The Self-Storage Target Market: Identifying Your Most Profitable Customers and Facility Trade Area

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By Jeffrey Supnick

Not long ago, self-storage marketing consisted of placing a Yellow Pages ad and then waiting for the phone to ring. In today’s market, not only do you face more competition for customers, YP is slowly being replaced by the Internet as a primary means for prospects to learn about your store. Unfortunately, Internet marketing has a similar limitation to that of YP—namely that it works only for customers who are actively looking for you.

Because of this, self-storage operators are increasingly turning their efforts to proactive or outreach marketing including print media, direct mail or cold calling on key community and business locations. Such marketing campaigns communicate directly with potential customers, making them aware of self-storage as a way to solve their problems.

Taking things to the next level, target marketing is a way for you to find prospects who fit the profile of your key customers, allowing you to concentrate your budget on the most potentially profitable opportunities. Simply put, it’s better to focus your marketing dollars on customers who are the most receptive and who will, once captured, produce the highest benefit to your store’s bottom line. To find them, you must clearly define your market.

Understanding Your Trade Area

To target your best customers, you must first understand your trade area. Traditionally, the local self-storage market has been defined by a one-, three- and five-mile radius around your store. Unfortunately, the fabric of a market doesn’t follow something as arbitrary as a circle drawn on a map.

A more productive approach is to define your trade area by taking into consideration how people actually travel and interact. Things like interstate highways, waterways and bridges may increase drive time and thus the convenience of your location, while different socio-economic patterns within a geographic area create real or imagined barriers for futures customers.

From where do your current customers come? This is a useful place to start. Most self-storage management-software programs have functions that will actually map your current customer base from their addresses.

You may wish to focus your marketing efforts on those geographic segments of your trade area that generate most existing customers or perhaps those from which you aren’t currently garnering customers. Combining your understanding of the geographic distribution of your existing tenants with an understanding of your competition can help you determine that certain areas are underserved or otherwise ripe for increasing levels of marketing.

A simple and inexpensive computer program such as Microsoft Streets & Trips will actually draw out drive-time distances around your store based on the road system and projected allowable speeds on such roads. Once you have that drive-time map, it’s a simple matter to also plug in the locations of your competition and your existing tenants. Often, a pattern can be seen whereby you can determine areas within the trade area that might be underserved or be a good target for the customers you’re trying to attract. 

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