A recent thread on Self-Storage Talk, the self-storage industry’s largest online community, sparked an interesting discussion among facility managers about retail-product sales. While their experiences vary—which box sizes are top sellers, for example—everyone seems to have some items on their shelves collecting dust. This article draws on forum members’ experiences, opinions and attitudes to offer up suggestions on improving your facility’s retail store.
Suggestion Becomes Reality
Participants on the forum couldn’t seem to agree on the most popular box size. Small, medium, even extra-large sizes had their advocates. While some managers claim to know which size sells best, the reality is they may be influencing that outcome.
Why would small boxes sell better in one location than in another? Are community preferences really that different? One manager said that after a price reduction, extra-large boxes “flew out the door.” Could a lower price pump up sales of bigger boxes? It could happen. Or maybe sales are being unconsciously steered.
Price-reduction signage can guide customers to buy certain box sizes. Even a manager expressing a personal preference can do it. In fact, you might be the reason folks buy the sizes that sell best! But if you can impact sales without thinking, why not do it consciously? Try asking customers what they’re packing. Teach them the “smaller boxes for heavy stuff, bigger boxes for lighter” rule, and you’ll sell more boxes in more sizes. Your customers will be happier and so will you.
Displaying Only Best-Sellers Results in No-Sellers
Some items sell slowly. Others don’t sell at all. Managers know this and often want to clear out the “dogs.” That makes sense. But it was encouraging that no forum participants wrote about just keeping the best sellers. That was a mindset encountered years ago. The idea was to buy and display only the best-selling retail items. In practice, average sales would nosedive.
Why? Try to imagine if your supermarket only stocked the top-selling cereal, canned soup, soda, and so on. Would all those empty shelves generate more sales or less? American shoppers like choices. That’s why every soup, cereal and soap company adds line extensions to its product display even though two or three items account for most of their sales volume.
Self-storage operators are also asking their suppliers to design their displays for free. Why not? After all, the more they sell, the more the supplier sells.
The Price Is Right, Right?
Sometimes, what a group doesn’t talk about can be significant. On the forum thread, there was very little mention of retail prices, for instance, and that’s a good sign.
It wasn’t long ago many managers swore they couldn’t sell boxes unless they had the lowest prices in town. They believed shoppers knew what a moving box should cost and wouldn’t pay a dime more. Guess what? Some self-storage operators conducted in-store tests and proved customers would pay a dime—even a quarter—more, and sales volume remained unchanged. Moreover, reducing prices below the lowest in town didn’t increase sales.
The bottom line is retail-savvy managers have learned two important lessons:
- Customers will pay for convenience. You saved them another trip―charge for it.
- Customers seldom buy boxes. If a price seems reasonable, it is.
Competing With Big-Box Stores
Overall, if the forum group is representative of managers in our industry, we should be optimistic that self-storage will continue to increase its retail presence. Some operators worry that huge retail chains will steal their retail-packaging sales. The bad news is chains could eventually teach the public that they stock inexpensive boxes.
The good news is consumers buy boxes so rarely, it will take them a while to overcome their own indifference on the subject. In the meantime, there are a few things managers can do to combat big-box stores:
- Use attention-getting interior and exterior signage. Your supplier should have it.
- Get listed in the Yellow Pages under “boxes” and “moving supplies.”
- Write simple “Tips on How to Pack” stories for your local papers. Mention that you can supply materials and advice.
Finally, good self-storage managers are known for their personal selling skills. Learn everything you can about your retail products and become your area’s moving supplies expert.
Rob Kaminski is vice president and general manager of Supply Source One, a division of Schwarz Supply Source, which has been a national retail supplier for more than 100 years. With warehouses across the country, the company offers the self-storage industry a complete selection of retail products as well as office, maintenance and janitorial supplies. For more information, visit www.supplysourceone.com.