Approach competitors with caution. If you start asking questions right away, they might get defensive and be wary of the reason behind your visit. Keep your conversations friendly and casual. Let them tell you specifics if they want, or just listen to an incoming sales call or a walk-in customer. Don’t interfere with their business, and don’t promote yours in front of other customers. Keep in mind the main goal for your visit is to gain trust and build a relationship.
To initiate the conversation, say you want to get to know some of the other facilities in the area because you are new and thought it would be nice to put some faces to the names. If you’ve been around for a while, you can simply say you are near full occupancy in many sizes and wanted to visit some local facilities to see what they were like and refer business to them.
Keep your visits short, no more than 10 to 15 minutes, but stop in once a month. On your second visit, ask where they purchase their moving and packing supplies and how they like the service. You can offer to trade supplier secrets to help each other out but, again, stay clear of operational specifics. Implementing competitor visits into your routine will give you valuable information on what you can offer customers and how you can improve your operation.
The Mystery-Shop Advantage
Another angle is to mystery shop your competitors. The owner or an employee can visit or call a competitor’s facility and act as a potential customer inquiring about storage. This type of research will give you a firsthand demonstration of how other companies are serving their customers. Use a combination of visits and phone calls on a quarterly basis to keep you up-to-date with any specials offered in your market.
Using a combination of direct visits and mystery shopping is by far the best strategy. You can be the direct visitor and befriend your competition and schedule time to complete the mystery shopping every few months. Discuss any information you gather during team meetings. Implementing these strategies will help you discover the many benefits of keeping your competition close.
Cory Parrow is a consultant with Your Storage Team, a management company based in Southern Ontario, Canada. Your Storage Team has been involved in the development of self-storage facilities for more than a decade, specializing in management services. For more information, call 519.868.1982; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.