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Old Barn Self Storage Shares Lessons on Meeting Customer Needs

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By Stephen R. DeSena 

The experience of Old Barn Self Storage in Grass Valley, Calif., shows how classical business practices pay off when implemented with creativity and diligence, even during the deepest recession in 80 years.

In 2003, family friends and local investors plowed $1.2 million into the property off Idaho Maryland Road, and Old Barn opened in November 2004. Two years later, local and world economies slumped.

In addition to facing macroeconomic challenges, the local owners had few opportunities to achieve economies of scale in a highly competitive industry. Old Barn management relied on the quality in the facility and service and becoming an integral part of the local community to survive and thrive.

By reaching out to schools, nonprofit organizations and other community groups in creative ways, self-storage operators can bring in people who might not otherwise know their business or see the facility. Here’s how.

Know Your Market and Adapt to Customers’ Needs

Listen to your customers and find ways to say “yes” in terms of hours, products, availability and special services. People appreciate feeling safe. Depending on your location and type of business, consider installing appropriate security equipment, which could be as simple as lighting above industry standards.

Take Advantage of Site Physical Characteristics

Especially consider the potential for “unusable” space. A wall or slope facing a high-traffic route could become advertising space. An odd corner could be a display area for nonprofit groups or a partner business. Difficult physical features may be adapted to meet unique needs. Keep your facility clean and orderly. Plant flowers and keep landscaping well maintained.

Make Your Business Convenient

Add value by offering special services such as pick-up and delivery, personal shopping, special packaging, extended hours, Wi-Fi, text-message notification, taking orders via your website and providing documents online or by quick code.

Keep a list of trustworthy contractors to whom you can refer customers. Include hours and full information on your website or Facebook page, and always reply quickly to customer inquiries.

Be a Weather-Watcher

Anticipate and respond quickly to customer needs that change with the weather. In some areas, that means being prepared to shovel snow before customers start arriving and keeping walkways or driveways clear. Consider the usefulness to your situation of umbrellas to lend, pop-up tents, sun shades, outdoor heaters and hot or cold beverages.

Build Relationships With the Community

When you share what you have, the community will share with you. Consider contests, fundraisers, sponsoring a team or class, advertising in school directories and at nonprofit events, and donating your products or services to schools or nonprofit groups.

You may have special equipment you could lend or space a local organization could borrow. By reaching out to schools, nonprofit organizations and other community groups in creative ways, you bring in people who might not otherwise know your business or see your facility.

Have a Good Management Team

This is the foundation of success. The above steps all require excellent day-to-day management. Your manager must be courteous, knowledgeable and reliable and must take the time to listen to clients and meet their needs.

Nevada City resident Stephen R. DeSena holds degree in marketing research from California State University, San Jose, and is a managing partner of Old Barn Storage. For more information, call, 530.274.4455; visit www.oldbarnselfstorage.com.

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