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A Multi-Generational Approach to Self-Storage Sales and Service

To ensure your self-storage business is reaching a broad customer base, you need to adjust your sales and service efforts to appeal to multiple generations. Here’s how to cater to young prospects and tenants without alienating older ones.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the self-storage industry should handle multiple generations of customers. We all know Millennials are the up-and-coming decision-makers and they prefer to do business on their mobile devices. However, we can’t solely focus on one market segment. We need to interact with customers of all ages on their terms.

I recently examined the demographics of a random storage facility to get a sample of its client base. Out of 432 customers, there were 178 Baby Boomers, 132 Generation Xers, 112 Millennials and 10 from Generation Z. Try this exercise using your own data and see how your customer base is segmented. You might be surprised!

Do you think all these people have the same expectations of your self-storage business? Obviously not. So, let’s look at how we can assist customers based on their preferences. Instead of adhering to the Golden Rule, which is to treat others how you wish to be treated, try focusing on the Platinum Rule, which is to treat customers the way they prefer, not the way you prefer.

Older Generations

The older generations still treasure face-to-face interaction. They put a lot of trust and value into personal relationships. A good rapport can provide a sense of comfort, especially when we remember that most people in need of storage are enduring a stressful event. Offering a friendly face and sympathetic ear can mean the difference between getting the rental or not. Older customers usually require more phone time to entice them into the store, and then you’ll spend more time walking them through the rental process. This is the “old school” style.

How do we cater to older generations after they become tenants? Don’t be hesitant to receive checks, because many in this age bracket still use this payment method. In addition, many enjoy coming into the office to pay their bill, grab a piece of candy or bottle of water, check on their unit, etc. Sometimes it’s just about getting out of the house and interacting with other people.

Having dedicated employees who remember little tidbits about these tenants or their family goes a long way. Think about one more fact that sometimes eludes us: Our best source of advertising is positive word-of-mouth. If you treat this generation right, you’ll receive referrals.

Younger Generations

Now, let’s look at Millennials and Gen Z, two of the more unique segments of our market. These customers do everything online. For example, they’ll order their food from the grocery store and have it delivered or use the pick-up lane. For this reason, we need self-storage websites that allow them to interact with us on their terms, from reserving a unit to paying their bill.

Our job is to facilitate the rental process for younger customers using digital resources. How many times have you received a lead and tried to call the customer, never reaching the person? Then a lightbulb goes on. You send an e-mail and receive a response almost immediately. This is how younger generations choose to interact. We can either accept this, or the customer will move on to a facility that meets their needs.

The other important element to consider when serving these customers is response time. If they send an inquiry and we don’t respond quickly, we could lose them. At my company, we track our closing percentage relative to our response to the initial inquiry, which I’m confident will provide some intriguing data.

After the rental, we need to use technology for sending invoices, payment reminders, notices, etc. E-mail is no longer the only digital method for this type of interaction. Texting is becoming more prevalent and evolving into a popular form of business-to-consumer communication. We’re becoming accustomed to receiving text notifications from our doctor’s office, auto-repair shop and utility company.

A forward-thinking colleague of mine, Dave Demchuk, managing partner of operations for Real Storage Private Trust in Canada, has taken steps to interact with younger customers. One of his locations added an “express lane” in the office. This includes a roped off counter with a tablet. When customers walk in the door, they immediately see they have options for their interaction. It’s pretty genius.

Yes, implementing technology in your operation can add upfront and monthly costs, but in your analysis, you must factor in the savings it can provide and the revenue it generates. Think about management tasks than can be sped up or eliminated completely.

Changing Times

I personally prefer the older-generation style of service. However, my wife would rather text someone than call. It drives me crazy how she would rather send 15 messages back and forth when a one-minute phone call would solve the issue; but we’re wired differently.

Here, again, I refer to the Platinum Rule. Think about the differences. And old-school customer favors face-to-face interaction, prefers a paper lease, mails check payments and loves talking on the phone. A new-school customer has a major online presence, prefers to e-sign documents, loves online reservations and payments, and prefers texting to talking.

Are you operating both ways? Can you afford not to? As an industry, we need to take advantage of the technology we have at our disposal, not only for when customers are looking for storage but after they’ve become tenants. Yet, we still need to interact with some of them personally. We need to find a balance between old-school and new-school sales and service. Do so, and you’ll be sure to meet the needs of all your customers, no matter their age.

Jim Mooney Jr. is vice president of operations for Freedom Storage Management. He leverages his 20 years of storage experience to improve the performance of the company’s portfolio of Pennsylvania properties. He was formerly a vice president for Devon Self Storage, where he held various positions. He serves on the Pennsylvania Self Storage Association Board of Directors and has been a speaker at numerous industry events. For more information, call 717.767.2735; e-mail jmooney@freedomstoragemanagement.com; visit www.freedomstoragemanagement.com.

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