As the fable tells us, with a little love and care, even the ugly duckling can become a beautiful swan. As self-storage facility operators, we need to think the same way about our properties. We may not think our facility’s flaws are a big deal, but customers do. And with more supply entering the market, we need to offer a product that’s comparable to, if not better than, new competition.
We’ve been bombarded with ads for new whizbang gadgets and technologies that have come out in the self-storage industry in recent years, and it can be difficult to choose the ones that’ll best enhance your facility and operation. First, you must determine the type of product and customer experience (CX) you want to offer. If you’re a hands-off operator, don’t go crazy adding amenities and upgrades. New systems and features tend to require maintenance and even training. It’s better not to offer them than to do so haphazardly. If you’re more hands-on, or you have the support of a third-party management company or full-time maintenance staff, perhaps fancy modernizations are right for you. Choose the option that suits your operational style and goals.
Once you’ve decided on the type of self-storage you want to offer, how do you determine which upgrades to include in your capital-improvements budget? My company likes to keep operations as simple as possible while still providing a great CX. Below are some things we consider when renovating newly acquired properties. Some might sound minimal, but we’ve found that these simple improvements lead to increased facility revenue and valuation.
Choosing Facility Upgrades
According to a report from market-research company Forrester, customer loyalty is driven by three key factors: ease, effectiveness and emotion. Any good CX addresses these components.
At a minimum, for users to be satisfied with your offering, it must be easy to use and get the job done. However, if you want loyalty, you can’t stop there. Any new competitor with shiny bells and whistles and lease-up incentives can easily steal away your business. Loyalty is built through a positive experience, and for that, you need an emotional connection. Let’s see how these factors might affect the upgrades you choose for your self-storage site.
Ease. Is it easy for customers to do business with you? Can they book units online? Is there a self-service kiosk or call center available after-hours? Can tenants use their smartphone to access your facility and their unit? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your facility could improve. It’s time to engage any number of service providers and get with the program! There are many technology solutions available on the market, so you can find one to fit your budget.
Effectiveness. Is your business effective? Are tenants’ good safe, dry and accessible? Does the gate work? Do doors open and close smoothly? Can renters get help when they need it? If not, it’s time to make changes. Some issues can be remedied through policy updates, while others may require an equipment upgrade.
Emotion. To drive an emotional response and make customers loyal to your facility, you need to get at the core of the human experience. It requires diligent staff training and a great work environment. Think of a company, restaurant or store you absolutely love and would gladly pay a bit more to patronize. Why are you devoted to it? Does the staff remember your name and maybe even your birthday? They’re probably always smiling and even look up from their phones or computers when you walk through the door. Perhaps they even address you politely as “sir” or “ma’am.” Crazy, I know!
When making any changes to your self-storage site, there’s bound to be some inconvenience for customers. It’s vital to communicate any upcoming disruptions to your operation. Use multiple methods: phone calls, texts, letters, e-mails, newsletters, social media posts … Heck, try a St. Bernard with a message in the whiskey barrel if it works! Consider the following:
- To truly get your message across, you’ll need to communicate it five to seven times.
- Communication is an art. Don’t rush it. Make every word count.
- Never use jargon, acronyms or language that can be misinterpreted. Speak plainly.
- Think about employing automated systems for text and voice messages.
Do whatever you must to keep customers informed. If the renovation will be lengthy, offer to move tenants who’ll be greatly affected to a different area of the property, or provide a small discount during the disruption.
You really don’t need fancy gadgets to turn your ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Understanding the three drivers of customer loyalty and implementing small changes around them will create a more positive CX than any technology or new paint job.
Scott Lewis is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Spartan Investment Group LLC (SIG), where he’s responsible for developing business strategies and overseeing all operations and business activities. Scott has led several successful real estate projects ranging from single-family flips to ground-up self-storage developments. He’s also a major in the U.S. Army Reserves and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. SIG has completed $9 million in development projects, with $70 million underway. For more information, call 866.375.4438; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.spartan-investors.com.