Institute? Wouldn’t it be great to have a certificate in your office letting customers know you are qualified to help them with their storage needs? Visit www.selfstorageeducation.com to learn more.

We all know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Now more than ever we need to exhibit a positive mental attitude and let everyone we come in contact with know that we not only are the best storage managers in town, we have the best facility too.

Going back to basics makes sense for staying afloat during turbulent times. It also makes sense to continue these practices even when times are better. Good luck in 2009!

Mel Holsinger is the president of Tucson, Ariz.-based Professional Self Storage Management, which offers self-storage facility management, consulting and development services. He is also a frequent speaker at industry conferences and a regular contributor to Inside Self-Storage. For more information, call 520.319.2164; visit www.proselfstorage.com.

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