By Rob Kaminski
In the self-storage industry, there are a number of myths about buying and selling cardboard boxes, the type customers use for packing and moving and facility operators offer as retail product. Maybe its because so many operators focus only on their core business. Or perhaps its because some myths about the process are so widely accepted. Whatever the reason, it's worthwhile to explore and maybe debunk some of the more harmful misconceptions.
Buying Myth No. 1: All Boxes Are the Same
It's true renters will use liquor cartons, banana boxes and other makeshift containers to pack their belongings. Thats their choice. But if you sell them boxes and they crumple, topple or simply fall apart, their quality reflects badly on your self-storage business, especially when your name is on the box.
Some peddlers will show up with bargain boxes. They may be a factory closeouts or oddly sized. Ornow this is trickythey may be green boxes that are made mostly of recycled, corrugated material. While we all want to recycle, material that is more than 20-percent recycled weakens dangerously if it's corrugated. One tipoff is these boxes tend to have a lighter, almost yellow color.
The boxes you buy should all display a manufacturers certification stamp on the bottom. Aside from identifying the maker, it should show an edge-crush-test figure of 32 pounds per square inch or better. Now, there have been some who fraudulently display the stamp. Your best defense is to deal only with well-established suppliers. They wouldnt risk losing your business for a one-time sale. Once you know not all boxes are the same, youll be more likely to question why these peddlers can sell their boxes so cheap, right?
Buying Myth No. 2: You Have to Buy a Lot to Save a Lot
How many times have you seen stacks upon stacks of boxes on display at a self-storage site? And you can bet there are more in the back. The facility probably has enough tape and bubblewrap to last a year, too. The manager probably thinks he saved a bundle. But did he? Consider the capital hes tied up in all that inventory.
Retail professionals are smart enough to use their suppliers warehouse as their own. They try to keep inventory as low as possible. They rely on trusted suppliers who can deliver orders in a few days. Such suppliers offer free shipping, which is a big savings, on reasonable minimums and inventory-control systems such as reorder tags for displays and ordering histories to help determine product movement. Moreover, reordering boxes regularly makes it a snap to order smaller quantities of other retail needs on the same order.
Buying Myth No. 3: Corrugated Prices Rise Without Warning
This is another myth some box merchants use to oversell their customers. While its true the corrugated-cardboard market fluctuates due to domestic and overseas demand, established suppliers can usually anticipate those price moves. Partnering with a respected supplier is how you can anticipate them as well.
A reputable supplier will notify regular customers before prices jump so they can calculate how much additional stock the customer might wantor not. A supplier who wants to keep your business will never pressure you to overbuy.
Selling Myth No. 1: Customers Are Very Price-Conscious
Some self-storage pros still believe their prices have to match that of Walmart or The Home Depot. The fact is the average consumer is only aware of how frequently bought products are typically priced. Thats why supermarkets have to work on such low margins.
Sure, major retailers may sell cheaper boxes, but you offer something they cant: convenience and packing expertise. Buying from you saves renters time. You can advise them on what they'll need and how much to meet their needs. Have doubts about the value of convenience? Consider this: Convenience stores sell many of the same products as Walmart, yet they still do very well. Why? Because convenience has value.
So dont feel you have to buy cheap boxes to sell cheaply. You set your rental rates on what the market will bear, dont you? Do the same with boxes. Youll be surprised how much profit youve been leaving on the table.
Selling Myth No. 2: Anyone Can Sell Boxes
Correction: Anyone can ring up box sales. Selling boxes is another matter. Selling means engaging the customer and making helpful suggestions. Most people have little idea what theyll need to pack their belongings. A well-trained staff is one that can suggest a proper mix of box sizes, tape, bubblewrap and more. Proactive selling, youll find, will not only increase your average sale, it will improve customer relations.
To really sell boxes, provide training literature to each staff member. If you dont have training materials of your own, your supplier should be able and happy to supply them for free. After all, if you sell more, they sell more.
Selling Myth No. 3: Mass Displays Sell Boxes
Youve seen themstacks upon towering stacks of flat boxes filling the floor at self-storage offices. The rationale is it helps sell bundles. But does it really? Where does that leave businesses that lack the square footage to devote to such displays? If a facility has the excess space to serve as display floor and warehouse, fine. But here are some other approaches that might do well, too.
Make a pyramid of assembled large, medium and small box samples. On each box, tape a simple sign explaining the purpose each serves and its price: "Small box for books, dishes and other heavy items: $ X. You can even add 10 percent off bundles of 20. This will guide your customers to buy what they need and promote bundle sales without the mass displays.
Demonstrate product usage to educate your customers and staff. Want to sell dish kits? Load a small box with a divider/bubble kit filled with dollar-store glasses or dishes. Cut a diagonal window slot so customers can see inside the packed box. To sell wardrobes, display one with garage-sale clothes hanging inside. Wrap the drawers of a used cabinet shut with shrink wrap and customers will see its usefulness.
Finally, display signs listing the mix of box sizes and tape it might take to pack a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and more. For more demonstration ideas that help your displays do the cross-selling and upselling for you, talk to your retail-products supplier.
Dont buy into the misconceptions about buying and selling boxes. Keep your inventory low, sell quality boxes and educate your customers. If you follow these guidelines, youll be sure to increase your facilitys box sales.
Rob Kaminski is vice president of Supply Side USA, a national distributor of packaging, moving and storage supplies for more than 50 years. He has helped self-storage owners improve their retail sales for more than 25 years. He has written numerous articles on the topic and speaks at industry tradeshows. For more information, call 800.305.6110; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.supplysideusa.com .