By Matthew Van Horn
One of the most interesting aspects of being a self-storage operator is how to market your product in 2011. A few years ago, your facility was one of three or four facilities in a 5-mile radius. Now its probably one of seven in a 3-mile radius. The development of so much square footage from 2003 to 2009, along with advancements in technology, has altered self-storage marketing forever. You now have to hustle more than ever because the easy fruit has already been picked in your market.
As you read this article and others like it, take a look at your marketing budget for 2011. Youre most likely staring at a figure thats larger than it was a year ago, and significantly larger than it was in 2008 and 2009. For your facility to combat the increase in square footage, the poor economy, and the insane amount of discounting being promoted, you must have a comprehensive marketing plan that covers print, Web and promotional materials.
Print marketing is still a method to reach potential self-storage customers; its just not as cost-effective as it used to be. Yellow Pages is the most common type of print marketing used in our industry. The problem with it is the overall cost compared to that of a well-planned Internet campaign, which can often cost significantly less and reach a broader audience. The other issue is potential self-storage customers are moving away from responding to this type of advertising platform. With the Internet, mobile devices and social media, many are turning to online sources for information on the products they need.
However, if your market demands a Yellow Pages advertisement, consider the following. If you have multiple properties, try using a Yellow Pages company to negotiate the advertisement for your facilities. Consider placing multiple properties in one advertisement. In addition, have an outside marketing company design the advertisement for your facilities to make it more customer- and sales-friendly. Often, self-storage operators allow the Yellow Pages company to design their ad, which isnt necessarily the most effective advertisement for potential customers.
Direct mail is another type of print marketing often used by self-storage operators. The cost-effectiveness of direct mail coincides directly with the response rate. A typical campaign of 5,000 pieces can cost up to $3,000, including design, print, mailing list and postage. Along with the costs, the response rate usually varies from .5 percent to 2 percent. The ability of your facility manager to close potential customers will decide the cost-effectiveness of this type of marketing campaign.
You should also consider newspaper campaigns, church and apartment newsletters, and smaller hometown publications.
The Internet is where the most advances in self-storage marketing are taking place. The Web has revolutionized how we communicate and shop for products. For our industry, the Internet has provided a place to promote your facility, attract potential customers, and acquire tenants in a very cost-effective manner. Every self-storage marketing plan should include Internet marketing.
At a minimum, if financially feasible, every facility should have a website optimized for search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. A search-engine optimization (SEO) service will typically cost $300 to $500 per month along with design costs.
There are also several self-storage management software products that can be coordinated with your facilitys website to offer real-time reservations, payments and other facility information. These are the online amenities our potential customers have been conditioned to use.
Once you have your facilitys website in place, consider adding a pay-per-click campaign to your marketing plan. Pay-per-click is a separate service by Google that allows you to buy clicks or advertising under different keywords. These advertisements line the far right side of the search page as you complete a search request. You may budget as much as youd like for this service, but typically, $75 to $125 per month will be adequate for most markets.
In addition, consider using online self-storage directories. These are websites that list facilities on an online database. One advantage is these websites are typically optimized to be found on all the major search engines. Each works in a different way, but all are valuable additions to your Web marketing.
Finally, consider leveraging social media. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all easy ways to reach potential customers. You can set up pages for each of your facilities, typically at no cost. One specific tactic using social media is to have your existing customers advertise for you. Offer tenants an incentive to place a post on their social-media page advertising your facility. Once the customer sends you a link or a screen shot of his posting, reward him with an incentive such as $20 off his rent that month. Most people have a Facebook page with at least 50 friends. With this one small incentive, you can market your facility to dozens of potential customers.
Referral and Alliance Programs
Finally, consider using promotional materials. When planning, use materials that will actually drive customers to your door. Free pens and calendars are nice, but are they actually providing you a constant stream of potential tenants? Two proven strategies are referral and alliance programs.
A typical self-storage facility may receive anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent of new business from referrals. If you dont have a referral program, you should implement one immediately.
Second, create an alliance program with existing businesses in your area. Working with other local businesses is extremely important. Examples include apartment and office complexes, real estate agents, restaurants, doctor and dental offices, and lawyers. Have a well-planned program and train the facility manager how to sell it to other businesses. In addition, compose a reward program for the businesses that send you rentals.
The most important aspect of any marketing campaign is tracking it for effectiveness. A facility manager should gather all the information he can from potential and current customers. Consider using tracking numbers on your different marketing campaigns. These typically start at about $10 per month, or $100 per month for an unlimited package.
Along with tracking which marketing pieces are driving potential customers, the system will typically record the calls. Recorded calls are often available through an online portal that allows playback and archiving. Tracking numbers can be an invaluable tool for self-storage operators to determine which marketing campaigns are working, and which ones need reconsideration.
Creating a comprehensive marketing campaign for self-storage is not difficult. It does take time, some creativity and hard work, but the results are higher occupancy and bigger revenue.
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management, a full-service management company specializing in management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures within the self-storage industry. Mr. Van Horn is well-known for finding hidden profit centers in self-storage operations. For a complimentary copy of Hidden Profit Discovery Session, send an e-mail to [email protected] . For more information, call 866.970.EDGE or visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com . Follow the company on Twitter at Cuttingedgemgt, and on Facebook at Cutting Edge Self-Storage Management.