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January 2, 2007

5 Min Read
A LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

Mind you, I know next to nothing about marketing. But as a lawyer in the industry, I look at your adsparticularly in the Yellow Pagesand I wonder if you mean to say what youre saying.

I know you face tremendous competition to place your ad ahead of others. You also need to use convincing terminology so prospects call your facility first. I also know you dont intend to deceive, but the wrong customer (or his attorney) could make a lot of hay out of the literal wording in your ads.

Lets start with the most obvious: Free truck with move-in. Tell me when to show up, and Ill be delighted to move into your facility. Make my truck a half-tonat least, please. Preferably in black.

Perhaps youd be better off saying, Free use of truck with move-in. Also, if the truck is not 100 percent free, some disclaimer language belongs in your ad. Every truck rental contains limitations: number of hours the truck can be used, mileage incurred, cost for gas and insurance. Go ahead and splurge on an asterisk in your ad, and at the bottom say, * Certain restrictions apply; see manager for details. Dont set yourself up for a state attorney generals claim.

Homebound Managers

Now consider the advertising statement, Full-time resident manager onsite. I hope youre ready to pay a lot of overtime. And somebody please explain to me how the manager never has to go to the grocery store, church, the doctor, or visit family and friends. I even have some difficulty with the term resident manager. Your managers leave the facility, so they are not on the premises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What are you implying with such verbiage? The average consumer would probably infer you offer greater safety and security because somebody is watching the facility at all times.

Caught on Video

Video surveillance sounds harmless enough. Many of you have video systems, often with digital recordings that you can go back and revisit if something happens at the facility. However, the actual definition of surveillance is: To watch at all times as if a detective. This implies you arent just taping the happenings at your facility, but somebody is actually watching the camera feed 24/7.

The same is true of the word monitor. If you dont physically have someone watching the screens that can detect something irregular and deal with it in real time, you dont have video surveillance or video monitoring. You may have a video-recording system or closed circuit television system (CCTV), but that isnt what the ad says.

Not to pick on managers, but the term professional staff shows up in a lot of advertising. The American Heritage Dictionary College Edition includes the following definition of professional: Performed by persons as a source of livelihood. That definition doesnt bother me. However, another interpretation says, Having great skill or experience in a particular field or activity. If you change managers or office staff on a regular basis, you may be implying something to the public that sounds good on paper but isnt strictly accurate.

Security Risk

The term that probably drives me the craziest is security. Whether youre using it in reference to alarms, gates, walls or fences, you are implying something with this word you dont mean to imply. Security is defined as: Freedom from risk or danger; safety or freedom from doubt, anxiety, or fear; confidence or anything that gives or assures safety.

Be careful about implying your facility is safe or safer than the competition, because people may rely on that and sue you. When you say you have security alarms, a security fence, a security gate, security lighting and etc., you are saying (by definition) that because of these services the customer is safe, and free from danger and risk of loss.

Steamy Climate

Im not going to pick on ads touting climate control. There is no national definition of climate control. Just remember to carefully define the term in your lease. For example, if youre not controlling humidityor offer only heating and no coolingyou may be a different climate control than Brand X down the street. Make sure your customer understands that.

However, when you use the word dry in your advertising, I do get concerned. Unless you have three roofs or your facility is in an exceedingly arid region that never gets rain or snow, youre not dry. Dry is defined as Free from liquid or moisture; not wet, damp, or moistened, or Marked by the absence of natural or normal moisture.

Are you sure there is no way the roof is ever going to leak? Dry just isnt a great advertising word from a legal standpoint. If you were so bold as to build a facility that has outdoor walls, your facility is probably notby definitiondry.

Name Game

Finally, whats in a name? Many self-storage consultants recommend you pick a name with relevancy to a particular location. For example, if you are close to the airport, Airport Self-Storage might work, or if you are on Smith Road, perhaps Smith Road Storage. However, when you pick a name such as Fortress, Fortified, Fort Knox, Invincible, Security, Secured, Safe Way, or Perfect, youre implying to the consumer more than you probably intend.

Take a moment and do a reality check. Look at your ad, understand the definition of the words youre using. Imagine its being read by somebody who doesnt understand exactly what self-storage is (an uneducated consumer or perhaps your state attorney general). Make sure you can live up to the claims you make by the words you choose. 

Jeffrey Greenberger practices with the law firm of Katz, Greenberger & Norton LLP in Cincinnati. He primarily represents owners and operators of commercial real estate, including self-storage. This column is for the purpose of providing general legal insight into the self-storage field and should not be substituted for the advice of your own attorney. Mr. Greenberger is the legal counsel for the Ohio Self Storage Owners Society and the Kentucky Self Storage Association. His new website, www.selfstoragelegal.com, contains his legal opinions and insights into the self-storage industry, as well as an article archive. For more information, call 513.721.5151; e-mail [email protected]

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