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Teri Lanza

Teri Lanza
Editorial Director
tlanza@vpico.com

Auction Honesty: Be Upfront and Educate Customers

By Teri Lanza Comments
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The recent TV-auction-frenzy-sensationalism in the self-storage industry has blown up like an allergic reaction to peanuts. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed such passionate participation from our audience on a “hot button” topic. Not even bad legislation gets self-storage operators this fired up.

For weeks now, Inside Self-Storage has been fielding comments, calls, e-mails and blog posts from facility owners and managers on the topic of TV shows “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters.” We’ve also had an in pouring of feedback from auction buyers who say these shows have messed up their game. Some claim the programs have had a negative impact on their livelihoods, as they now compete with larger, more aggressive crowds at the sales they routinely frequent for goods.

This is not another missive on the effects or potential effects―good or bad―of these reality TV gangbusters. Instead, let’s talk about getting honest and being proactive with customers about the perception these shows now create.

Earlier today, Life Storage Centers LLC, a Barrington, Ill.-based operator with 16 facilities throughout the Chicago area, sent an e-mail to customers advertising its upcoming sales and setting the record straight about what buyers should expect. It’s a smart strategy: Communicate, be honest, earn trust, and regain control of a potentially volatile situation.

The LifeStorage e-newsletter cleanly identifies and summarizes the issue: The new reality shows focused on self-storage convey a pirate-dream fantasy wherein treasures are to be had for diligent buyers. It briefly explains the legal process behind public sales, why the company participates, and its sincere effort to avoid this unfortunate outcome. Then it gets real about self-storage auctions, providing true-life examples from Matt Clark, the company’s vice president of operations.

LifeStorage precisely explains the sale process―who participates, what happens and when, what can be purchased and what must be returned to the unit owner. Matt shares his experience of unique items to come out of an auction―from pickled chicken feet to a 1970 Shelby Cobra―but is honest about how frequently he’s seen true valuables.

This candid and open invitation to customers accomplishes several things for LifeStorage: It promotes its public sales to a receptive audience. It debunks myths created by reality TV. And it creates honest communication with a valuable market segment―existing tenants, who can do great work through referrals.

In an age of lightning-speed information delivery, the battle against misconceptions takes place on a very slippery slope. I love the LifeStorage approach of meeting the challenge head on to educate customers. Do you take a similar tack with tenants? What are you doing to win your own personal “storage wars” with bad or misleading publicity? Share your insights on the blog, and have a fantastic weekend!

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