Two vital components of a flourishing self-storage operation are your management team and your marketing program. Solid marketing brings potential customers in the door, while good managers keep them around.
In this last of a three-part series, Inside Self-Storage asked industry marketing and management experts for their insight to today’s market. Our panel discusses the evolving role of the self-storage manager, how to handle concessions, and the basis for creating an effective marketing plan. Our experts are:
- Linnea Appleby, president, PDQ Management Solutions Inc.
- Mel Holsinger, president, Professional Self-Storage Management LLC
- Derek Naylor, president, Storage Marketing Solutions
- Brad North, founder, Advantage Consulting & Management
- Maurice Pogoda, president, Pogoda Cos.
How has the role of the self-storage manager changed over the past year?
Appleby: It has been evolving over the past several years from caretaker/order-taker to sales and marketing expert. But the really big change this year has been the need for the storage manager to be the relationship-builder with the customer as well as operating a top-notch property. More is expected of the front-line staff as customer service becomes a significant and determining factor for the consumer as to where they do business.
In years gone by, the saying was, “If you build it, they will come.” Now it’s, “If they like you, they will rent.” The manager with the better customer-service skills will win the business every time regardless of factors like price and convenience.
Holsinger: A self-storage manager in today’s world needs to have a better understanding about marketing, customer relationships, lien laws, preventive and routine maintenance, pricing strategies, street presentations, and electronic communications such as e-mail, instant messenger, etc. He needs to understand the role and use of the Internet and electronic banking functions. He needs to have an understanding of accounting and bookkeeping procedures. In general, he needs to be better educated with a minimum of a high school degree if not a college degree.
Pogoda:The manager has always been critical to the success of a store. This has proven to be even truer over the past year. In these tough times, the number of prospective tenants has dropped dramatically. Therefore, being able to “sell” the store and making a rental every time the phone rings or someone comes into the office has become vital.
Getting the right person in place is imperative, and providing him with extensive training and support is essential. Plus, celebrating “victories,” no matter how small, such as achieving a weekly sundry sales goal, keeps managers motivated.
Being part of the community is more important than ever. Outside marketing through personal contacts is an excellent source for prospective tenants. That means the store manager must be involved in the community and making contacts with anyone and everyone who might be a referral source.
Dealing with delinquent tenants has become a bigger part of a manager’s job. Making collection calls has always been important, but the sheer number of past-due accounts has made this more time-consuming. To some extent, it’s taking a toll on managers, as they are regularly the target of a delinquent tenant’s anger resulting from circumstances beyond the tenant’s control, such as a job loss. In addition, managers have had to become more creative in their efforts to either get tenants to pay or vacate. Empowering managers with decision-making authority within preset parameters is important.
Concessions are huge right now. How can managers offer them without ‘giving away the farm’?
Appleby: The better the manager is at “selling,” the lower the concessions. The market determines what the average concessions are and, just as with pricing, should determine where the facility falls in the concessions game. If your concessions are higher than others in your market area, it’s due to management who doesn’t know how to properly sell. These are the folks that go immediately to their lowest offer without negotiating first. Managers should have a toolbox of items they can use to close the deal.
Holsinger: Managers really need to look at the demand for specific sizes, competitors’ pricing and occupancies, and the length of stay. They need to understand that the ultimate goal is to get the customer renting at the highest possible price or opportunity. Giving concessions of time vs. money can lessen the blow, so to speak, but each case needs to be evaluated independently.