Adjusting Your Sales and Marketing Strategies to Capture the New Self-Storage Consumer

The self-storage customer is evolving, and the methods people use to find, research and choose a facility are also changing. If you want your business to remain relevant to modern consumers and capture its share of the market, you’ll need to adapt. Find out how.

Alex Braun II, Hawaii & San Francisco Development Co.

June 17, 2024

5 Min Read

The self-storage industry has undergone a slow evolution over the last 50 years, but every so often, there’s a sharp inflection point that changes the way facility operators do business. Right now, we’re experiencing one of those fundamental shifts.

For many years, this thriving industry was fueled by the buying and spending habits of Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and Generation X (born 1965 to 1980). Our marketing strategies were based on their behaviors. These customers were conditioned to drive somewhere to get what they needed. They often found our facilities in the Yellow Pages, direct mailers, paper coupon books, etc., then followed up with a phone call and site visit to get more information.

Once these prospective renters were on site, they paid attention to whether the facility and its staff were clean and presentable. Did the office smell nice? All five senses contributed to the customer experience. Price was usually the initiator and important, but perceived trust was usually the top reason someone chose to rent at one facility over another.

About 15 years ago, there was a major shift from print to online advertising. The internet became the main way for customers to find, research and rent from us. This trend was the early warning that there was also going to be a significant change in our target customer base. Enter the Millennials, born 1981 to 1996. This group, combined with Generation Z (born 1997 to 2012), now comprise 52% of the self-storage renter pool, according to a 2023 demand study published by the Self-Storage Association. In fact, Gen Z has grown from 3% to 15% of our base within the last three years.

These demographic transitions are still in progress in some areas, but it’s important to understand our individual markets and how far along they are in the evolution, as this information should shape way we sell and market self-storage to today’s consumers.

New Consumer Habits

The younger generations find, research and choose self-storage units differently than their older counterparts. Their spending habits and lifestyle trends are different, too.

First, the ability to make purchases is now ridiculously easy. Everything a customer could want is at their fingertips or even a voice command. That ease of access, combined with the simplicity of digital payments, makes shopping very impulsive.

I’ve also seen an explosion in multi-family residential developments vs. single-family homes. Even the single-family developments I do see are more condensed. The ratio of homeowners to renters has also changed. The younger generations tend to live in less space and are constantly on the move, collecting and storing stuff along the way.

Today’s consumers research everything on their phones, where they can interactively find, see and explore all the information they need to make a buying decision. They can learn through others’ experiences by reading online reviews. These shoppers don’t need (or want) to visit or call your self-storage facility before deciding where to rent. They don’t even answer the phone when we try to call them. These live interactions used to be our biggest opportunities to convert potential renters, but they don’t work with today’s customer base.

In short, the shift to digital has led to diminished human interaction, which once allowed our rockstar self-storage managers to build value and relationships. Now, consumers are more price-sensitive, which can become a slippery slope. Increased competition becomes a race to the bottom, which kills revenue and hurts the industry.

Does this mean we should abandon all the marketing strategies that have gotten us this far? I don’t think so. We just need to adjust the way we attract and interact with potential customers. Following are some ideas.

Smart Strategies

To reach today’s self-storage consumers, particularly the younger generations, we need to identify the forces that trigger them to buy. Leverage these three strategies.

Focus on convenience. Millennials and Gen Z believe, “What I am looking for comes to me.” They value convenience, often willing to pay a premium for on-demand delivery. For example, they love Amazon, Grubhub and Netflix. That means we can offset price pressure by offering products and services that were once considered niche, such as mobile storage and valet storage, which are more in line with the buying preferences and habits of our new consumer base. As facility operators, our focus should be on these types of fresh income streams.

Offer a positive experience. Another area on which to focus is your digital customer experience. What does it look and feel like? Can you use it to build customer value and relationships the way onsite managers do in person? The answer is yes, but only if it can quickly identify and answer the prospect’s needs. Thankfully, in the digital world, access to data is instant and accurate, allowing you to see what sales and marketing approaches are most effective and respond by making strategic and timely adjustments.

Be technology-forward. In response to the demands of today’s younger consumers, we’re seeing a strong emergence of automation and remote management in the self-storage industry. Especially since the pandemic, technology including kiosks, mobile apps, smart locks and online-rental portals are becoming part of a stronger customer-acquisition strategy.

At the end of the day, self-storage marketing is all about turning data into customer conversions. With new technology including artificial intelligence, we now have tools that can help us strategically and efficiently analyze and even predict customer behavior, then modify our approach accordingly. These are the same tools used to display advertisements in your social media news feeds, which display information based on what you’ve previously searched, viewed or said.

Time to Pivot

The self-storage industry is evolving, and we see key shifts in our consumer base and their buying behaviors. In the past, it hasn’t been necessary to rely on technology to thrive; however, facility operators who understand how and when to use it will be empowered to meet modern customer needs. They’re the ones who will take the lion’s share of the proceeds. The change is here. Now, it’s all about how we pivot.

Alex Braun II is director of operations for Hawaii & San Francisco Development Co. He’s managed, operated and developed self-storage, boat/RV-storage and portable-storage businesses for more than 20 years, specializing in sales and marketing, employee development, and new-program implementation. To contact him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Alex Braun II

Hawaii & San Francisco Development Co., Director of Operations

Alex Braun II is director of operations for Hawaii & San Francisco Development Co. He’s managed, operated and developed startup and existing self-storage, RV/boat storage and portable-storage businesses for more than 20 years. He specializes in sales and marketing, employee development, and new-program implementation. To reach him, email [email protected].

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