Most Chinese place a high importance on numbers. Certain numbers are associated with negative aspects of life, while others are positive and associated with good luck. In performing the lock check at one facility, we discovered the units were not in numerical order as originally planned. In checking with the facility manager, we learned a customer had liked a certain unit location but not the number. We accommodated him by moving a “preferred” number from a vacant unit, thus creating a happy customer with a vested interest in his storage space.
When numbering the units on the fourth floor of one of our buildings, we avoided starting each unit number with a four because in the local culture, four represents death. The number three means life, so we used two threes in place of the four to identify the units.
Pricing methods are also different in Hong Kong. We’ve found our clients communicate with one another, and our largest source of business is referrals. For this reason, we could not change the rates every week without upsetting current customers. New clients often want the same pricing as an existing tenant. If we offer any promotions to new customers, the established tenants complain and request the same discount. Our rate structure has to be consistent with frequent upward rate adjustments for all units.
Because renting storage space is such a big decision to people, we really get to know them. We work to create a personal relationship with every customer. Each time they visit their units, they’ll stop at the office to visit before accessing their goods. Our customers become our friends. When they go on holiday, they bring us gifts and photos. We receive personal e-mails from them. We give away movie tickets, trips and small gifts throughout the year to promote these relationships.
Most important, our customers accept the occurrence of accidents. Water in the units is a big problem in Hong Kong, particularly with older factories modified for self-storage. There have been several occasions where there has been damage due to water leakage. We apologize and offer some small gift. Most will accept the fact that “it was an accident,” and that’s the end of it. These issues are a way of life in Hong Kong.
It has been a rewarding endeavor to bring American-style self-storage to Hong Kong. We have learned to avoid the obvious while embracing the ambiguities.
Marilyn Leslie has been involved in the self-storage industry since 1998 when she began in the financial arena as chief financial officer for U.S.-based MiniCo Inc., then as president of Asian operations. She’s currently president of MiniCo Asia Ltd. During the last 10 years, she has worked in all areas of MiniCo’s self-storage business in Hong Kong. Her experience includes contract negotiations, facility planning and development, business modeling and budgeting, market assessment, finance structuring, reporting-systems implementation, and promotional planning. She manages four locations in Hong Kong and is responsible for developing and maintaining all critical business relationships with attorneys, bankers, vendors and others. For more information, www.minicoselfstorage.com.