By Timarie Kilsheimer Thompson
My husband and I are in the process of building Delaware Beach Storage Center (DBSC) in Lewes, Del., which is scheduled to open in May. Several months ago, Inside Self-Storage published the story behind our decision to develop this new 675-unit facility. Conducting due diligence, securing financing and approvals, and establishing a financial and operational framework were the foundation. However, there remained much to do during the construction period, and establishing a marketing strategy was first on the list.
In many industries, self-storage included, there are owners who believe that just because they have ideal visibility or there’s little competition they don’t need a well-thought-out and detailed marketing strategy. “Build it and they will come,” they may think. That’s one of the biggest mistakes any new developer can make.
What many are missing is the importance of first determining an image for the business. What do you want your business to be, and how do you want your image to be perceived? What’s the value of it, and why is it important to potential customers? Only with a true understanding of the answers to these questions can you fine-tune your marketing activities.
Creating a marketing strategy is essential to a business owner’s implementation of a strong, cost-effective campaign. In our case, that means one that both reaches and resonates with potential customers and gets them to lease space. It’s a big opportunity. A strategy will help you leverage your marketing dollars and establish a framework for presenting your message and image—the way you want it. It’s crucial to do this upfront to maximize the effectiveness of your strategy and return on investment.
How to Write a Marketing Strategy
Creating a go-to-market plan can seem a bit overwhelming and extensive. Internet resources can add to the confusion. The best way to tackle this is to start with an outline, then address each section. While there are many schools of thought on marketing plans, below is what worked best for us.
Mission, vision and goals. A mission and vision are standard, critical elements of a company's strategy, serving as foundational guides in the establishment of tactical plans. Likewise, it’s important to establish concrete and obtainable goals. DBSC’s goals are to achieve certain occupancy levels by the end of year one of operation and stabilization at the end of a specified month.
Customer profile/target market. Identifying a target audience is one of the most critical elements for new operators to consider. Owners who properly identify their audiences stand a better chance of converting them into customers. Once you know your targets, you can design a plan around how you'll market to them and secure them as tenants.
At a high level, target audiences can be defined quickly. In many cases, however, you need a more granular approach. A product can appeal to a variety of buyers who may have different needs and goals, and one-size-fits-all approach may not work. Consider creating the following two audience categories. Once these are established, you’ll have your lead list.
- Direct: Apartment and condo complexes, contractors, corporate, existing single-family developments, government, hospitals, over-55 communities
- Indirect: Builders, movers, real estate agents, remediation companies
Competitive analysis/differentiators. If you have the only storage facility in town, you can probably skip this section; otherwise, it’s essential. Differentiators are key attributes or unique values that clearly separate you from the competition. They should answer the customer-seeking question, “Why should I lease from you?”
Positioning statement. Writing this is important because it requires you to identify and articulate the unique value you provide to customers in relation to competitors. A well-written statement can have a positive impact on your business’ lead-generation capability and help determine how well your facility and brand are received by potential customers. This will be the foundation of your marketing messaging, lead-generation campaigns, and Web and social media communications. When complete, it should convey a compelling reason for people to rent from you.
Pricing, Promotion and Public Relations
Other facets to consider for your marketing plan are pricing, promotion and public relations. Let’s look at each.
Pricing. While this often can’t be established until three to six months prior to opening due to changing market conditions, it’s important to start thinking about how you’re going to price your space. When we’re setting our initial prices, we’ll consider:
- Unit location: First floor vs. second or third
- Unit amenities: 24-hour access, climate control, drive-up, proximity to an elevator
- Competitor prices
- Feasibility financials
- The impact of pre-sales and initial promotions
Promotion. The key element of our promotional strategy will be our website. As such, we’ll focus resources on search engine optimization and marketing as well as pay-per-click campaigns. We chose to engage a Web company that has done many self-storage-specific sites, so we’re confident it knows the market.
We’ll do additional promotion via an extensive social media campaign on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and implement a referral program for key “indirect-channel” partners. We don’t intend to have these partners “sell” our facility. Rather, the goal is to have them get prospects in the door.
Public relations. Public relations is integral to building awareness in the community, so we’ll issue press releases for all events. Important communication efforts involve local community organizations and government officials to further cultivate the relationships between the facility and community. Research the leading print and online media outlets as well as radio and TV and create a target list with contact information so you can easily distribute releases when the time comes.
Tactical marketing involves the execution of your strategy: generating leads, implementing your online approach, placing media, creating marketing tools and establishing a follow-up system. To be efficient, the strategy must first be in place! Otherwise, this part of the process will be much less effective, resulting in programs that under perform. This sounds logical, but you’d be surprised how many companies try to figure out how to sell more before they determine how to provide a solution to customers’ needs. They’re in a hurry to “do something” and end up viewing their customers as a blurry “they.”
It’s also extremely important to create a marketing budget and tracking system. As we’ll be in the initial stages of lease-up, we’ve allotted 6.25 percent of gross income; however, all facilities and markets are different. Creating a budget will help you make smart decisions and keep your costs in check.
It’s also essential to track the success—or failure—of your marketing activities by using a lead-tracking system and making sure managers ask customers how they heard about you. Without understanding this, you won’t be able to effectively plan your marketing budget going forward.
Based on your goals, messaging, strategy and budget, creating a task-based timeline is the best way to line item all your tactical items and ensure they get done.
One of our initial tactical-marketing items was to hold a groundbreaking ceremony. This was our introduction to the community and an opportunity to gain exposure with potential customers via the local press. While we had a limited budget, it was more about outreach than spending. About six weeks prior to the event, we compiled a target list:
- Local media: Print, television, Web
- Important officials: Department of transportation, police, fire fighters, local and state politicians, planning and zoning, chamber-of-commerce members, etc.
- Individuals and companies associated with the project: Bank officials, contractors, local business owners
Over the next few weeks, we created and e-mailed a digital invite and followed up with phone calls. Persistence was key! We also made sure the temporary website was up and running, drafted and distributed a press release, and ordered branded materials and renderings.
As the time for the groundbreaking drew near, we worked on logistics. For example, where was the best and safest photo-op location? On the morning of the event, we picked up bagels and coffee and staged the tables and ceremony area. That morning was very windy, but as all event planners know, you must be able to roll with the punches. We were impressed with the turnout; we had more than 50 attendees, including several state representatives and multiple media outlets. In our small market, this was significant.
Our results were fantastic for what some may deem a meaningless event. We secured coverage in six print and online media sources and one television station, exponentially increased our Web traffic, and introduced ourselves to our local market, positioning the new facility as the best game in town. Most important, we took more than 10 reservations—a year before our open date!
Developing a marketing strategy and tactical execution plan may not seem important to many self-storage operators, but it’s critical. If you don’t have a clear understanding of who your customers are and the value your facility brings them, then you won’t have the appropriate direction once you start your lease-up efforts. This could negatively affect your lease-up period and dilute your marketing spend. Even if you’re an experienced marketer, be prepared to go through these exercises so you can get your facility to stabilization quickly and successfully.
Delaware Beach Storage Center is on target to be complete in May 2016. Watch Inside Self-Storage for more about the Thompsons’ story as it unfolds.
Timarie K. Thompson and her husband, James Blair Thompson, are the owners of Delaware Beach Storage Center in Lewes, Del., scheduled to open in May 2016. Timarie has been involved in the marketing and strategic-planning fields for more than 20 years. She lives in Rehoboth Beach, Del., with Blair and their son. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.debeachstorage.com.