Why and How I Established a Referral Network With My Self-Storage Competitors

Making friends with your self-storage competitors might not seem like a smart move on the surface, but it can lead to a robust referral program. Skeptical? A property manager highlights the advantages of establishing this reciprocal relationship and how her site has benefited.

Paula Dukesherer

January 12, 2024

4 Min Read

In the competitive world of self-storage, success isn’t just about renting units to new customers, its about fostering a community. What I’ve discovered is that one of the most overlooked yet crucial aspects of running a well-performing facility is building a great referral network among fellow operators in your area. This can be a game-changer for your business, ensuring that customers find the perfect storage solution, even when you can’t provide it yourself.

Enjoy the Benefits

In any industry, connections and relationships can significantly impact your success. For self-storage operators, a referral network is like a safety net that catches potential customers who might otherwise slip away. It’s a vital tool for growth and sustainability. While you may refer some prospects away from your property when you can’t fulfill their request, you’ll also have them sent back to you when other sites can’t meet their requirements.

Storage needs vary greatly from one tenant to another. Sometimes, they might require a unit size, location or additional amenities your facility can’t provide in that moment. This is where referrals become invaluable. When you have a network of fellow industry professionals, you can confidently refer shoppers to sites that better suit their requirements. This demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction and enhances your reputation as a helpful and knowledgeable resource.

Referring potential customers to other self-storage facilities isn’t just about redirecting business; it's about nurturing positive relationships. When you genuinely care about meeting the renter’s needs, even if it means sending them elsewhere, it creates a lasting impression. They greatly appreciate your willingness to help them find what they want rather than trying to force them into your product. This leaves them with a positive impression of you, and they’ll happily tell others of the great service you provided.

A well-established referral network can also boost your self-storage facility's reputation and credibility. When customers see that you have connections with other respected businesses in the industry, it builds trust. They’re more likely to choose you over competitors (when possible) because they know you have the knowledge and connections to provide them with the best storage solution, even if it isn’t at your location.

When self-storage operators collaborate and support one another rather than establish a negative rapport, it creates a positive atmosphere that benefits everyone. This camaraderie can lead to shared resources, joint marketing efforts, and even advocacy for the industry's interests at a local or regional level. This can be especially important when it comes to legislating changes for the industry in your state.

Make the Connection

So, how do you create a referral network with a business that is essentially your competitor? Start by visiting them! Tell them who you are, where your facility is and why you’re introducing yourself. Find one or two properties where you feel comfortable with the physical aspects and the staff or owners. You want to feel completely safe referring customers to them when necessary. Visit a few times during different times of the day or week if you need to and get a good feel for them, and them for you.

I’ve built a fantastic relationship with the owners of a facility about 3 miles from me that only has 10-by-10 and larger spaces available. In the last five years, I’ve had only small units (5-by-10 and smaller), and zero drive-up units. Those seeking this type of storage have been on a two-year waitlist! When I have customers who desire a larger space or drive-up unit, I have somewhere to send them.

Moreover, because I’ve spent time getting to know these owners and their properties well, I’m more than comfortable sending prospects to them. Plus, they regularly send referrals to me. They recently even sent me a Crumbl Cookie delivery as a thank you!

Many self-storage operators reward their customers with a gift card or cash any time they refer a new tenant. Similarly, consider offering the same perk to other managers or owners who send you leads. It isn’t necessary, but it’s appreciated and a small price to pay for a new renter. Always let them know how much you appreciate the reciprocal relationship.

The power of connections in the self-storage business can’t be overstated. It isn’t just who you know but how you can help each other succeed. Start building those connections today and watch your facility thrive in the company of supportive industry peers.

Paula Dukesherer is the manager for Bolsa Chica Self Storage, a 1,300-unit, privately owned facility in Southern California. She has more than 15 years of experience in the industry, with a strong background in customer service. She’s a moderator for the Self-Storage Talk online community, the mother of four and grandmother of nine.

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