By Marc Goodin
The most valuable piece of real estate at your self-storage facility is the two square feet of office counter space where you deal with potential renters. It's worth a million dollars, even $2 million for real go-getters.
Your management counter may not look like much, but to the trained customer-service representative, its worth its weight in gold. Let's assume the average value of a rental at your facility is $1,000 per year. If you manage to close just two extra rentals each month, that's $24,000 per year. At todays capitalization rate, thats an extra $250,000 in facility value, plus nearly the same amount in income over the next 10 years for a whopping $490,000. With some effort, you can double that for an easy million dollars!
As a self-storage manager, your primary goal is to help prospective tenants choose your facility over the one down the street. The mindset of the "million-dollar counter" is a very effective tool to help ensure prospects choose your facility on the spot. Here are some things to consider for your million-dollar counter space.
Testimonial Guest Book
Potential renters are more likely to believe fellow customers than our own proclamations or advertisements. For that reason, you should keep a testimonial guest book on your counter where prospects can see all the wonderful comments other customers have made about your facility. It will give them that "it just feels right" sensation.
The wonderful things written about your facility will not appear in your guest book magically. Operating the million-dollar counter is a mindset. Your goal is to make all your clients feel special by wowing them with random acts of kindness, little surprises and tons of value. You have to constantly be thinking how to provide terrific customer service and take action.
When you get one or two great reviews a week, youll know youre on the right track. When a tenant moves out, its a good time to ask for a recommendation. Place a pen on the guest book to make it easy for him to write great things about you! When he signs, dont forget to ask if you can post his comment and name on your Facebook page for even more proof that your facility is the best.
Who doesnt like candy? The simple pleasure of a candy dish on your counter is bound to put a smile the faces of prospective and current renters. Keep the dish full every day with a variety of candy. Let everyone know they can help themselves any time theyre in the office.
Flowers are a sign you care. At our facility, the flowers on our countertop are often from our own garden. We plant daffodils so we have them to hand out in the spring. Every person who walks in the office gets a flower. You can't imagine how this little surprise will make your renters feel wonderful and indebted to you.
You can even adapt this surprise handout approach to the various seasons and holidays. For example, give out pumpkins in October, candy canes in December, little flags on the Fourth of July, etc.
On one side should be a list of your facility's features and benefits, on the other a list your unit sizes. This makes it easy to write your current prices next to the sizes that best suit your prospect. Both sides should include glossy photos, which creates a professional presentation and makes it easy for the client to understand your business.
Have you noticed how excited customers are when you hand them a referral card and let them know they can get $50 for referring a friend to you? An 8.5-by-11-inch poster in a picture frame on the counter works great to promote your program. Keeping a stack of referral cards on the counter will also remind you to offer them to renters when they pay their rent or move out.
People dont like to make decisions and shouldnt have to struggle with the choice of which lock to buy for their self-storage unit. A simple show-and-tell countertop display of disk locks will help. Explain how they make your facility and customer goods safer, and you'll sell one every time. Not only will you rent more units and keep customers happy, youll generate additional revenue in lock sales.
Late Fees, Auto Pay and Pre-Pay
These should be outlined on a single laminated sheet and displayed on the counter. Many self-storage operators fail to realize how valuable this is. Too often we forget to tell customers about our late fees, or how they are guaranteed no late fees by signing up for our simple, automatic, credit-card payment plan. Did you know a renter on auto pay stays two months longer than the average customer? Money in the bank!
Theres nothing better than a client who pays for a year in advance. Sometimes all it takes is to offer him the 13th month for free. (Note I said the 13th month, not the first month.)
You cant rent units or sell merchandise from behind the counter. When a prospect walks into your office, immediately walk up and greet him. Its been proven that in a retail environment, more sales are made if the employee is the first to say "hello."
Then tell the customer your name. Typically, a person will offer his name in return, or you can say, Sorry, I didnt catch your name. You should use his name a couple of times during the conversation.
We need to show our customers how were different. Most of the time, it only takes small actions like these to show we care and value their patronage.
The Key to Success
Heres one more little surprise for your customers: Once they've rented with you, offer to open their lock package, and then put one of their lock keys on a free keychain printed with your facility's logo, website and phone number. Pay a bit extra for a nice keychain. I like one with a carabineer, flashlight or bottle opener. I see people all over town with our keychains even after theyve moved out.
I hope youve enjoyed these ideas. It truly is the little extras we can offer our customers that make us stand out in competitive markets. Get creative when it comes to these simple surprises. Youll find with a little effort, theyll make your cash register sing!
Marc Goodin learned about self-storage and marketing over the last 30 years from real-life experiences. He designs self-storage as a civil engineer and owns three facilities he designed, built and manages, including one in Canada. Hes the author of Your Self-Storage: Planning, Site Selection, Design, Build, now available in the Inside Self-Storage Store . For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.storageprofits.com .