Vail Ranch Self Storage opened in Temecula, California, in the late 90s. Like many businesses, we had mailing needs as part of our day-to-day operation. But with no post office nearby, we often found ourselves running across town—usually in rush-hour traffic—to buy stamps, send late notices, use Certified Mail, etc. As we grew, this became a time-consuming nightmare. We were wasting several hours each week! It didn’t take long to see that we could meet this need for our own business and provide a service for the community simply by opening our own onsite postal center.
In short order, we began piecing together a new profit center. We started by tackling the startup tasks, for example, obtaining permits, business licenses and insurance. We were fortunate in that we had vacant space in our front office that was originally designed for display. We added in bays of mailboxes and a computer workstation that included a cash drawer, scale, scanner and printer for labels, receipts and stamps. That was the infrastructure we needed to get our new venture up and running. We also invested in the latest shipping and mailbox-management software.
We obtained rights to ship via the various services including DHL, FedEx and UPS. We also became a commercial mail-receiving agency for the U.S. Post Office. The goal was to seamlessly integrate our existing self-storage offerings with a place where our customers and the general public could easily ship and receive mail. We were officially open for business!
The postal center at Vail Ranch Self Storage in Temecula, California
While ultimately a success, our postal center didn’t come without challenges. Early on, we found it difficult to sell our services to non-storage customers. We even tried several enticements to bridge the gap. For example, we added notary-public services, sold moving and shipping supplies, provided 24-hour access for mailbox customers, and accepted drop-off packages. But the concept didn’t seem to resonate with anyone but our tenants, who were regularly at the property and able to see it with their own eyes.
Despite our struggles to promote our one-stop-shop concept, we remained undeterred. We had invested too much time and capital to see it fail! Ultimately, it was good, old-fashioned marketing collateral and community events that drove interest in our new business. Postcards, mailers, door hangers, banners, Santa’s elves on the corner and electronic-recycling events pushed our services to the community. As word of our new store spread, our customer base grew and revenue increased.
Despite our growth, we’re still constantly dealing with challenges in the marketplace. While the postal software makes managing the business simple, we face carrier price fluctuations, fuel surcharges, late/lost packages and world events. All of this requires that we pay extra attention to every transaction to ensure profit goals are met.
The greatest obstacle is staffing. We’ve experienced frequent employee turnover, and hiring and training replacements is costly and time-consuming. Therefore, we must constantly be thinking of ways to maximize staff retention. We stay ahead of competitors in how we compensate our hires. We also strive to create a family atmosphere to encourage a happy and productive workplace.
The Many Benefits
Packing and shipping is the bread and butter of our self-storage postal center. We’ve added and removed couriers throughout the years based on the needs of our clients, and we’ve created a nice synergy with our commercial customers who bring their products to us for mailing (pharmaceuticals, books, homemade jellies, wine, clothing, etc.). We’ve watched many of these renters grow their businesses and, in turn, increase the size of their storage units. We feel like part of their success!
Offering personal mailboxes turned out to be a surprisingly easy profit-maker. The downside is they do require a lot of time. We sometimes receive hundreds of packages a day to sort, scan and distribute. We eventually needed a solution to streamline the process, so our employees weren’t spending hours per day handling incoming and outgoing packages, which ate into our profit margin. After much research and trial and error, we invested in software that allows us to manage the load, and our time spent on this work has been dramatically reduced.
Mailboxes at Vail Ranch Self Storage
Any new business venture comes with risk, but through hard work, determination and some good fortune, we were able to make our postal store a thriving profit center for our self-storage business. Most important, we continue to provide our customers with services they need. The synergy between storage and shipping has helped to grow both areas of our company and further establish us as an important part of our community.
Corinne Wetzel is a principal for Vail Ranch Self Storage, a family-owned and -operated facility in Temecula, California, that she joined in 1998. She’s been instrumental in the company’s growth and expanded services including vehicle storage, wine storage and the postal center. Corinne lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons. To reach her, email [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook.