Marketing is all about creating awareness for your business, products and services. As post-pandemic storage-related searches have trended downward, marketing spend has skyrocketed. Though much of this has been online, most independent self-storage operators simply can’t outspend larger regional and national competitors to maintain an edge in visibility.
Instead, savvy owners and managers know the importance of reaching potential customers who live or work within 10 miles of their facility, so they’ve become hyperlocalized with grassroots and offline efforts to increase brand awareness and referrals. These tactics can include visits to local businesses, regularly attending meetings of the local chamber of commerce and other networking groups, and hosting onsite events designed to draw potential tenants.
Though getting started with these kinds of strategies is relatively easy, maintaining a steady pace requires you to have branded collateral as well as giveaways to place into the hands of everyone you encounter. Since most self-storage businesses don’t have a marketing department or even an individual dedicated to promotional initiatives, a sensible option is to outsource these offline marketing needs.
The Many Benefits
There are many perks to outsourcing your offline self-storage marketing, not the least of which is reaping the benefits of professional results without taking up too much of your personal time. Skilled designers can produce phenomenal art and layouts in a fraction of the time it used to take—or that it would take you to do yourself.
In addition, using a third-party agency or freelancer can be less costly than maintaining a full-time designer on staff because you eliminate payroll, employee benefits and the need for someone to occupy physical space. Outsourcing is also cost-effective because it allows you to pay by the project or à la carte. There are even platforms such as DesignPickle.com and No Limit Creatives (NLC.com) that allow you to maintain a monthly account for design support based on your needs and budget.
Don’t minimize the benefit of having access to experienced talent with fresh skillsets who offer accountable timelines and guaranteed deliverables. By outsourcing, you can often try the latest marketing strategies and trends that are making a splash, leaning on qualified designers to help you spread awareness about your brand and messaging via promotional items while you focus on daily operations.
This approach also offers flexibility since almost anything marketing-related can be outsourced, including physical manpower, design and proofing, and even ordering processes. Common items to outsource include printed material, such as business cards, brochures, fliers and booklets, as well as promotional items like pens, water bottles, keychains, Frisbees, koozies and more. If you can name it, it can likely be branded for you!
The Right Vendor Partner
Choosing the right marketing vendor for your self-storage business starts with knowing your needs, goals and budget, and then hiring the provider that aligns best with all three. Here are some things to consider:
Scope of skillset and service. You want a partner that can provide all or most of what you’re looking for, so ask for samples or a portfolio that demonstrates the quality of their work. In addition, look for partners with excellent reviews. Also read negative comments to get a sense of their customer service and solutions for when things go wrong.
Costs. You need to determine if their pricing fits your budget. Costs for marketing design and production vary, so shop around and find vendors that specialize in specific categories, such as printed materials and imprinted promotional items. Specialization often means a provider can produce a superior-quality product in a more efficient manner than a large, aggregate, online vendor such as Amazon or Walmart.
In addition, ask about discounts. Some vendors will apply a standard reduction based on order volume or simply for using them as your preferred provider.
Order efficiency. Another important consideration is the efficiency of the vendor’s ordering process. Read their shipping and production timelines as well as the fine print on refunds and returns. It pays to investigate all the little operational details, then pick a vendor that has a modus operandi that aligns with your processes, capabilities and needs.
Business philosophy. Finally, find a provider with a business philosophy and operation that matches your company’s core values and mission statement. For example, do you want to work with a firm that’s eco-friendly, local or only uses products made in the USA? There are plenty of reasons to choose one over another, but valued partnerships can be gained when there’s alignment between values.
To facilitate a fruitful partnership, it’s important to do your part as the customer to maintain a healthy relationship that’ll benefit your self-storage brand and business. In fact, there are several ways to be a good client.
Time management. First, be realistic about timelines! If your vendor has a 14-day production time frame, don’t expect to receive goods or services any sooner without paying rush charges (if placing a rush is even available). Respect your provider’s timelines and place orders and requests accordingly. Leave plenty of time between your initial request and required in-hand date to allow for edits, proofing and shipping.
Limited points of contact. No matter how many vendors you choose to work with, it’s preferable that only one or two people in your organization submit all orders and requests, as it simplifies things for both parties. This helps ensure that everyone fully understands normal operating procedures, relevant discounts and any account specifics you may have negotiated. It also helps maintain your brand integrity.
Timely payments. Another way to be a great client is to pay on time! Don’t cause a backlog of unshipped products or unfulfilled requests due to unpaid invoices. If you pay bills when they’re due, your vendor will want to do what it can to help you because you’re viewed as trustworthy and reliable.
Repeat business. By being a good and repeat customer, you’re much more likely to receive leniency and grace if and when an occasional emergency or rush order pops up. You also may receive perks as a preferred customer.
We’ve worked with one promotional-item vendor since 2005, with whom we have a dedicated agent who processes all our orders. She understands our business, which is spread across more than 70 self-storage facilities and 50-plus individual brands. The strength of our relationship has helped us enjoy a standard discount on top of any special pricing available. This gets applied to every item on every order. We also benefit from complimentary rush processing and expedited shipping discounts.
On the rare occasions that we’ve had an issue with a product or order, our agent goes to bat for us. We’re always taken care of well, including complimentary replacement orders shipped for free. You, too, can reap the rewards and benefits of being a valued customer!
Once you’ve settled on a vendor or multiple specialized partners, still keep your eyes and options open. There are tons of online print houses and promotional imprint companies available to your self-storage business. Continue to shop around, at least annually. This will help you stay abreast of all the latest and greatest offerings in the market.
Besides the high-level business criteria we discussed earlier in helping you evaluate potential partners, there are additional steps you can take to aid in your decision-making. For example, when using a vendor website, play around with their design tools. Look at all the templates they offer, and try to upload designs and images of your own to ensure you can easily use their platform to accomplish your marketing goals.
If a platform is slow, clunky, difficult to navigate or feels tedious, move on to the next vendor! There are too many options available to waste time pulling your hair out on ones that just don’t work well.
Another smart move is to always request paper and product samples prior to making a purchase. This is necessary to feel confident in your choice of paper weight and texture, print quality, and operability of promotional items. After all, the quality of your self-storage marketing materials speaks volumes about the products and services you’re trying to sell. If you’re handing out flimsy business cards or giving away cheap pens that don’t write well or break easily, what does it say about your business, property and customer care? It always pays to ask for samples, so you can be assured that finished product will properly represent your self-storage operation.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for discounts. The worst a vendor can say is “no.” Frankly, many will price-match if you’re able to show a similar (or same) item offered by another supplier for a lower cost. If you never ask, you’ll never receive, so give it your best shot!
Charvon Beedles is marketing coordinator and Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), a self-storage consulting and management firm, where they oversee branding, design, marketing, public relations and more for the company’s 70-plus property portfolio. Charvon also assists with coordinating company events and co-hosts monthly online training sessions. With more than 21 years of industry experience, Stacie works closely on USG’s facility-development and transition projects, and is responsible for driving the manager-training program and new-store startup teams. To reach her, call 770.801.1888 or visit her profile on LinkedIn.