By Katie Self
Self-storage operators wishing to differentiate themselves from competitors have begun to cast a wider net, looking for add-on products and services that will appeal to consumers. Ancillary items allow storage businesses to create convenience and expand their earning potential. Here are some ideas on profit centers to create, benefits and challenges, advice for promotion, and more.
A Range of Offerings
There are some items that have long been mainstays in self-storage retail stores, including locks and boxes. “It’s natural for the customer to expect those. They need locks regardless,” says Ed Hainrihar, vice president of operations for Compass Self-Storage, which operates 59 facilities in 12 states.
Items such as lifting straps, utility tie-down straps, trailer lock kits, utility knives and furniture slides provide assistance to manually move or arrange items in storage and make great add-on revenue items, according to Nancy Martin Wagner, vice president of marketing for Chateau Products Inc., a Bradenton, Fla., supplier of retail products for the self-storage industry.
Reliable options such as dust covers, mattress bags and chair covers are often forgotten by customers, Hainrihar says. “Air movement within the space can spread dust, which can make an impact on stored items. Additional [retail] items are necessary to keep them free from damage. Eighty percent of customers have never used the products and are unaware they need them.” A simple logistical oversight can be remedied when an operator supplies these conveniences.
Truck rentals have proven to be popular among customers, according to Rob Consalvo, director of operations for Winter Garden, Fla.-based iStorage, which operates 67 facilities. Not only are they well-liked, they’re a convenient alternative for tenants, creating a single location for several needs. “We like to offer a one-stop shop for our customers,” Consalvo says.
Finally, some operators have begun to expand their offerings to stay ahead of the competition and attract a broader range of consumers. Universal Storage Group (USG), a third-party management firm that oversees 53 facilities, is one such company. While its properties offer traditional amenities, they also feature some less typical services including business centers and beverage stations. USG tenants can even participate in “pop-up” sales, in which they can sell their personal items from their units during garage-style sales.
Bona Fide Benefits
An obvious benefit to providing add-on services is higher income. “A professional storage counselor can explain exactly how to pack [customer’s] belongings with the boxes and supplies that are best-suited for the job, and even show them how it will most efficiently fit into their unit,” says Stacie Maxwell, USG’s vice president of marketing. “This positive interaction will result in positive testimonials and also into referrals.”
Consalvo stresses the importance of creating a stress-free environment for customers, which results in an overall pleasant storage experience. “We find that time is precious for our customers,” he says. “The more we can do to make the move seamless, convenient and worry-free for our customers, the better their experience and the sooner they can move on to other priorities in life.”
Something as simple as listening to customers can also prove beneficial. Self-storage is a “people” business, says John Wharton, director of marketing for American Classic Self-Storage, which operates 11 properties in Virginia. “If we listen, they’ll often open up to us and tell us exactly what they need,” he says.
Complexities and Challenges
There are also aspects to selling ancillary products and services that can generate challenges for a facility, from maintaining proper inventory levels to a property’s physical location. “Purchasing the inventory, having the correct inventory in stock at all times and being competitive in price on those items, as well as knowing how to display them to best attract the customer’s eye, are a few aspects,” Maxwell says. Conducting regular competitive surveys as well as having candid conversations with tenants will help operators determine their market’s specific needs, she adds.
It’s also critical that operators track their products. “The store operator should keep a consistent inventory at all times to avoid theft and a lost sale due to being out of stock,” Maxwell says. “Make sure all products are entered into your online-inventory system using barcode numbers and automatic reorder-reminder alerts.”
Apart from a facility’s catalog of products, its physical location may present obstacles. A property that isn’t on a main thoroughfare may have trouble selling to non-tenants. In this case, operators need to get creative when promoting their products and services, such as adding pictures to their website and launching referral programs. Facilities with a large parking lot can easily park a rental truck in front with a banner that says, “Rent me.” You can always your offerings on your website and social media channels, and through property signage.
Additionally, a property’s size may limit what a facility can offer. It may be necessary to cannibalize a small space and knock down a wall in the name of expansion. “Ask yourself if there is enough room to add on additional retail space,” Hainrihar says. Some operators have even turned a smaller unit near the office into their retail center.
More Promotion Pointers
A key component in marketing ancillary services is imparting wisdom to tenants. “We want to offer items that are helpful, convenient and significant to our customers,” Consalvo says. This includes getting to know them, asking targeted questions about their storage needs, and then, as storage experts, offering the products that best suit them, he adds.
Managers should be properly trained on how to sell the various products and services they offer. “We need to be able to educate our customers,” Hainrihar says. “You don’t want to force it on the customer, but educate [him] on what [his] resources are within the facility and why add-on services are beneficial to [him].”
Aesthetics also play a role in retail effectiveness, and Wagner likens the front-office retail space of a storage facility to merchandising in a grocery store. She urges the use of a clean, well-organized and plentiful displays. “Make sure your website has photographs showing your display and products,” she says. “When your customers call in, they should always be reminded you carry a great supply of well-priced moving and packing supplies, including the finest locks designed for self-storage doors.”
Above all, the future provides opportunities to improve upon existing retail services. Diligent market research, cost analytics and consumer awareness play vital roles in providing relevant add-on services to customers. “Shop the market and be aware of the needs of the community. Get out there and meet with people to see what they might like,” Maxwell says. Listening can shed light on something innovative you might be able to offer.
Before loading up on retail supplies or signing with a truck-rental company, do your homework. A sound forecast of expenses can help mitigate issues before they arise. “You need to look at it from an audit standpoint. There may be some cash crunch,” Hainrihar says.
Overall, pairing long-established add-on options with inventive choices ultimately delivers a sense of comfort to customers. As a facility operator, you hold the power to create a well-rounded, extensive selection of offerings and provide a more comprehensive experience for self-storage tenants.
Katie Self is studying journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with a focus on print. To read more articles by Katie, search her name at www.insideselfstorage.com.