How many of you have gotten caught up in the media version of Chicken Little’s “the sky is falling”? Relax, take a breath and feel superior in knowing the media has correctly predicted 18 of the last two recessions. Then, get yourself up to speed with marketing strategies for today’s times.
There are several key realities or secrets to survive and thrive in today’s self-storage market. Knowing them will allow you to operate scot-free of a doomed economy. Or maybe try Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s approach, “There might be a recession, but it doesn’t mean I have to participate!”
Have a Plan
Somewhere in Africa, a gazelle wakes up knowing it must be the quickest gazelle in the world to outrun the fastest lion. Likewise, a lion wakes up knowing that, to eat today, he must be faster than the gazelle.
The moral to this story? When you wake up in the morning and face operating your self-storage business, you had better hit the ground running ... especially when it comes to marketing. Without marketing, you’ll never outrun, or even keep pace, with the competition.
Running a business today is like flying a plane. Author Brian Tracy’s book, Flight Plan, outlines simple rules to surviving in this fast-paced jungle. First and foremost, you must have a plan, not swimming around in your head, but written down. Next, you must launch, or put your plan into action. Don’t plan to the point of paralysis. If you don’t take off, you’ll never get anywhere. Just get a solid outline and know you need to make course corrections along the way.
Many times pilots must redirect because of weather conditions or equipment issues. A self-storage owner must also make course corrections because of the economy or customers’ changing needs. For example, a new facility might only need to open its doors in an underserved market to attract business initially. Once competitors move into the area, though, a strategy such as offering climate control or online billing might be necessary to keep customers coming around and signing leases.
When you launch your marketing plan, there’s no guarantee it will be a success, but once you start, you will learn the lessons you need to succeed if you constantly make course corrections. You might find that you will land nowhere near where you had planned. For example, maybe you launch a direct-mail campaign that flops, but upon reflection and a re-launch, learn that by creating a bold website you can attract a dozen new tenants.
The Right Course
So, how do you make the right course corrections? You’ll want to write this down, too!
- Learn more stuff—the average American reads just two books a year (see “Marketing Smarts” sidebar)
- Learn continuously—what you know today will be obsolete in just two years. In today’s market, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
- Know that creating and retaining customers is your job—not selling a specific product or service. If you don’t know how to create and retain customers, you have no one to sell anything to.
The only thing you can know for sure is that everything is changing. Traditional marketing does not always work, particularly because there is no such thing as a traditional economy. Market conditions jump around just like the economy. Don’t ever get caught in a rut of only marketing in one way. “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is never a good marketing foundation.
Consumers are changing. Do you “own” your tenants like you used to? Do you even know your customers like you used to? Are you behind the lifestyle curve of your own prospects? It’s a simple generational change. Have you changed with the times?
These days, a 6-year-old can surf the Internet as comfortably as a 30-year-old. Do you have the Internet presence to attract these savvy shoppers? Moreover, once these customers can find you, will you provide them with the technology they have grown accustomed to, the services that allow them convenience every step of the way? Can they rent from you 24/7? Make payments online? Correspond with you via e-mail, if necessary?
If so, make sure your marketing campaign acknowledges this, and that you are targeting those specific consumers who’ll cherish those offerings.
The Customer Base
Changing expectations of consumers and erratic economic shifts require a dramatic shift in self-storage market requirements, too. Many businesses must re-invent themselves. If they don’t, the perception is bad customer service or the lack of ability to provide the modern products and services needed, so the consumer finds it somewhere else.
Recognize that your customer base is fragile. Don’t mistake customer satisfaction with customer loyalty. How many of your customers would defect to a competitor for a minimal discount? How much is a tenant worth to your business over his lifetime?
The secret of customer retention is giving them a reason to do business with you. As a generalization, self-storage businesses that have succeeded in recent years have molded their brand around customers who are on-the-go, with a me-me-me lifestyle.
With the current economic shift, self-storage branding may shift as well. Maybe a bulk of your new customers are moving from a large home to a smaller one; or maybe they are in foreclosure and desperate for a place to store their furnishings and keepsakes. Are you ready to market to this shifting clientele?
Most business owners find that 80 percent of their business is from 20 percent of their customers. Is this true of your self-storage renters? Are you mining this rich environment for gold, or are you overly caught up in finding small nuggets—the customers who’ll stay with you just for a month or two? How many owners have contacted customers who’ve been with them for a while to see if their needs are being met? Maybe their units are full and they would consider renting another, if asked. Or perhaps they didn’t know the facility offered wine storage or had spaces available for boat/RV storage.
The smart self-storage operator will make sure these customers remain loyal for a long time. Give them what they want, when they want it. Know them and treat them like family. If you do, they’ll mimic the commitment.
Marketing With Clarity
Your marketing message must be clear. Always have a concise, compelling call-to-action before you launch a direct-mail campaign or publish an ad in a local newspaper or phone directory.
And don’t forget the most important part of your marketing message must be to give customers a reason to do business with you. Beating your chest and proclaiming “We’ve been in business for over 60 years!” does nothing for the customer. Their response: “So what! What’s in it for me?”
Don’t let ignorance or ego become your worst foe. What worked before may not work today. Even if you created the most supreme self-storage marketing program 10 years ago, it doesn’t mean it will work in 2009 too.
You may need to re-invent your business, re-position or re-work your marketing; change your thinking. Superstars in business are flexible, positive and enjoy what they are doing.
Maybe the most important secret to marketing is best said by cosmetics queen, Mary Kay Ash: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”
This is the greatest time in history to be in business. Challenges exist, but rewards will come in many varieties. To enjoy them all, make a plan, take off and make course corrections along the way to the bank.
Lisa Wolfe is president of Marketing Success International LLC. She has more than 18 years in advertising, marketing and event-planning experience, has contributed to numerous journals and is a seasoned conference speaker. For more information, call 480.663.7769.
Here are a few books to get you up to speed:
- Flight Plan and Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
- Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Customers for Life by Carl Sewell
- Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson