In these times of economic upheaval, it’s more important than ever for a self-storage manager to make good use of his time. When it comes to marketing, what better, faster way is there to promote your facility than to enlist the help of your current and former customers?
When using a customer referral or incentive program, you’ll simply exchange a gift of some kind in return for a person referring a new customer to you. These programs can run the gamut from gas cards and movie tickets to cash or services. To implement a program, plan your strategy carefully, and then move forward.
Building a System
A referral system takes planning, and to make the most of a program, you need to take a fresh look at all of your marketing materials. You’ll find some are missing important information and others may be outdated. This is a good time to revisit each piece and add a fresh twist. Your length of commitment to the program is your first decision. Are you willing to run the program indefinitely, or will it be a one-time deal?
Next you need some hard facts: How long does your average tenant stay, and how much value does that person represent to your facility? You’ll need these figures to make your next decision. If your average tenant length of stay is six months, at an average rent of $100 per month, your average tenant value is $600. How much are you willing to give back to garner an additional $600 in income?
Choosing an Incentive
Determining the money factor in your demographic area is next on your list. Would your customers be happy to receive $20 cash for a referral, or do you need to bump it up to $50? Would they be thrilled with movie tickets, or would it take a high-end restaurant gift certificate to motivate them? While you can use any number of incentive options, from pre-purchased gift cards to dinner for two, many operators find the best motivator of all is cash. Have you ever known anyone who turned down free money?
Once you’ve determined your customer value and what you have to offer, you need to implement a program and insert it into your marketing materials. For example, you might choose to use a referral coupon that offers a $50 cash payment to the referring party. Maybe it also offers $50 off the first month’s rent for the new tenant. So you’d be giving $50 cash and discounting $50 for each referral received. The combined $100 is a small price to pay for your average customer value.
The design of your referral coupon should reflect your property or personality, or be a blending of both. It doesn’t have to be droll. You can inject a little humor, such as creating your own version of a $50 bill. Using quality card stock rather than just printing paper will give the coupon a classier look.
You’ll also need space on the coupon for information, including the coupon recipient and the referring tenant’s name and contact information. This could lead to an increase in referrals because customers can fill out the coupon in advance and then distribute to friends and family. For example, you can add a line that says, “Please send $50 to:,” and then insert the lines for the name and address of the referring party.
There’s no need for an expiration date if you plan to keep the referral program ongoing. However, if it’s a limited-time offer, be sure to stamp an expiration date clearly on the coupon. Consider creating a second coupon that offers $50 off the first month’s rent to all new customers. This gives you a second coupon you can offer to particular customers.
Promoting Your Program
Referral coupons that sit in your desk drawer or stacked at the end of the counter won’t get much action. You need to actively promote your program. First, give every new tenant a couple of referral coupons to share with friends and family. You can also incorporate the program into all your print ads as well as your newsletter. Staple the coupon to payment receipts and billing statements. In addition, when you give someone an exit survey, toss in a couple of coupons.
One of the best places to use your referral coupon is on your website, but with one small distinction: Your Internet coupon should be for $50 off any rental only.
Onsite promotion of the referral program also works. When Mr. Jones says your place really works great for storing his work tools, ask him to tell a couple of his co-workers about you. When Mrs. Smith says she loves that she can now park the car inside her garage in the winter months, ask her for some referrals. This is your opportunity to enlist her in your efforts and offer her a few coupons. Keep a stack near your computer and pass them along often.
If you know your tenant well, give him a small handful of coupons and ask him to distribute them on your behalf to his social club, service organization, church or youth sports group. One of our customers works for a moving company. He began passing referral coupons to customers headed to our area from out of state. A person doesn’t have to be local to use your coupon! We’ve had many people from across the country show up with our Web coupon in hand. It pays to expand your horizons when it comes to a referral program.
Coupons can also be a great deal-clincher for enticing prospects who say they need to “check out a few more places before making a decision.” Say softly in a conspiratorial tone: “You know, I shouldn’t do this, but since you didn’t see our website offer, let me sneak you one of these coupons. Just forget where you found it, OK?” Often, a $50 discount breaks down that last nagging piece of doubt in their mind. Soon the customer will be signing on the dotted line.
Keep a few coupons in your car, pocket or purse and pass them along whenever the opportunity presents itself. You can even use them in lieu of a business card. Here are some other ways you can pass along coupons:
- Contact your local realtors and give them a supply to use as resources for their clients.
- Make sure the local chamber of commerce has a supply on hand for members and new businesses.
- Pass out coupons at local street fairs and farmers’ markets.
- Take coupons to every networking event you attend.
- Ask your local coffeehouse if you can leave some on the counter.
- Contractor supply houses are great places with bulletin boards. Most of the contractors stick with people they trust.
- Home-improvement stores are another great place to post coupons on bulletin boards.
- Get your coupons into the local Welcome Wagon-type packets.
- Contact the local school district and ask if you can drop off coupons for the office, parent-teacher organizations, clubs or sports organizations.
- Partner with any local business that meets your criteria and sees a lot of foot traffic. Their traffic and a supply of your coupons will generate more rentals.
Your ultimate goal is to create awareness so that when someone does need self-storage, they’ll turn to you, not your competition. The best thing you can hear is a competitor complaining he sees your coupons everywhere he goes. Once you’ve hit that level, you know your name is in the customer’s subconscious as well.
We can’t force people to rent at a time of our choosing, but we can make sure they know our name and remember it when a need for storage arises in their lives.
Gina Six Kudo is the general manager of Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She has more than 15 years of self-storage experience and a strong customer-service and sales background. She can be reached at 408.782.8883; e-mail [email protected], visit www.cochranestorage.com.