Self-storage operators must rely on advertising and marketing to get their potential customers. In the past, the marketing strategy for the industry consisted of a sign, a listing in the Yellow Pages and a friendly (yet often lonely) manager behind the desk. This strategy worked fine for a long time. In fact, there’s an entire industry to prove that it worked just fine until bam! It all changed.
These days, we’re faced with a new, dynamic marketing paradigm in which tools such as Google, Facebook, craigslist, Twitter, etc., reign supreme. The great newspapers and magazines that served the advertising needs of American business in the past are all but gone. Even the U.S. Post Office is losing revenue because advertisers are finding better ways than direct mail to promote their products. Yellow Page directories are more often used as door stops now. And if you don’t have a website, you’re considered a dinosaur by anyone under 40.
Many large storage operators have sophisticated, revenue-management systems that help them price their rates on a day-to-day basis and collect data on every customer’s rental behavior, including length of stay. Additionally, these systems test various incremental increases in rent that relate to customer demographic. As their databases get older and bigger, their predictions on all the variables get more precise. This provides them with invaluable marketing information.
Getting Up to Speed
Updating your marketing methods may seem overwhelming but, in fact, it’s relatively simple to do and not nearly as expensive as you might think, especially when you compare the costs to your Yellow Pages bill.
To start the process, you need a crisp, clean and simple website. A complicated one with too much information is a detriment. The page should include your facility’s address, phone number, e-mail address, location map, the name of your local area, and a few pictures. Your rates (by unit size), and hours of access are also important. Briefly list your other amenities: security, retail product, promotions, etc. Lots of “white space” is a good thing—you don’t want viewers to get confused.
If you don’t already have someone to work on your website, post an ad for a Web designer on craigslist. You’ll likely get calls from a lot of young, hungry folks who can quickly create a Web page at a reasonable price. Interview two or three developers, and choose one who understands the needs of your business and can build a site that functions smoothly. To get an idea of what’s out there, take a look at other websites. But keep yours simple!
If you do want a fun gimmick, however, one that is easy to create and use, add a 45-second video of the facility owner or manager personally welcoming the visitor. Your Web developer can do this, and it adds a warm, personal touch that will make your page more distinctive.
You can also list your facility on craigslist for free, renewing the ad every week. Surprisingly, this method has had great success for some operators.
You may already know that search engines such as Google and Yahoo! rank websites based on quality, traffic, volume and links to other sites, as well as a raft of other obscure criteria. Thus, it’s smart to list your property on two or three of the portal sites that specialize in helping consumers self-storage. While each site has a different approach, they all get a lot of traffic and have high-ranking positions on the various search engines. These sites improve your chances of getting a response from potential renters. They’re also inexpensive relative to other advertising methods, and the additional rentals you’ll secure will more than pay for the costs of listing on them.
Self-storage is a local business in the sense that your website and marketing area is relatively small. It’s important that your marketing and Web efforts focus on the region in which you actually do business, most often a five-mile radius around your facility. Again, this is where the self-storage portal sites can be helpful because they often restrict searches to the geographic criteria of the renter.
A Little ‘Home Cooking’
While electronic marketing is critical today, there are other effective marketing mediums that require less technology. After several years of operation, for example, many operators report the majority of their new customers are actually repeats. So it’s important to keep in touch with past tenants on a regular basis—at least every six months, or better, every quarter. A picture postcard of the facility with a handwritten note is an effective reminder to the customer that Grandma’s junk is still in the garage and winter is coming. The note need say nothing more than, “We miss you! Come back, and the first month is always free for our favorite customers. Thank you, Bob.”
Start collecting e-mail addresses from all your renters. These will be immensely valuable as your online marketing increases. E-mails will be useful for communicating general messages, such as notifying renters the facility is closed due to a holiday or weather. These e-mails not only provide information, they let the renter know you’re professional.
Similarly, you can send an e-mail to current customers to offer a referral credit if they know of a prospect. Simple contacts with customers are effective, building relationships and customer confidence.
Using these “new-fangled” strategies doesn’t mean you should abandon your marketing efforts. Those older methods will generate leads as well. Just make sure to carefully track where leads come from, and then adjust your budget to reflect the most cost-effective type of advertising.
The future of marketing is not written on the wall but on the Web. The times have changed in the marketing world, and it’s important that you and your business change with them. As singer Bob Dylan warned, “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”
Michael L. McCune is the president of the Argus Self Storage Sales Network, a national network of real estate brokers who specialize in self-storage. Argus provides brokerage, consulting and marketing services to self-storage buyers and sellers and operates SelfStorage.com, a marketing medium and information resource for facility owners. For more information, call 800.55.STORE.