5 Ways for Independent Self-Storage Operators to Compete With the REITs

By Mel Holsinger Comments
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In today’s ever-changing self-storage environment, many of us independent facility operators are forced to compete with the larger, better capitalized companies we all know as real estate investment trusts (REITs). These companies have the advantage of being able to spend more on marketing and advertising, afford larger management staffs, build more locations, and keep in the public eye. What is a REIT and why is it a formidable competitor?

REITs are owned by a number of shareholders who purchase company stock in anticipation of steady returns and, in many cases, cash flow for their personal investments. Think of Public Storage as the Mobile/Exxon of the self-storage business, Extra Space Storage as the Shell Co. in our industry, and then think of all the rest of us as the small independent gas stations competing for the same customers and selling the same products.

So the question is, how can we take on the giant corporations and not only survive but make a profit when they seem to have all the advantages? Quite simply, we need to change our attitudes. Here are five ways to alter your mindset and take on the REITs in your market.

1. Your Marketing Program

First, if you try to take on the REITs in everything they do, chances are you’ll lose. How can you possibly spend money on marketing like they do? You can’t. What you can do is market where they don’t, specifically in your neighborhood.

Instead of promoting your business to your complete market, go after your immediate local area. For example, most of you have the opportunity to join a local chamber of commerce and get involved in chamber activities. That networking group alone can bring you a number of small businesses and their employees, families, friends, etc.

Other marketing avenues include church newsletters or local schools and sports teams. Make your facility the one the neighborhood identifies and supports because you support the neighborhood. Chances are the REITs cannot do these things as effectively as you can because the decision-makers are not in your backyard and aren’t privy to the same information as you.

2. Act Now

One of the best parts about being a decision-maker is you can do things on a whim instead of waiting for the long drawn-out process of approval. Want to have an open house at your location to draw in crowds? No problem. Find a cause and promote it to your neighborhood. For example, maybe the local high school band needs a place for a carwash. Why not donate your parking area or driveways, then get them to promote the event? You get the traffic and they get to raise some money.

3. Change Your Curb Appeal

Want to change your window look and get a fresh start? Again, no problem, just come up with a workable design and make the change. For example, say your curbs are painted white along the street, and your office is cream with blue trim around the windows. Change it. Paint the office shell blue, paint your curbs red and paint your trim white.

You’ll be surprised how many people will take notice of something as simple as a new paint color. The advantage you have is you can make changes today if you desire. For the most part, the REITs are locked in when it comes to curb appeal as they want all of their stores to have a uniform look.

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