December 1, 2003

6 Min Read
As People Keep Moving

A Resent association press story in the Wall Street Journal reported 262.4 million people, five years or older, move to a new address in the last five years of the 20th century." Twenty-five percent of those people moved within the same county.

The same article quotes sociologist John Logan from the State University of New York at Albany, who explained the type of move a person makes depends on his age. According to Logan, long-distance moves are most common among people in their late teens to early 30s. People in their mid-30s through their 50s, many with children, tend to make shorter moves. Those in their 60s and older move to warm-weather climates or closer to family members after retirement. Are you tracking these demographic trends in the micro-market your store serves?

For years, we have all talked about expanding our commercial/ business base of customers. Merchants, contractors and professionals are all being targeted. But in the end, the vast majority of our business comes from individuals. The latest Self Storage Almanac, published by MiniCo Inc., cites the combination of residential, military and student sectors as representing almost 80 percent of all self-storage customers.

I mention these statistics for two reasons. The first is the unshakeable reality that self-storage is still primarily about individual customers. As I travel across the country, I talk with owners who are spending money to target business people through various means. But few if any funds are spent on residential prospectsexcept, of course, the standard Yellow Pages.

Do you have a working relationship with the major realtors in your community? The best local and national moving companies? The primary home-remodeling contractors? Does your annual marketing campaign include targeted direct mail to all new home buyers and sellers? Does every apartment complex in your target market have your stores literature? Do you have a preferred rental rate in place with every new homebuilder to attract direct referrals from their customers?

Yes, business customers tend to stay longer and pay better. But if they represent only 20 percent to 25 percent of your business, can you really afford to assume the Yellow Pages is the only marketing answer for the other 75 percent to 80 percent? I dont think so. Owners with aggressive marketing campaigns that target individual customers and a strong customer-service discipline will be rewarded higher occupancies and improved rental rates in the years ahead.

What Can You Learn From Breakfast at Cracker Barrel?

Twenty years ago, when management guru Tom Peters talked about the concept of Management By Wandering Around (MBWA) in the first of his 10 best-selling business books, In Search of Excellence, I dont think he realized his advice would impact a traveling self-storage consultant during breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in Rock Hill, S.C. Yet there I was, eating scrambled eggs and hash-brown casserole, watching assistant manager Mike Clinton execute the perfect MBWA technique.

Carefully, so as not to interrupt customers with their mouths full (the practice used by many servers so you cannot tell them your food is cold or not prepared to your liking), Mike would seize the right opportunity to quickly say hello and query diners about their food order and service. His inquiry was not canned, but came across as a sincere effort to enhance your experience at his restaurant.

It was only after watching Mike for several minutes and asking to speak to him that I learned he was the assistant shift manager. Based on our discussions, not only did he learn how the restaurants current operations were meeting customers expectations, he also knew how quickly and accurately orders were being processed. His brief interruption at the table also granted him the additional opportunity to thank customers before they left.

Watching Mike work his flawless MBWA technique made me wonder if there are any self-storage owners and managers across the country working to enhance their business by simply wandering around? When was the last time you took a Saturday afternoon or Wednesday morning to walk around your property and talk to customers? To ask if your store and your staff are meeting their expectations? To ask if the gate and their door were operating properly, or if the size of their unit is sufficient for their needs? And, oh, yesthis is also a chance to say thank you for being a loyal customer.

I think I already know the answer to this question. As a percentage, the number of owners who have ever tried MBWA is probably smaller than the chance for the Buffalo Bills to ever win the Super Bowl. But why is that? The technique works and can provide you excellent firsthand information you can then feed back to your employees. Unfortunately, while slightly higher, the percentage of managers employing MBWA is also significantly low.

You dont have to be at Cracker Barrel to use Tom Peters described procedure to your benefit. I urge owners and managers to get out of their offices, out from behind the counter, and onto the property. MBWA works for Mike and it can work for you, too. Give it a try.

Congratulations Tom Litton

I want to take a moment to thank Tom Litton, president of Litton Property Management, on behalf of the entire self-storage industry, for the outstanding job he did on the National Public Radio program The Connection. The show, hosted by Dick Gordon, examined some of the psychological reasons people store what they do. Tom was joined on the program by Eugene Halton, co-author of The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self and professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

During several of the exchanges between the participants, the potentially negative suggestions about customers spending considerable money on storage were handled by Tom with stories of personal experience and humor from years in this industry. If you did not have a chance to hear the program when it originally aired, you can go to the channels archives and replay the entire program. As of this writing, the following URL will link you directly: /08/20030825_b_main.asp. Again, congratulations to Tom for a job well donefor all of us.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS Expos and various national and state association meetings. He recently introduced the new LockCheckTM inventory data-collection system to the selfstorage industry ( He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit

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