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Self-Storage Marketing in a Fierce Economy: Taking Campaigns to a Whole New Level

Read about the innovative marketing campaigns facility operators submitted for the ISS "Best in Self-Storage Marketing Contest and get ideas for taking your own marketing to the next level.

December 8, 2009

8 Min Read
Self-Storage Marketing in a Fierce Economy: Taking Campaigns to a Whole New Level

Just do it! Got milk? Have it your way. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. Good to the last drop. Let your fingers doing the walking. 

I’ll bet you can name the products behind the famous branding above. They’re etched in our minds, often connected to memories. Companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and Burger King know how to create a message that will stick. But you don’t have to be a billion-dollar business to come up with unique and impressionable ad campaigns.

Last summer, Inside Self-Storage invited its print and online readers to share their most clever and impressive marketing ideas and pieces. The “Best in Self-Storage Marketing” Contest was open to facility owners, operators and managers nationwide. Dozens of submissions poured in, ranging from catchy print ads and mailers to funny radio and TV clips.

First-place winner Terri Gavins, senior manager of Storage Center of Southwood in Tallahassee, Fla., won $1,000 for her multi-faceted campaign. A YouTube video by Andrew Emory, operations analyst for Self Storage Management Co. of California, nabbed $300 and the second-place prize. His “Naked Storage” video used Lego pieces as props to grab attention and illicit chuckles. An eight-piece print-ad campaign by Stephanie and Joe Tharpe, managers of Lock Box Self Storage in St. Juliet, Tenn., also aimed to make an impression through humor. The Tharpes were awarded $200 for their third-place entry.

While the submissions varied in content and delivery, all had the same goal: to get the facility noticed and attract new tenants.
Make an Impression

There are several hallmarks of an exceptional marketing campaign. Of course, it must be simple and catchy, easy to recall, and original. Also, it must be repeated. Stephanie had this in mind when she created her facility’s newspaper campaign, which featured humorous images of her husband, Joe.

The ads contained several consistent components: a picture of Joe, the company’s name, address and website, and a tagline: “Come See the Difference.” From there, Stephanie varied the message and image to address a unique aspect of storage. For example, one focused on facility access hours. It depicts Joe as a disgruntled customer of a facility with limited business hours. The caption: “Unbelievable! I can’t get in my unit after 9 p.m.?” The ad answers, “Here you can!” Other ads concentrated on site security, business storage, boat/RV storage and more. Unique messages and Joe’s clever antics gave each ad a fresh look.

Elsa Carter, manager of Midvale Valencia Self Storage in Tucson, Ariz., opted for the theme “Movie and a Pizza” to attract new tenants and boost referrals. Every new tenant received a coupon for a free Blockbuster movie rental and a pizza from Papa Murphy’s. To market the program, she decorated the facility’s office with movie posters, DVD covers, movie candy and popcorn.

Carter also used the posters to communicate messages about the facility’s program. For example, an image of the Hulk was embellished with a bubble that reads, “Outgrown your smaller unit? Transfer to a larger unit and pick a movie or a pizza!” Carter really enjoyed putting this promotion together. “The entire theme implied fun, fun, fun,” she says.

Tenants renting at Cochrane Road Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif., never leave empty-handed. General Manager Gina Six Kudo is a huge believer in the power of branded promotional items. “Sure, it’s an intrinsic thing, but if your company name is buried in the potential customer’s subconscious because they've seen your name somewhere, you've already won the first round in the battle,” Kudo says. “All that is left is to close the sale with the best customer service possible.”

In addition to staples such as keychains and pens, Kudo has also given wine-bottle snugs for donations and raffles; paddle fans at a Fourth of July parade; and small gift bags of branded goodies to new and potential tenants. “While you cannot force people to rent when you want to increase occupancy, you can make sure that when a need does arise they are drawn to your company,” she says. “If a person thinks ‘storage,’ I want the next thought to be ‘Cochrane.’ It’s that simple.” 

Make ‘em Laugh

Often, the most memorable marketing campaigns are those that make us laugh. Remember the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials asking, “Where’s the beef?” Several of the submissions for the ISS contest focused on humor to sell their brand.

Hawaii Self Storage’s “Practice Safe Storage” campaign, a radio spot aimed at college students, parodied public announcements focused on sex education. The spot was aired across three student-targeted radio stations. “Practice Safe Storage” t-shirts and fliers were distributed across the campuses. “The campaign went against the norm of the traditional pitch of selling and did receive interest and attention among students looking for storage on the island,” says company president Daniel Ho.

Greg Putnam used subtle humor in a TV ad to promote his two American Self-Storage facilities in California. In the 30-second commercial, a wife informs her husband that her mother needs a place to stay. But his response, “I’ll go look up some hotels in town,” doesn’t go over well. The next scene shows the couple arguing in an overcrowded bedroom.  The ad then cuts to views of a self-storage facility while the narrator says, “At American Self-Storage, we can’t store your mother-in-law, but we can do the next best thing. Use our moving truck for free and make room for that unexpected guest.”

A Solid Delivery

Of course, a funny or creative campaign means nothing without the proper delivery. Today’s self-storage owners and managers are moving beyond Yellow Pages ads and simple fliers to embrace the many marketing outlets now available. Many self-storage facilities have created YouTube videos. Others have short informational videos on their websites. Social-media networks—particularly Facebook and Twitter—are becoming a part of a facility’s marketing strategy.

Even the delivery of print marketing campaigns is becoming more cutting-edge. Dan Rich, owner Taylor Ranch Self Storage in Albuquerque, N.M., tapped into the roller-derby craze by hiring a local team to deliver four-color door hangers. Not only is the delivery sure to get notice, but the campaign proved to be cost-effective. “The young women are enthusiastic and aggressive about moving from house to house,” says Rich, who pays the players $14 per hour. “A good roller girl can blast through a neighborhood at lightening speed and deliver about 150 pieces an hour.”


To ensure her marketing campaign reached a wide audience, Gavins built a comprehensive program with overlapping components to announce the opening of facility. Her campaign included e-mail marketing, YouTube video, a newsletter, a referral program, and social-networking websites.

Gavins also organized a community event to celebrate the grand opening. “The community is very family-oriented and I wanted to put an event together to say hello,” she says. Gavins tapped another local business to co-sponsor a “Health and Safety Day,” which reduced the facility’s costs. The event included music, a bounce house, safety tips from the police and fire departments, a blood drive and vision screening. The event was so successful that Gavins plans to make it annual.

Target Marketing

A good campaign also targets a specific market. Anthony Morrow, marketing manager for Storage Solutions in Cerritos, Calif., took this approach when creating ads catered to the area’s Korean population. Some members of the company’s management team are Korean, and one agreed to be the contact for inquiry calls. Because the concept of self-storage isn’t well known in the Korean community, the ad is educational, explaining reasons someone might use storage.

Tami Stockton, manager of Cove Point Storage in Lusby, Md., also created a campaign with a specific audience in mind: children. Stockton wrote and illustrated a coloring book featuring a sad car that can no longer be parked in the garage because it’s full of Christmas decorations and boxes. The coloring book introduces the many benefits of storing at Cove Point Storage. Her reasoning was twofold: Parents are apt to keep anything their kids color, and the book can be distributed in places where families gather—restaurants, daycares, schools and medical offices. “We often underestimate the influence children have on their parents and other adults,” Stockton says.

In today’s competitive self-storage environment, marketing is a critical component to every facility’s success. But you don’t need a big budget to get noticed. The best marketing campaigns are planned, innovative and memorable. Keeping it fresh and targeting your market will guarantee your next campaign is triumphant.

Related Articles:

Self-Storage Marketing Success: Using Facility-Specific Data to Find Your Target Market

Getting Your Self-Storage Website Noticed: SEO, SEM and Third-Party Referrals

Using Coupons: Customer Referral and Incentive Programs for Self-Storage

Inside Self-Storage Announces Marketing-Contest Winners

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