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Too Close for Comfort: Outwitting Your Self-Storage Competition

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More than likely, there’s a self-storage development underway near your facility. What could this new competition mean for your business? Consider this advice to retain your position as the market leader.

For the past year or so, I’ve watched a multi-story self-storage facility take shape near my home. It’s just off a busy street that runs for miles and near retail, restaurants and residences. Across the road is a parcel that has been empty for decades. In the last couple of years, however, some businesses have sprouted, including a car-repair shop, an urgent care and several fast-food joints fronting the main road. Behind these new hot spots, there’s still a large vacant dirt lot. About three months ago, it was completely fenced off and developers set up shop with their trailers and equipment.

Of course, there’s no indication of what’s coming to this huge plot. But one building is going up quickly. I immediately recognized it as self-storage. But that couldn’t be! The new storage building just across the street has yet to even open its doors. How in the world could city officials allow this? Moreover, there’s a Public Storage and a U-Haul—also nearly facing each other—a mile away.

Self-storage is in huge demand right now. And that is awesome! I’m not a feasibility expert, and I would guess that the owners of both these sites did their due diligence and determined more units are needed in my area. Still, I worry for these new properties. Location has always played a role in where someone chooses to store their belongings. This is true even today. If the facility is difficult to access, far from home or work, or confusing to navigate, some customers will simply move on to another site. When you take location out of the equation, we can then look at unit sizes and types. I can’t say what each property near me will offer. Will it become a price-wars situation—who has the better deal? All things being equal, though, how will each site entice customers over the other?

I turned to the experts on Self-Storage Talk to answer this question. Of course, they offered some great insight. You can read their comments and, please, add your own ideas. Here’s my take:

Technology. Some customers love it while others hate it. All storage facilities must have some degree of tech. The ability to pay a bill online is imperative! Most operators also allow online reservations, and some go all the way by enabling online rentals. There are also property-level tech considerations such as smart locks, kiosks, remote access and more. If you’re not on the tech wagon train, it’s time to climb aboard.

Security. Another must-have. You need components such as video cameras, perimeter fencing with keypad gate access, and even building access in some cases. Vehicle and wine storage require another layer of security. If your systems are lacking, make the investment.

Customer service. Everyone says they offer the best customer service, but if that were true, it wouldn’t be a differential factor for any business. I’m sure you’ve had great and poor customer service in your own life, and it can happen anywhere. Even if you think you’re providing top-notch service, there’s always room to grow. Think about someone who provided wonderful customer service to you recently. What did they do that made the difference? Was it a genuine smile, a head nod in the right places, an extra step they took to help you out? Honestly, we’re all a little starved for excellent customer service, so when you provide it, it’ll get noticed!

Pricing. This is the one in which many might think could be a deciding factor for tenants. True, the cost of a storage rental does play a role in where someone chooses to store. But it’s not the primary driver for many people. If you want to be the cheapest place in town and that works for your business, there’s nothing wrong with that. As I said, though, storage is in great demand. If you’re doing everything above correctly, you won’t need to be the cheapest place in town. Everyone loves a low-cost taco at the local stand. But sometimes we crave a better meal—and we’re willing to pay for it. Get advice on when and how to raise rates, value pricing and more on our revenue management topic page.

Our industry is experiencing good times. New facilities are popping up all over, and not just in the big markets. That means more competition for those already there. Take a look at your business and see where improvements can be made. Your goal should always be to become the market leader.

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