Large or small, brand new or older, all self-storage facilities need of a constant stream of inquiries to grow or maintain occupancy and keep rates as high as possible. Community events and grassroots marketing can do that while also lowering your cost per lease.
In 2017, our facility managers generated an average of 35,349 marketing messages per store. These included outgoing calls, e-mails, personal visits, onsite events, social media, club meetings, tradeshows and offsite networking. Our staff also completed 23,560 visits to local businesses and organizations. We had nearly 41,000 visitors to our onsite events. Our average cost per lease was $65.74 for the entire portfolio, which is low compared to the industry average.
As professional self-storage “counselors,” we see an opportunity to market our services everywhere. Community participation can have far-reaching benefits to an operation’s profitability, so tell your story! Make sure everyone in your neighborhood knows you and your self-storage property. This means you must get involved on a local level.
It's up to each of us to generate our own onsite traffic. The four tools we use at our company are: community involvement, community events, visits to local businesses, and follow up and electronic marketing. Below are several events and tactics we’ve found to be successful, when properly planned and executed:
The more events you host at your facility, the more traffic you’ll see in and out of your property, and the more business and brand awareness you’ll develop. This is the goal—to create as much cognizance of your business as possible with the funds you have available. The more you keep your brand in the public eye, the more likely a person will think of your facility when the need for storage arises.
Groups to Target
When it comes to building relationships, there are community leaders and members you should visit weekly. Ideally, you’ll meet with 10 to 20 people or organizations each week, which means spending about two hours outside of the office. By doing this, you’ll add 40 to 100 new contacts to your e-mail database each month! Consider dropping off some sort of gift to each one along with your referral cards. Don't forget to sell your competitors and share referrals with them when you’re full on particular unit sizes. They will hopefully return the favor.
Here are some groups you’ll want to target in your visits:
- Apartment renters, real estate offices, moving companies, building managers, apartment and home-builders associations
- Doctors, dentists, chiropractors, title companies, CPAs, attorneys and banks
- Service businesses, local retailers and interior designers
- Distribution centers, manufacturer’s reps and truck-based businesses
- Schools, universities, large employers and hospitals
- Nonprofits and government entities
- RV, boat and motorcycle dealers
- Homeowner’s associations and trailer parks
- Crisis centers, insurance companies, and disaster-cleanup providers
- Chamber members and other club members
- Churches and synagogues
Most operators are already members of their local chamber of commerce, but how involved are you in its monthly activities and events? Are you attending every possible meeting to exchange business cards, meet new members and have breakfast with other local businesses? If not, get out there. This is a logical place to start participating.
If your facility is new, recently added a new phase or underwent an office remodel, now’s the perfect time to host a chamber “business after-hours” event and show off your product. Does the chamber have your materials available to hand out to newcomers or those visiting its office? Make sure it does. If you offer a referral fee, let the chamber staff know.
A critical aspect of hosting events is getting the word out, and there are many ways to do this. First, send out press releases for every event you participate in, sponsor or host, as well as any time you have a special message or story to tell. You’ll need a strong headline and interesting content; and don’t forget to include photographs and contact information.
Invite the local media to your events. It might be a slow news day and you’ll make the 6 p.m. news that night! Promoting yard sales, wine-tastings, ice-cream socials, community days, fall festivals, customer-appreciation cookouts and even seasonal displays will assist you in building traffic to your facility and making it memorable to your community.
Send an e-mail newsletter to everyone on your contact list. Include people you’ve met at meetings and events as well as members of all the clubs and groups to which you belong. Include news about fundraisers, or a special customer or business, as well as photos of how they use your storage property. You can also add testimonials or quotes. Display the logos of all the groups and associations to which you belong. These help you build credibility with your audience far beyond what thousands of words can do.
You can also update your facility’s digital sign to promote events, or even one of your customers or partner businesses. Changing your sign regularly ensures people look at it often.
With current technology, there’s no reason you can’t compete and win against the bigger operators in your market. Use e-mail, social media and the Web to stay in touch with customers, prospects, groups and organizations in your area. A lot of this is free!
When we host onsite events, we place food and drinks inside our units and throughout our property to ensure guests see and experience all our best features and amenities. We hand out a “treasure map” during registration that encourages guests to find all the treats. We also register all participants, ask for business cards and even give out door prizes. This way we can follow up via e-mail and extend a special offer.
To educate our attendees about our services, we post signs with size and pricing outside each unit type. We dress each serving table and bar area, and give out a gift bag containing our promotional items. You might want to have music or a band, or a special theme for your event as well. And don’t forget to have someone at the front desk to rent units, with a sign letting guests know about any specials.
Take a lot pictures and post them on your website, blog and social media pages. Include the event name and date with each photo you post. You can even create a photo gallery of special events you hold throughout the year. This also drives more traffic to your website.
Another way to make sure you leave a lasting impression on the neighborhood is to let nonprofit and other community groups use your conference room for free or hold their fundraisers at your site. Examples of this might be a carwash for the local high school band or a blood drive for the Red Cross. Your site could also be a collection point for a coat, food or toy drive.
Your local church or social club could also benefit from hosting events at your site. For example, why not work with your parks and recreation department to host a haunted house or Easter egg hunt at your store? Volunteers can decorate the units, and you can ask off-duty law enforcement to direct traffic. One of our South Carolina managers did this several times and drew more than 3,000 people! The property was recognized as a sponsor in the park department’s newsletter and website and on its signs. Free advertising—yeah! Maybe the Lions or Rotary Club needs a place to have a barbecue this year. Look at local clubs and see how you can help them with event planning.
Perhaps supply fliers to your favorite pizza-delivery place. It can put one on top of each box it delivers. In exchange, you can feature the business on your “neighborhood board” along with coupons or menus for your tenants.
If you have children or grandchildren, attend parent-teacher meetings and hand out referral cards. Perhaps lend your property’s moving truck to groups who need to borrow it for an event. Offer to supply paper cups (printed with your logo, of course) to local clubs. Or pass out water bottles with your logo at youth sports games.
Consider asking local business to provide you with brochures, coupons or other items of value you for your new-tenant gift bag. This can help you kick off your outside marketing efforts. You’ll have a reason to visit and tell them about your referral programs.
If there aren’t any networking clubs in your area, start one. One of our marketing managers did this at a facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She saw an unfulfilled need and used it to her store’s advantage. She started a new networking group that soon had more than 60 active participants, making a name for herself and her store. An uptick in rentals proved her efforts were well worth the time and energy.
Finally, don’t forget about your competition. This is an often-overlooked source of rentals. Go by monthly to drop off your current unit information and let them know you pay for referrals.
Anyone can network their way to success if they have a goal in mind. A day shouldn’t go by in which you don’t take some grassroots action. Send an e-mail or several hundred, make outgoing calls to generate site visits, mail letters or postcards to target groups that need your product, and visit at least one local business while running errands. You can form strategic alliances almost anywhere that will benefit all parties and fill up vacant units.
Get out there, see everything for yourself, and learn to generate your own traffic through networking and local participation. It is money in the bank. Spread the word about what makes your property the best in the market. It’s easy, costs little and produces big benefits for you and your store.
M. Anne Ballard is president of training, marketing and developmental services for Universal Storage Group and the founder of Universal Management Co. She’s past president of the Georgia Self Storage Association and has served on the national Self Storage Association’s board of directors. She’s also participated in the planning, design and operation of numerous storage facilities. For more information, call 770.801.1888; visit www.universalstoragegroup.com.