Given that this is the "big show" issue (imagine Ed Sullivan's voice here), I thought it would be appropriate to give you a list of the 13 most important self-storage marketing techniques. These have been some of the most effective marketing ideas I've found to help owners maximize profitability. If you were to implement all of these ideas, your facility would be substantially more profitable than it is now. If you are just getting started in self-storage, keeping these concepts in mind will make a huge difference in your future income.
#1: The Storage Hotline
A storage hotline is a separate phone number you establish for people to call for general information. A live person never answers this line. It has a long outgoing message that lists the most important features and benefits of your storage facility. If possible, it should be hooked up to a caller-ID system to capture people's phone numbers. Then use a reverse directory to send them a postcard the very next day.
People will call a hotline if you have a "sexy" title attached to it. An example might be "The seven things anyone should know before renting a storage unit." Make sure you describe your hotline as a free, 24-hour recorded message. That way people will know they won't be sold when they call. Some owners have reported upward from 50 percent of calls to the hotline occur after 11 p.m.
#2: Generate Repeat Business
There are two primary ways to generate more repeat business in this industry. First, you've got to blow away customers with your service. In self-storage, that takes a bare minimum of effort. The problem is making sure you have managers who understand this concept. They've got to have a service mentality. They've got to enjoy people. You also have to give them the tools to make service happen. This means providing managers flashlights, jumper cables or anything else customers ask for as a courtesy. You'll also need to keep your facility immaculately clean.
The second way to get people to come back to you is to keep in touch with them regularly after they move out. Send them a postcard every quarter with some valuable ideas and concepts on storage. Keep your name on the front of the cards. If the recipients don't come back themselves to rent from you, they will probably refer others. The cost to do a postcard mailer is very low and will pay itself back in spades.
#3: Cultivate Centers of Influence
There are certain people in your community who can send you a lot of customers. I call these folks centers of influence. They are well worth cultivating because of the incredible marketing leverage they provide you. Convince one of these people to send you business, and they will send you a bunch of tenants.
Who are these people? They are those who are most likely to be asked about where to rent a storage unit, such as real estate agents or local movers. I'm sure you can think of many other groups. All of them are valid. Cultivate your relationship with these centers of influence. Get them to like you. When someone asks, they will send business your way.
#4: Your Answering Machine Message
Most storage owners don't give much thought to the outgoing message on their answering machines. This is a big mistake. Your message can be a tremendous sales opportunity. Rather than using the typical message, "Leave your name and number, blah, blah, blah...," say this instead:
"Thank you for calling Anywhere Self Storage, the only facility in town with climate control, so your belongings won't be damaged by the fluctuations of heat and cold. If you've reached this greeting, we're either out of the office or assisting another customer. Feel free to call our storage hotline at xxx-xxxx to hear the seven things everyone should know before they rent. If you'd like to leave your name and number at the tone, we'll be happy to call you back. You'll also be registered to win a 19-inch color TV. Thanks for calling."
#5: Outdoor Signage
Most storage owners let their egos get in the way of good marketing. When it comes to your facility signage, please understand that as excited as you are about the name, your customers couldn't care less. They are looking for proximity and value. Name is not even on the radar for them in terms of importance. That being the case, concentrate your outdoor signage on the words SELF-STORAGE, not the name of your facility. It amazes me how many operators use huge type for the names of their facilities and tiny type for the words "self-storage" or "mini-storage." You need to do just the opposite.
#6: Yellow Pages Advertising
Many people in the storage industry consider their Yellow Pages ad to be their marketing plan. Wrong! It's not enough. But it is an important component of your marketing efforts.
The amount of money charged for even the tiniest ads these days is getting pretty ridiculous. You want to make the most of your ad space. Make sure your headline will make prospects stop and read. That means the name of your facility should not be at the top. Instead, put your unique selling point (more on this later) at the top. Also, don't make your ad look like all of the others. Many owners have effectively used ads with tiny print. You'd be surprised, but they can work if done correctly.
#7: Premium-Unit Pricing
When someone walks into your facility already sold on renting a unit, your goal is to extract the greatest number of dollars from his wallet--but in an ethical fashion. When a potential customer walks in and announces he would like to rent a 10-by-10, never just whip out the contract and have him sign. Instead, ask if he would like one of your "premium" units.
His next question will be: "What's a premium unit?" Your answer will depend on where you have 10-by-10s available. If you have units available near the front of the complex, your answer should be: "The premium units of that particular size are those toward the front of the complex. That way you can get in and out of your unit quickly and easily." If, on the other hand, you have units available at the back of the complex, you might say: "Our premium units are located at the back of the facility. That way you'll have more privacy when loading and unloading your belongings."
When I travel on airplanes, I'm usually the guy who has paid 50 percent less than most of the other passengers. If you think everyone has some God-given right to pay the same price for the same unit size, you're wrong. You have the right to extract as much money as you can for every unit you sell. That's the American way.
#8: Generating More Referrals
Referrals are an incredibly cheap and effective way of getting business. Many facilities get as many as 20 percent of their business this way. If you'd like to increase the number of referrals you receive, regardless of your current numbers, there are a few things you must do. First, you need to ask for them! Sure, you'll get a certain number of referrals that are unsolicited, but why wait for those? Ask for them.
The best time to ask for a referral is when you've just fixed a problem for a tenant or made him happy in some other way. It's called the "principle of reciprocity." Help someone and he will feel compelled to help you. If you've done something nice for a tenant, he'll feel he owes you a referral. Make sure to cash in on this valuable concept.
#9: Measure Critical Elements
Most storage owners make money in spite of themselves. As this industry continues to get more competitive, the need for measurement becomes essential. Why not get a head start and do it now, before it becomes critical?
You should be measuring four basics. First, you need to measure the total number of calls you receive on a monthly basis. Second, you'll need to know the source of these calls. Did they find you in the Yellow Pages, on the Internet, where? Third, you'll need to get an idea how many of those calls are converted to visits. Finally, you'll need to measure how many of those visitors you converted into renters. Measure these four things, and you'll be ahead of 95 percent of the operators out there.
#10: Bundle Products for Maximum Profit
If you aren't selling any ancillary products at your storage facility, that's a big problem. You've already established a rather significant relationship with people. They trust you enough to let you watch over their belongings. This trust, if well leveraged, can provide you thousands of dollars in additional yearly profits.
Whether you sell locks, boxes or any other storage-related items, make sure you offer them as a package. This is known as bundling. Rather than offering to sell boxes individually, put a bunch of different size boxes together with some packing tape and sell them as a bundle. This will increase your average sale and increase your profits.
#11: Your Storage Office: Think Retail
Most storage offices are designed as an afterthought. Most are set up to allow the managers plenty of "grazing" area. This is absurd. The function of the storage office is to maximize the sales of storage-related products.
Make sure you design your office like a 7-Eleven. Put on your merchandising hat. Attractively display those items you are trying to sell. Make sure 75 percent of your space is used for selling products and 25 percent is devoted to manager comfort. Walk into most storage offices and the counter is positioned to give the manager plenty of room. Instead, design with the customer in mind. How can you maximize the space you have to sell the greatest number of storage-related products?
#12: Create Your Unique Selling Point (USP)
Unless you have something that makes your facility unique from others in your area, you're competing on price alone. This means people will buy from you only if you're the lowest-price provider. This is a bad position to be in. Why not find something valuable that makes your facility different? Then you're not forced to compete solely on the basis of price.
This means you'll have to shop your competition and see what they offer. Find what you provide that they don't, and capitalize on that USP. Whenever someone calls or comes to visit, highlight that feature along with the benefit attached to it. One option is to create a coupon system, which I discussed in detail in last month's column. Remember, you must have something unique or all you can do is be the lowest-price provider to win business. This is bad marketing positioning.
#13: Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Marketing experts get paid for coming up with new, creative ideas to help storage owners and operators concentrate on running a great facility while being more profitable. Most storage owners and operators tend to employ standard marketing concepts that have been used for years. Unfortunately, everyone and their brother has heard about these tactics. That is not true about the above suggestions. If you take all of these concepts and use them in your business, you will see significant increases in your occupancy rates and profits. Don't do what everyone else is doing. Do what works. The above list will get you started in the right direction.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit-maximization consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! as well as the producer of the only professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to [email protected]. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail [email protected].