While the past two years have been fraught with falling occupancy, rate stagnation, discounting and problem tenants, self-storage operations with solid marketing programs and savvy managers typically outshined their competition. Quality management teams and well-executed marketing plans helped many operators overcome or at least diminish challenges faced during the recession. However, the role of the facility managerand the way he markets a facilityis evolving at a rapid pace.
Todays managers handle a myriad of tasks including overseeing curb appeal, handling lien sales, determining rental rates and concessions and, of course tenant relations. They also need to understand and effectively implement print, community and online marketing.
You must wear a lot of different hats, says Stephanie Tharpe, a property manager for A Plus Storage in Nashville Tenn. Its not just renting units, collecting rent and picking up trash. You have to have superb sales skills, over-the-top customer service, know your competition, set goals, know your product, council and educate your customers, and hit the streets with marketing.
The Managers Shifting Role
Once caretakers who took orders for units and kept them clean, todays self-storage managers are a key component to every self-storage facilitys success. While they are still selling units, the process has changed greatly. Theres a tremendous amount of competition for each customer, and the store manager needs the sales skill set to be able to build trust with the customer, understand his needs, and fill the need with one of the available units, says Noah Springer, director of strategic partnerships for Extra Space Storage.
Managers who dont engage customers in the sales process will not achieve the desired results. Information-givers will not cut it, Springer says. Its also important managers know how to sell the strengths of their facilities. The manager must un-commoditize his product by selling the features and benefits of the site. It isnt always just about price, Springer adds.
Managers should also be able to think outside the box, adds Tharpe. Top managers need to business network and get involved in their communities. It is not a 9-to-5 position. Ive collected rent in restaurants and rented units at a football game.
The Need for Training
Because the managers role has advanced, continuing training and education is a critical component to keeping up to date on industry changes and creating a professional and profitable business. Its not enough to train a manager how to open and close and do a walk-through, Tharpe says. Good managers need to know everyday procedures and why theyre important. When training staff members I try to explain why we do what we do and why it works. Managers who are confident in their capabilities do a fabulous job.
While owners should always offer and encourage industry education, managers should also take an active role in their training, says Gina Six Kudo, general manager for Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., Whether its in a classroom setting for personal growth, or listening to an industry-related webinar, education helps maintain a sharp mind.
The best kind of manager training encompasses all aspects of a self-storage managers job. There must be an ongoing training program in all areas of sales, marketing and operational effectiveness, says Brad North, founder of Advantage Consulting & Management. It must be comprehensive, measured and improved over time.
One of the most important aspects of every managers job is marketing. A facilitys marketing program can comprise print, grassroots and online strategies. The playing field is changing here dramatically, says Robert Cerrone, senior vice president of self-storage operations for Strategic Storage Trust Inc.
Five years ago, most operators relied heavily on a Yellow Pages ad and drive-bys, but now a large majority of people seeking self-storage are turning to the Internet to find it, Cerrone points out. Its not just on company websites but from social media, storage aggregators and, to a lesser degree, Internet Yellow Pages.
Online marketing includes everything from a facilitys website and social-media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to online directories and classified ads. The online customer can communicate quickly to a large number of storage locations and the manager whos the most savvy in follow-up with the customer will get the rental, North says.
To become proficient at online marketing, property managers should search for storage the way their potential customers do, says Alyssa Quill, vice president of Storage Asset Management Inc. That means making sure your facility shows up in searches, on aggregator websites, and has good reviews on sites like Google and Yelp.
Managers should also advertise in online classifieds such as Craigslist and display Web coupons through many channels. The number of leads were getting from the Internet surpassed Yellow Pages a couple years ago, and continues to grow every month, Quill says. Going into the future, drive-by visibility, referrals and the Internet will continue to be the main sources for leads.
A Good Marketing Plan
When creating a marketing plan, Tharpe suggests reviewing not only whats worked in the past, but also strategies that didnt yield the best results. Operators should also be aware of their facilitys statistics, including highest rental months and highest move-out months. You should break it down by year, month and weekly, keeping in mind the busiest time of the month vs. the slowest time, she says.
Good marketing also crosses several marketing channels, including word of mouth, print, Internet and events, Quill says. It fits within the budget, and is achievable with the available resources.
Creating a broad marketing plan to encompass as many mass-media marketing avenues will typically achieve better results for operators in busy markets, Cerrone says. In addition, its necessary to address the local market with a plan that covers attendance to professional association events, civic events and regularly scheduled marketing visits to local businesses.
A manager whos comfortable with local marketing and who can follow up on leads will help his facility achieve higher occupancies and a larger revenue share. When you partner with various nonprofit organizations and charitable endeavors, you garner public relations dollars no amount of money could purchase, and the partnership brings organization members to your property, Kudo says. You reap what you sow, and if you sow goodwill, it will return to you tenfold.