Advice for Setting and Spending Your Self-Storage Marketing Budget

When it comes to marketing, it can be difficult to quantify return on investment. Here’s advice to help you decide where and how to spend your precious marketing dollars, as well as how much to invest.

Donna Edwards

September 5, 2017

7 Min Read
Advice for Setting and Spending Your Self-Storage Marketing Budget

Self-storage marketing has changed greatly during the last 10 years. Printing costs have increased, resulting in higher advertising rates. Social media has provided additional opportunities. Fewer people are reading printed magazines and newspapers, having switched to digital versions. Mobile-friendly ads are necessary for customers using smartphones. Increased media competition has provided more advertising channels.

When formulating your marketing budget, one trap to avoid is planning to get a specific dollar-for-dollar return. It isn’t wise to say, “Well, if I spend $300 on this magazine ad, then within two weeks I should have 2 percent of its subscribers rent a storage unit.” Advertising doesn’t work that way. Specific returns on investment are difficult to quantify.

If you ask people how they heard about your business, many may not be able to tell you. They may say they found you online, but where? On your website? Your Facebook page? On the local newspaper website where you purchased a digital ad? In many cases, it’s difficult to determine where a customer saw information about your business.

The Need for Smart Choices

Online advertising is now the dominant marketing medium for many U.S. businesses. Ad placements, search engine optimization, digital ads, mobile ads and social media are leading the advertising choices in the marketplace, while traditional media, such as print, radio and television, are declining.

Multiple small ads spread over time tend to be more effective than a one-time, large, expensive placement. Also, consider the ad’s shelf life. One recommendation is to run an ad every other day in a daily publication or every other week in a weekly publication. This refreshes the memory of the reader and requires less financial commitment. Many publications will offer a multi-ad discount to entice you to advertise more during the year. They may also offer a package that enables you to use a traditional ad in print and a digital ad online that links back to your website.

The goal for marketing and advertising is to create visibility and have potential tenants think of your property first, before researching online or looking elsewhere to find a unit. When large real estate investment trusts and other national self-storage companies are in a market, they’ll pour lots of money into online ads to ensure their brand name and facilities rank first in online searches. Most independent self-storage owners can’t compete against the marketing budgets of much larger operators, so marketing campaigns and advertising placements must be more selective.

Deciding Where and How Much to Spend

The more limited your marketing dollars, the more wisely they must be spent. Several factors can help determine where and how much to invest, for example:

  • Is this a new property or an established one?

  • Is it a highly competitive market, or is your facility the only one in town?

  • What are the demographics in your area?

  • Are there times of the year when you see more rentals than others?

  • Which features at your facility are different or better than the competition?

In a highly competitive market or when promoting a brand-new property, advertising will be more important and require additional budget. For established properties or in markets with little competition, advertising can be reduced but should never be eliminated.

Some experts recommend budgeting a minimum of 2 percent of gross revenue, while others suggest at least 5 percent to grow your business. In highly competitive markets and industries, marketing budgets can creep up to 20 percent or more of gross revenue. The Small Business Administration recommends allotting 7 percent or 8 percent if sales are less than $5 million and gross profit after expenses is in the range of 10 percent to 12 percent.

Committing marketing dollars depends greatly on your revenue and business goals. Self-storage owners must determine if they want to grow or stay even in sales from year to year. The old adage “You have to spend money to make money” is true when it comes to marketing. Without a viable plan, potential customers may not know your business exists.

Knowing age demographics can also assist decision-making on where to spend your advertising money. In many cases, older prospects in their 50s, 60s or 70s will research storage in their area differently than those in their 20s, 30s or 40s. A younger demographic is more driven to make buying decisions after researching online. This group is also more likely to rent online and respond to social and digital media. Older prospects may research online but still also use the Yellow Pages and local print media, and get recommendations from peers before visiting the facility to see it for themselves.

The timing of an ad can also create interest. If your site is busy in the late spring and summer, marketing can help increase rentals during off-peak times. Run an ad in December or January that encourages the storage of holiday decorations. Promote the storage of outdoor sporting equipment such as boats, kayaks or camping gear during the fall or winter as a way for customers to free up garage space. These kinds of messages can help spur off-season rentals.

Carving a Community Niche

While a large national self-storage operator may not advertise in local publications or host community events, smaller operators can readily adapt to their markets and target their marketing dollars to reach local customers. The big chains are often focused on Internet advertising designed to drive customers to their websites, while local or regional operators can use their involvement with charitable and community causes to increase their market exposure. For example, collection drives for toys, canned food and school supplies can be effective ways to entice customers to visit your site.

When hosting events, let your customers and prospects know. Also, share information about any special offers and referral discounts available to them. This type of outreach should include dispersing fliers on community-interest boards and posting to social media pages and community-information pages. Consider writing a blog with content about your area, decorating and organizing tips, and helpful information about self-storage. Submit articles on storage to local newspapers or magazines.

Free = Good for Your Budget

Free promotional opportunities can be an important part of any marketing plan, especially if your budget is limited. Inexpensive options include meeting with apartment managers, business leaders, construction companies, realtors and other individuals who can refer customers to your facility. Offering a referral program can entice other business managers to send customers your way. For example, consider partnering with a local real estate office. Strike a bargain in which you send the business a gift card to a local restaurant for every referral it sends you.

Becoming the community expert on self-storage also provides free publicity. Creating social media pages on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms can help spread the word about your business for little to no cost.

Commit and Track

Marketing has many purposes. It helps create consumer interest in your product, increase occupancy and revenue, promote services to the community, and enable your facility to be top of mind when the need for self-storage arises.

You wouldn’t skip carrying insurance because you may never file a claim. By the same token, you shouldn’t avoid setting a marketing budget because it’s difficult to quantify the return. Track everything you can. If you run Internet ads for four months and then stop, do your Web inquiries decrease? Does your site receive fewer phone calls? If so, that would indicate the ads were providing exposure to potential customers. Did move-ins decline when they were expected to increase? If so, those ads were driving customers to your facility during the campaign. Without running the ads, you wouldn’t have seen a change in your business.

There are lots of opportunities to market and advertise your storage facility; the key is to determine the best path for your site. This is often discovered through trial and error, and sometimes a strong marketing representative can point you in the right direction.

Donna Edwards is a manager at Plantation Self Storage in Bluffton, S.C., which is operated by Southeast Management Co. She joined the company in 2013 and has more than 10 years of experience in property management. Her marketing experience includes setting budgets, designing yearly marketing plans, and creating and writing all types of advertising. For more information, call 843.815.8000; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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