By Rachel Adams
As the self-storage industry evolves and competition increases, operators are forced to pay closer attention to all the details that keep a facility running smoothly to attract and keep tenants. With managers and operators already wearing multiple hats as customer-service experts, maintenance wizards and marketing aficionados, it can be challenging to stay up-to-date with the changing demands of the business.
In some cases, operators can benefit from outsourcing some or all of these hats to third-party companies. These helpers can jump in and lend expertise in arenas like marketing, payment processing, maintenance and general management to keep a storage facility up to speed with competitors, and free up time to pursue other priorities or interests.
From Yellow Pages to Google: Keeping Up With Marketing
Like every other industry, self-storage has undergone a huge transition as the Internet has become increasingly popular, making it possible for consumers to search and study facilities and prices from a computer or even a smartphone. The addition of GoogleAds and search engine optimization (SEO) have transformed marketing into an Internet-based, evolving operation. Therefore, based on the size of the company and the resources available, some self-storage operators find it beneficial to outsource marketing to the professionals.
Online marketing services can include custom Web development, graphic and logo design, search engine marketing, Website hosting, and online payment and reservations applications. According to Christopher Baird, CEO of Automatit Inc., a full-service website-development firm that specializes in self-storage, a marketing company uses these services and its expertise in Internet marketing to work toward customer reach as its sole purpose, whereas an operator has to allocate his time to the other needs of the facility. "A small company could not realistically dedicate the same recourse for this purpose," he says.
To decide whether to hire an agency, an operator needs to consider two factors: the time he and his staff have to allocate to marketing, and the staff's level of skill. "If you have a team that's really fluent in online marketing and understands the drivers and best practices, you can certainly manage it in house," says David Wolf, managing partner for Linkmedia 360, a marketing agency that offers vertically integrated solutions including online and offline marketing, branding and website development. "I think where it makes a lot of sense to use an agency is when you can't allocate the time or you don't have the expertise to do it."
Call centers can also provide marketing services by generating leads, and providing a centralized sales and support center and integrated Web marketing. "These solutions are designed to assist the independent operators to compete with strategies deployed by the largest chains in self-storage at a fraction of the cost," says Mike Roberts, senior vice president of business development for XPS Solutions, which provides digitally recorded calls, lead tracking, Web-chat support, SEO strategies, Web hosting and data analysis.
To get the most out of a third-party marketing company, operators must effectively communicate their goals and objectives and be open to new ideas, says Shari Sutton, president of Sutton Watkins Advertising & Marketing, a consulting firm with a focus on online strategies for the self-storage industry. "You know your business better than an outside team, so internal resources are vital to this process," she says.
Payment Processors: Find the Best for Less
Payment processing is another service third-party companies can handle to help businesses save time and provide additional features such as online-payment processing. While self-storage operators can choose to use payment-processing services through a bank, this usually requires an additional third-party service to make sure the processor is compatible with the operating software. If the service is not compatible, it can limit the storage business' ability to use more advanced features such as online-payment options.