We recently got a call from a potential tenant who asked if our boat/RV-storage facility is going to run any specials on 30-foot spaces since the economy is so poor. We were able to tell him that our 30- and 40-foot spaces are full and we have a waiting list. We know that’s hard to believe in this economy, but it’s been true for us for the last two seasons.This particular customer added his name to our list, saying, “Your place is so clean and secure; I’ll just wait until I can get in.”
We’re often asked by fellow storage operators which marketing programs have been successful for us. We try to create programs that cost as little as possible, and we continually monitor our efforts. Here are some of the techniques that have worked for our business.
Know Your Customer
A large percentage of RV and boat storage spaces are rented for emotional rather than economic reasons. These customers are more concerned with convenience and amenities than price. To attract and keep this niche, focus on service and add-on offerings: clean restrooms and showers, boat detailing, coin-operated wash bays, RV dump stations and air stations top the list.
We offer a boat wash at our facility, and tenants love it. If you don’t have a boat wash on site, you can work something out with one of the boat- or car-wash businesses in town. We also rent a space to a detailer who is bonded and insured and has great references. We give him a discount since he sends us referrals. His detailing service is one of the best draws for our boat crowd.
Adjust Your Space
Not all facilities have the ability to change the size of its spaces, but this can be a great way to increase business. We recently looked at the demand for storage in our city, which is for 30- and 40-foot spaces. We had some 60-foot drive-thru spaces that weren’t moving as fast as we wanted, so we split them in half. This was a very inexpensive way to meet customer needs. It worked so well that we’re thinking of converting 10 more spaces this season. We can always revert them back to 60 feet if the demand changes.
Your facility may have similar potential to draw more business. Just make sure you’re not ruling out any options. The more aware you are of the demand in your competitive area, the easier it will be to make those decisions.
We talk about customer service all the time, but do we really give it our best? If you go the extra mile in this area, you will reap the rewards. We bake cookies for customers on holiday weekends and hand out free bottles of water when the heat is more than 100 degrees. We make sure our facility is spotless and has 24-hour access. We work every weekend and holiday, which is one of the main reasons we’re taking business away from our competition. Tenants love our concierge service and the flexibility of our facility hours.
Last season, we started sending thank-you notes to new tenants, and this has had a good response. We do it the old-fashioned way: We mail them. It makes it more personal and has the added benefit of allowing us to verify tenant addresses.
Our facility has always had a referral program. We give someone a $20 gift certificate to any major store if he refers a customer to us. If an existing tenant brings us a referral, we give him $20 off one month of rent. This is one of our best marketing programs.
When gas prices went up last year, we gave out $20 gas cards for referrals. With gas prices climbing again, we’ve put our program back in place. The local gas stations love that we’re supporting them.
Work With Local Businesses
This is a wonderful way to institute great marketing programs you normally couldn’t afford. There’s a business in our town that has a popular coupon book. We wanted to do something similar, but we didn’t have the budget. Instead, we created a “Welcome Package” for new tenants that includes brochures from local businesses, a calendar of town events, a list of local restaurants, etc. We regularly visit businesses in town and ask if they want to advertise in the package. They love our program because we don’t charge them! We simply ask them to provide fliers.
Our cost for the project is minimal, and taking the time to meet with business owners face to face allows us to share what our facility offers. We put a few of our referral cards into a coffee cup with our logo on it. We leave this with the business, and they let everyone in their office participate.
Ask the Golden Question
To know your marketing successes, you need to know how customers found out about you. We have software that aggregates this information, but even if your software doesn’t do this, you can still track your marketing. As part of our new-hire training, we drill into every employee the importance of asking, “How did you hear about us?” They have a log in which they record the responses. This way we know which marketing programs are working for us, even if a person doesn’t choose to rent from us.
Adjust Your Rates
If you know your competition, you can adjust your rates accordingly. When we first opened, we raised our rate on a space size once that inventory was full, regardless of what was happening in the market. Now, our managers go out every six months and check the competition. Last season, with gas prices soaring, we discovered that a few of our spaces were over priced. We adjusted the rate and stopped losing customers.
There are creative ways to adjust pricing. This season, we’re telling potential tenants that if they pay six months in advance, we’ll lock in their rate. We’re also giving a small discount if they rent more than one space.
Security for boat and RV storage should be top-notch. Boats can cost $100,000 or more, while large RVs can clock in at several hundred thousand dollars. We use high-tech security at our facility. It not only helps protect customers’ goods, it’s a great draw for prospective tenants.
Most boat and RV tenants desire 24/7 access to their vehicles, so while security should be stringent, the facility should also be accessible. At our site, gate entry requires a personal code and a fingerprint using biometric technology. All spaces have door alarms and a fire-sprinkler system. In addition, we provide an emergency phone number tenants can call if they have a problem, and they know we conduct a morning and afternoon security check.
To limit the risk of legal exposure and emphasize the security of our site, we run a credit and background check on everyone who rents from us. The program costs us very little and we simply add the expense to our sign-up administrative fee. Tenants like that we do this because they know we’re doing everything we can to protect their goods.
It’s very difficult and expensive to dispose of titled property, so any insight you can gain into a client’s credit and criminal background lessens the risk of eviction or lien-sale costs later. A credit check also helps you determine if a tenant is attempting to hide a vehicle under repossession threat.
One word of caution: The collection and storing of customers’ private information requires knowledge of state statutes. You should be well-versed in the law when dealing with this type of data. Protect your customer’s identity by filing any paper copies in a fire-proof safe and limiting access to authorized staff only.
Update Your Marketing
It’s critical to review your marketing brochures, print and Yellow Pages ads frequently. During a recent review of our own collaterals, we found we needed to make them more current. This helps to attract new tenants. Our website is updated at least quarterly, and we’re advertising more aggressively.
We also use e-mail blasts to reach tenants. We ask for their e-mail address when they rent a space, and we send them only important information regarding their accounts or information about our specials. We recently sent an e-mail about our referral program and had a good response.
It’s hard to keep a positive attitude when business is in decline, but when customers ask us how our facility is doing, we tell them, “Fantastic.” They always have a funny look on their face because they expect to hear how bad things are. Times may be tough, but who wants to rent from someone with a “poor me” attitude? We tell them business is going great and we love having them rent with us.
When it comes to your site marketing, keep an open mind, learn from your mistakes, and target your marketing efforts directly to boat/RV-storage customers. It’s a unique group with specific needs. Meet them, and you’ll be a success.
Ed and Terri Heil are the operators of Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage of Lake Havasu City, Ariz. Ed serves as manager of operations and security, and Terri is the facility’s business-development manager. Both are members of and regional chairpersons for the Arizona Self Storage Association. For more information, call 877.764.1961; visit www.lakehavasustorage.com.
RV Direct Marketing [Self-Storage Talk]