When storage renters are surveyed as to why they chose a particular facility, two reasons are always at the top of the list: proximity (convenience) and security. If you're right around the corner from where someone lives, you're probably going to get his business. If you happen to be located in a great area, you probably paid a lot of money for the dirt, but you get a lot of drive-by traffic. If you don't have the perfect location, security is one of the areas where you can differentiate your product. You should not make any guarantees with regard to security--do so and you're in legal hot water--but you can use security in clever ways to better market your facility.
The first thing you'll want to do is find out what your competition is using in the way of security. Visit each of your competitors within a 3- to 5-mile radius and take notes regarding all security systems they have in place. Any new security efforts you consider must always be weighed against the costs and benefits. After you know exactly what your competitors have, you can determine whether it makes sense to spend your money to add various security elements to your facility.
Should You Spend the Money?
Before you consider adding security features, you'll have to figure out whether it's worthwhile from a financial perspective. The question will always be: Can you increase your occupancy rates and/or prices to make the newly installed system pay for itself? There is never a way to know for certain in advance, but here's the best way to look at this potential investment:
If you would have to pay $70,000 to install individual alarms on each of your 700 units, it would cost you $1,000 per unit. Let's assume you're currently at 80 percent occupancy and your net revenue $35,000 per month. If, from a market analysis, you feel you could increase occupancy rates to 90 percent in short order, bringing your net revenue to $42,000 per month, it would take you 10 short months to recoup your investment. It would also increase the sale value of your facility.
Following is a list of some security options and the pros and cons associated with each.
[ Video Cameras ]
One of the best ways to show off your security is to have video cameras stationed throughout your facility and a wall of monitors prominently displaying the view from each in your office. When people come to your facility, they can immediately see the security you provide. While other security measures need to be pointed out or enumerated, this method is so conspicuous it needs no explanation or description.
If you don't have security cameras installed, they are pretty pricey. Consider installing them only after you have done a very serious cost-benefit analysis. There are a number of vendors available. Get competitive quotes and talk to three or four of each company's customers before selecting one.
Pros: positive customer perception, highly visible
Cons: expensive, maintenance
[ Guard Dogs ]
One self-storage manager I know had a couple of rotweillers kept in a very visible pen right next to the management office. She would point to the dogs and tell prospective tenants they were allowed to roam around the storage facility after office hours. She would then mention the facility had never had a break-in. Do not use a line like this unless it is true. And be sure to check with a lawyer to understand the liability issues involved with using dogs to police your facility.
Pros: cheap, effective
Cons: liability issues, care of dogs
[ Individual Door Alarms ]
Alarming each individual unit at your facility is expensive but highly effective. The system allows your manager to know whether a door has been opened by an unauthorized party, and it's great as a marketing tool for prospective renters. The site-graphics display in the storage office should use color identifiers to show each of the units on site and whether it is open or closed. Those units that have been opened by an unauthorized party will flash a different color, usually red. If you offer individual door alarms, highlight this feature in your literature, on the phone and on your website.
Pros: best security device, high perception of value on behalf of customers
Cons: false alarms, expensive, maintenance and repair issues
[ Walls/Fences ]
The first items prospects see when approaching your facility are your walls and perimeter fencing. Your goal is to appear as secure as possible without being intimidating. When you use barbed wire, for example, it may make your facility more secure, but it might also give the impression your facility is unsafe. On the other hand, if you're in a rough neighborhood, impressive walls and fences might be exactly what you need. The best approach is to talk to your builder during the design phase about ways to bolster security through facility layout.
Pros:relatively low cost, high visibility to customers
Cons: can raise customer concerns
[ Lighting ]
A well-lit facility will be perceived by renters as being more secure. Since the majority of renters are women, good lighting is incredibly important. No matter how good your security track record is, poor lighting will give people the feeling there is a security or safety issue. When asked what makes them feel safe at a self-storage facility, a majority of tenants will cite good lighting as one of the primary reasons for feeling secure.
Pros:low cost, very visible
Cons: only noticeable during evening hours, needs upkeep
[ Cleanliness ]
How can cleanliness be an element of security? Again, it's an issue of perception. People will assume your facility is unsafe if you don't keep it clean. Renters and prospects associate a clean facility with one that is secure.
Pros: cheap to implement, customers notice immediately
Cons: takes time and effort
[ Security Guards ]
Some operators hire uniformed security guards to patrol their facilities after hours. This is an incredibly effective way to prevent break-ins. From a marketing standpoint, it is much more effective if the guards also walk around during the day when people can see them. In either case, it's great to be able to tell tenants your facility is patrolled in the evening hours. If your facility isn't big enough to justify the expense, try to get a local agency to drive by at least a few times a night so you can legitimately promote this fact to prospects.
Pros: relatively inexpensive, quick and easy to implement
Cons: guards aren't always seen by customers, infrequent visits can mean missed incidents
[ Security-Access Systems ]
Does your gate have a security-access system? If not, install one. Other than video monitors in your storage office, the access gate is one of your most visible security elements. I also like the fact you can use the gate-access system as a billboard for promotions and other announcements. Put little signs on top of the keypad to tote any specials or offers you may have.
Pros: inexpensive, relatively easy to install
Cons: maintenance, easy to evade by following a preceding vehicle
Pair Features With Benefits
When you speak to prospective tenants, either over the phone or in person, always attach a benefit to every feature of security you enumerate. If you say, "We have dogs that patrol the facility at night," you'll want to add, "So it is virtually impossible for anyone to come onto the site without being noticed." Don't assume people will make the connection without you explicitly spelling it out.
If you're just starting to build a self-storage facility, install the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art security system you can afford. Given that security is one of the most important features of a storage site, in most cases, it is the best investment you can make.
If you use the security methods listed above, they will have to pay for themselves to be worthwhile. You've got to offer something unique from your competitors, and you have to make sure you and your managers emphasize your security features to tenants and prospects. Do not expect people to notice them on their own. Finally, ask potential renters about the other facilities they are considering and what security measures are offered there. This will provide you opportunities to differentiate your facility from others and make it more likely people will rent from you.
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 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].