By Rob Kaminski
“You’ve just got to find me cheaper boxes, Rob!” He was an old friend and a solid self-storage operator who always dealt with the ups and downs of his business with a confident calm. Today, however, he seemed near panic. “What’s going on?” I asked him over the phone. “Well, the wife and I were at Walmart and there they were—moving boxes! And you wouldn’t believe their prices! Why, they’re going to kill my retail business!” he almost moaned.
Today, it seems like everybody has decided to try selling packaging materials. Walmart, Home Depot, office-supply stores, heck, even pharmacy chains are dabbling in packaging. And hardware stores stock the same disk locks that was once reserved for self-storage businesses.
The bad news is most of them can afford to peg prices below those of the average self-storage business. The good news is storage operators can still outsell them. In fact, the industry has been doing it for quite a while now. The proof is retail vendors are experiencing increased sales to their customers, despite these new players. Here’s how you can outfox those big-box stores.
(With Apologies to Al Gore) A Convenient Truth
Self-storage operations have one advantage over big-box stores: a pre-qualified customer base. The other stores exist because they carry just about anything a customer could want. So the people walking in have the most diverse needs you can imagine. Your walk-ins are there to store or move stuff. Period.
Whether they intend to rent a unit, a truck or both, that’s their primary transaction. Of course, if it’s a unit, they’ll need a lock and you’ve got the right kind. They could waste gas shopping to save a couple of bucks, but if your price seems reasonable, you’re a lot more convenient. If their stuff needs to be packed, they’ll need packaging materials. Again, you’ve got exactly what they need right there and you’re more convenient.
But what about those big-box prices? Won’t your renters recall them? Maybe. Most likely not. People tend to have a rough idea of the cost of frequently bought items. Locks and packaging materials don’t fall into that category. Even if they recall Walmart’s price range, if your prices are close enough, you’re still more expedient. After all, if price were everything, there would be no convenience stores.
(With Apologies to David) Targeting Goliath
Once my phone friend realized he was worrying too much about losing customers to the big-box stores, I asked if he’d like to have them lose customers to him. Although Walmart may prominently display packaging materials or put them in an ad from time to time, compared to its other products, they are slow-movers. The same goes for Home Depot and all the other chains. The net result is few people who aren’t going to rent storage or a truck think of these stores when they need packaging.