Keep Competitors Close: Knowing Neighbors Can Boost Self-Storage Business

Knowing a facilty's competitors, including specifics about rates and occupancy, can help a self-storage operator keep a marketing edge.

May 10, 2009

4 Min Read
Keep Competitors Close: Knowing Neighbors Can Boost Self-Storage Business

Most of us know the source of our self-storage customers. We also know, roughly, what percentage of them is using storage for business or personal reasons. But how do you know what marketing strategies are working and which are not?

Maybe you track your marketing with coded coupons, or you offer specials through different types of advertising. Do you simply ask customers how they found you? Many marketing methods will work, and there are several ways to collect data about their effectiveness. The question is, are you collecting and analyzing this information? How close do you keep your customers?

Most of you take care of your customers and listen to what they have to say. In fact, some managers learn about their tenants by initiating productive conversations with them when on site. Others implement surveys for existing renters and even move-out questionnaires. All of this is helpful in gathering market data and other information that can help a facility improve.

We can use this information to make changes in our policies, renovations to our facilities or adjustments to our marketing budgets, spending money in the areas that work best. This is all achieved by keeping customers close. I would go so far as to call our customers our friends. And though I wouldn’t call competitors enemies, I suggest you get to know them better, too. 

Know Your Competition

What can you learn from your competition? Are they providing services you don’t? Do they charge additional fees for these services? Do their customers stay longer than yours? Have you ever wondered what the occupancy level is at the facility down the street or what your competitor across town is charging for locks? How do you uncover this information, and how can you be sure it’s accurate? How do you benefit from it?

There are essentially two strategies for researching the storage facilities in your area and becoming the educated professional in your market. The first is the direct approach. Simply visit the facility, introduce yourself as the facility owner or manager from down the street, and get to know the team. After a few visits, you’ll learn who the owner and employees are, how long they have been operating the site, the type of customers they serve and much more.

Chances are, if you plan to visit all your local competitors on a regular basis, you won’t need to ask specific details about their operations. You’ll learn it from listening to them serve customers in your presence. This way, you’ll know the information is accurate. If you ask what they charge for a 10-by-10, they might not tell you or may give you the wrong information. But if you hear them tell it to a customer, you know it’s right.

Approach competitors with caution. If you start asking questions right away, they might get defensive and be wary of the reason behind your visit. Keep your conversations friendly and casual. Let them tell you specifics if they want, or just listen to an incoming sales call or a walk-in customer. Don’t interfere with their business, and don’t promote yours in front of other customers. Keep in mind the main goal for your visit is to gain trust and build a relationship.

To initiate the conversation, say you want to get to know some of the other facilities in the area because you are new and thought it would be nice to put some faces to the names. If you’ve been around for a while, you can simply say you are near full occupancy in many sizes and wanted to visit some local facilities to see what they were like and refer business to them. 

Keep your visits short, no more than 10 to 15 minutes, but stop in once a month. On your second visit, ask where they purchase their moving and packing supplies and how they like the service. You can offer to trade supplier secrets to help each other out but, again, stay clear of operational specifics. Implementing competitor visits into your routine will give you valuable information on what you can offer customers and how you can improve your operation. 

The Mystery-Shop Advantage

Another angle is to mystery shop your competitors. The owner or an employee can visit or call a competitor’s facility and act as a potential customer inquiring about storage. This type of research will give you a firsthand demonstration of how other companies are serving their customers. Use a combination of visits and phone calls on a quarterly basis to keep you up-to-date with any specials offered in your market.

Using a combination of direct visits and mystery shopping is by far the best strategy. You can be the direct visitor and befriend your competition and schedule time to complete the mystery shopping every few months. Discuss any information you gather during team meetings. Implementing these strategies will help you discover the many benefits of keeping your competition close.
Cory Parrow is a consultant with Your Storage Team, a management company based in Southern Ontario, Canada. Your Storage Team has been involved in the development of self-storage facilities for more than a decade, specializing in management services. For more information, call 519.868.1982; e-mail [email protected].

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