For many people seeking self-storage, the Internet is becoming the go-to place to peruse facilities and pricing. There are now a number of companies providing storage operators with a gateway to customers beyond their own facility websites.
Inside Self-Storage recently spoke with Brandon Braud, vice president of sales for upickstorage.com, which offers third-party reservations to customers looking for self-storage online. Braud talks about the benefits of online reservation companies, what customers want, and what’s on the horizon for this new business portal.
1.Tell us about upickstorage.com and the Virtual Storage Manager.
Two years ago, Arlen Braud and Michelle Gallagher, co-founders of upickstorage.com and co-owners of Storage Depot, were looking for new ways to find renters. After hours of conversation, Arlen asked, “What about a site like those travel sites? The customer could pick the price he wants to pay for storage.” The “pick-what-you-want-to-pay” concept behind upickstorage.com was born.
Their goal was to create a site that was appealing to customers and effective for facility owners. They also wanted a site that provided more than just leads. In the beginning, they encountered some resistance from facility owners who were fearful of creating a discount mentality among potential renters, so they implemented Buy-Now Specials and the Virtual Storage Manager (VSM).
The company wanted to create an eBay-style interface between the customer and facility owner. Buy-Now Specials allow facility owners to showcase specials, hard-to-place inventory or regular rental rates. But the jewel in the crown is VSM, a versatile software application that’s like having a manager on duty 24 hours a day. VSM can privately import all pricing and inventory information from a facility’s management software and relay it to customers. Customers get the answers they’re looking for as if they were talking to a person.
2.What benefits do third-party reservation systems offer self-storage operators?
This is an opportunity for smaller facilities to compete with big advertisers. These marketing sites act like a cooperative pool of advertising dollars that give every facility owner the opportunity to compete at the highest levels on the Internet.
Another advantage of partnering with marketing sites online is it increases a facility’s profile on the Web. If you’re looking for quality back links for your website to increase visibility for search-engine optimization, these sites help make that happen. Lastly, any time you allow your facility to be accessed from more than one outlet, you raise your chances of renting to capacity.
3.What are consumers looking for, and how do online reservations fit in?
The old ways of advertising are no longer effective. Many facilities are downsizing their Yellow Pages ad and putting the savings into Internet marketing. The goal of self-storage marketing websites is to inspire new renters to the industry and provide a functional interface from which a renter can reserve a space at the facility. Marketing websites are providing not only the name and number of the facility, but hours of operation, company descriptions and credos, inventory and pricing information, and even live interaction with facility managers.
4. What are the costs for the operator?
Depending on the marketing-website partnership, a facility owner can expect to pay anywhere from $19 per month to $99 per month for advertising. Some sites have even come up with inventive cross marketing that makes advertising free. For example, upickstorage.com introduced a self-storage retail product line.
Realizing that most facilities offer product for resale, upickstorage.com offers those product staples at a competitive price and also as a one-for-one trade for marketing services for anyone who orders product from upickstoragesupplies.com. It’s the same price and quality as the other supply sources, but with added benefits.
5. What’s on the horizon for online reservations?
Eventually, these marketing sites will be so comprehensive they’ll not only schedule a reservation for your facility, but will enable you to upload your lease agreement for the customer to complete and bring with him at move-in.
Travel websites had it easy. Due to federal regulations, there was an existing flight schedule matrix for sites like Priceline, Travelocity and Expedia to access flight information. The same is not true for a fractionalized industry like self-storage. Eventually one site will prevail as the industry standard, and all facility information will be standardized and accessible via the Web. There are many self-storage search sites online, but the more comprehensive ones will be the ones that last.