By Randy A. Smith
I read every industry magazine I can get my hands on. Its with interest and amusement that I flip through the pages looking for the latest and greatest idea to attract tenants. From car washes to vet clinics, moon jumps to flea markets, the length and expense to which self-storage operators go in hopes of drawing new customers amazes me. Sure, all those ideas get people on the property, but do they make the cash register sing?
In this industry, we seem to have the mindset that our service is unlike any other product out there. We ignore what other industries do to attract customers and come up with crazy approaches to market our facilities. So-called experts have become close-minded and blind to whats working in other businesses. In fact, strategies that are considered traditional marketing in almost every other industry are non-traditional marketing in self-storage. Let me explain.
Three Best Mediums for Marketing
How many flea markets or community garage sales do you see happening at McDonalds? How many vet clinics at the local car dealership? Get the point? Why dont successful businesses in highly competitive industries use the concept of door turns? Because their multi-million-dollar marketing departments and Harvard MBA grads know what sells burgers and cars: radio and TV.
Stop and consider why all of the companies you see on TV and hear on the radio are there, week after week, month after month, year after year. Its because that advertising medium works! Why do we in the self-storage industry use gimmicky things like pencils and balloons, candy jars delivered to apartment-complex managers, or nail files printed with slogans like Your files are safe with us? Theres a reason no other industry uses these tools.
At Another Closet Self-Storage, weve run the gamut on every marketing idea out there. Ive come to the conclusion that the three best mediums for marketing self-storage are radio, TV and the Internet. Using these three mediums predominately over the last four years, weve seen double-digit growth annually. This year were on track to grow our revenue 20 percent to 25 percent over last year. In 2010, revenue was 18 percent over 2009.
Want to grow your business? Do what no one else is doing. In self-storage, it seems like almost no one is using radio or TV ads except some of the national operators. If you have no competitors on radio or TV and you run a campaign, you automatically become the top self-storage facility (perception-wise) in the market (even if you arent) just by virtue of the fact that youre the only one advertising there. Do you know how many vice presidents of marketing in other industries would love to be in that position?
Tailoring Your Message
In Another Closet markets, we have a lot of Spanish-speaking residents, so this year we opted for a branding campaign with a custom-made jingle, one in English and another version in Spanish. The 30-second song was free in exchange for placing advertising on a particular TV station, and the production was free, as is almost always the case. We paid $300 for talent to appear in the commercial so both versions look professional. We also used the jingle for our radio spots so we have a unified message across the entire market.
Our concept was to grow the segment of the business I call people with too much stuff. I cant control when people die, marry, divorce, move, etc., but I can educate and entice people who have too much stuff to store with ushence the theme of our jingle and ads.
Think about this: One manger out for an afternoon can talk to maybe 10 to 12 people. Thats two or three hours away from the store. One radio or TV ad can reach 20, 50 or 100,000 people at a time. Radio and TV ads are 25 to 50 times more effective than the knocking on doors approach. Add a good targeted Internet presence to the mix, and youve got a powerful synergy that cant be beat.
Weighing the Costs
Of Another Closets entire advertising budget, more than 60 percent is dedicated to radio alone, and about 90 percent of the remaining 40 percent is for TV and Internet. Less than 6 percent of the budget is spent on Yellow Pages ads, with the ultimate goal of zero.
In reality, radio and TV advertising is not as expensive as you think. Pick up the phone and get a quote. Last year, Another Closet ran a whole year of TV ads on the No. 1 station in the market for less than the cost of a full-page Yellow Pages ad, and achieved about 50 times the results. If no one else is doing it, it wont take much to make your facility stand out.
With radio, people are loyal to stations. With TV, people are loyal to programs. Keep this in mind when you advertise. Also remember there are basically two forms of advertising: branding, which helps customers remember you when they need your services later, and the call to action, which leads to a rental today.
We all have two types of customers as well: the today customer who wants a unit right now, and the tomorrow customer who isnt going to rent just yet. The today customers represent a very small percentage of your market. The tomorrow customers are by far the largest group. Unfortunately, many ads for storage appeal to the now customer, so consider putting 75 percent to 80 percent of your advertising to address the tomorrow customer with branding (name awareness). Then launch call-to-action ads periodically to promote specials for a time-definite period. Watch the national chains in other industriesthis is what they do.
When creating your self-storage marketing program, consider radio and TV advertising. These mediums offer operators a larger audience, and can be cost-effective advertising. Good luck as you branch into this more non-traditional marketing.
Randy A. Smith is director of operations for Another Closet Self-Storage in McAllen, Texas. The company operates seven facilities in Texas. To reach him, e-mail [email protected] .