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The New Retail Paradigm: Add-On Products Drive Self-Storage Rentals

Rob Kaminski Comments

It used to be that a self-storage facility’s level of retail sales depended on the number of new customers who came through the door. Retail was just a byproduct of rentals, responsible for a paltry 5 percent or so of revenue. These days, however, retail sales are actually driving unit rentals. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog, so to speak.

I recently visited a newly acquired facility, a third-generation site upgraded into a model corporate enterprise. Along the entrance of the site was a propane-exchange cage complete with signage. When asked, the district manager said the business has a lot of regular propane customers, some of whom rent storage from time to time.

Inside the facility was a fully loaded, well-designed retail display. What raised my eyebrows, though, was the thriving parcel-mailing and mailbox-rental service. Plus, the facility offered carpet-cleaner and truck rentals. The manager said these ancillary sales account for up to 20 percent of the company’s income. 

Retail Can Act as Advertising

“As near as we can figure, all those people that come in to buy boxes and tape and stuff, or FedEx a package, or rent a truck or trailer, make up a decent portion of our new rental customers, too, ” one facility manager told me. It makes sense. If folks frequently visit a facility and have good service experiences, where’s the first place they’re most likely to turn when they need storage?

Americans are bombarded with hundreds, even thousands, of signs, billboards, ads and commercials daily, not to mention Internet pop-ups, e-mails and banners. To prevent information overload, consumers have learned to filter out messages that are of no interest to them. For example, if you’re driving and you’re hungry, you’ll notice restaurant signs and food billboards. If you’ve already eaten, you’ll be nearly oblivious to them.

What does this mean to you? That even if the same drivers pass your place twice a day, every day, they can be unaware of you. All your eye-catching signage and architecture may go completely unnoticed ... until someone finally needs storage. But when he does, he could turn first to the Yellow Pages or some online search engine where you’ll be competing with the guy four miles away before he figures out (maybe) that you’re just down the street.

So how can you get people’s attention before they need storage? Offer them something else they want, something you already stock, such as boxes and packing materials. And promote the heck out of it.

You already display those “We Sell Boxes” banners and signs. That helps, but are you listed in the Yellow Pages under “boxes” or “moving supplies?” That’s where people will look. How about giving renters coupons they can pass on to friends? Consider distributing these as door hangers on units or buying an insert in a direct-mail pack. In short, really work at establishing your business asthe community’s source for boxes and moving supplies. If you don’t, you could miss out on a major market opportunity.

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