For example, having the customer walk out and rent from someone else over a couple of dollars doesn’t make sense. Having him rent at a discounted price for a short period of time may help your cash-flow position in the short term, but not necessarily the long term.
Pogoda:Concessions can be difficult to control. We want our stores to be competitive in their markets but, at the same time, continue to generate enough income to pay the bills. We try to put a time limit on concessions. For example, we may reduce the rent on a space for a specific time and let the tenant know it will go to street rate at the end of the “special” period. We have also had success using a “Pay for X months, get the X month free” type of promotion.
In addition, we emphasize our discounts for prepaying rent. Again, this is an area where a manager needs to be empowered to make an on-the-spot decision to get the rental. Training and clearly defined authority boundaries are the keys to trusting managers to make good decisions.
What’s in the future for the self-storage manager?
Appleby: Learning what drives the business and being involved in the activities that promote success will be the difference between a good manager and a great manager. Managers need to understand not only the numbers that are important to the business like gross potential, closing ratios, etc., but how their actions or inactions affect those numbers. When they take an active rather than passive approach to the results of the facility, they will increase their personal value to the company.
Holsinger: More community involvement, professionalism, more and intense training, self-starting roles in the daily business, and more necessity for understanding the total business package—from sales and marketing to maintenance and accounting. In summary, managers need an even greater emphasis on their specific role for the success of a facility.
Pogoda:The self-storage manager will always be integral to a store. The personal contact they provide is something that sets our industry apart from many others. In large part, our business relies on the trust of our tenants who are leaving their belongings at our store. The manager is the face of our business, which is something that’s becoming less common in our technologically advancing world.
However, managers will need to become true professionals. They’ll need to be well-trained self-storage experts so they can provide tenants with the level of knowledge and sophistication they’re coming to expect.
What role does marketing play, and what’s the manager’s responsibility?
Appleby: Marketing is a huge part of the manager’s job. Self-storage is an extension of the tenant’s home or business, so the manager should be a very visible and an active part of the community and neighborhood. Creating relationships and reputation is a way to differentiate yourself in the market. Getting out, meeting people and making friends is key.
Holsinger: Marketing is the total package. The way the manager dresses and greets a customer on the telephone or in person is critical. The way the facility is presented to a prospective customer is important. Benefits such as wide aisles, good lighting, security features, the office smell and feel, the display of ancillary products, etc., all contribute. The advertising is just a way to entice a person to contact the store; the marketing is how you make the store sell itself.
Pogoda:In the current environment, marketing is one of the most important roles of the manager by getting the store’s name out into the community through personal contacts. By nature, human beings are willing to help each other out. If a person knows Paula, our store manager, through some type of community involvement, he is more likely to make a referral to her rather than to some stranger.
On a company-wide basis, we have placed an emphasis on getting stores more involved in worthwhile and creative community activities. For example, we are involved in the “Cell Phones for Soldiers” program, which collects used cell phones and provides new ones to members of the military serving on overseas assignments. At one of our stores, we partnered with Hospice of Michigan and used the side of the storage building as a movie screen for a benefit they sponsored.
Should marketing be a self-storage operator’s No. 1 goal? Why?
Naylor: Being as profitable as possible should be an operator’s No. 1 goal. The best way to do that is lowering expenses and increasing revenue. Marketing plays a critical role in the “increasing revenue” part of that equation, so it should be a priority rather than goal.
In today’s economy and competitive environment, operators must differentiate themselves from the competition and find effective and efficient customer-acquisition systems, then leverage the customer relationship for maximum revenue, and do it all for the least amount of money and time. An effective marketing plan does all three. Far too many operators still have marketing classified as an “optional expense” and not a mandatory activity for their staff. For operators to thrive now and in the future, this must change for them.