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Be a Copycat

January 2, 2007

5 Min Read
Be a Copycat

Pretend youve never rented a self-storage unit, never been to a facility and know absolutely nothing about the business. Imagine youre building a new home, have sold your house and are renting a small apartment in the interim, but have nowhere to store your belongings. What do you do? Maybe youll pick up the local Yellow Pages or search the web for storage.

If youre in a large community, your first reaction might be, Wow! I didnt know there were so many places for self-storage. From there, your journey could follow several different paths: Maybe youll scout out the one closest to home, make calls to compare prices, learn about security from the ads, or pick a spot with truck rentals. Youll also probably locate some facilities that offer locks, boxes and packing supplies.

The bottom line is youll be overwhelmed with information, making what seemed like a simple decision far more complicated. So how does this relate with other businesses and their successes?

Choice

Have you ever really thought about why you choose a certain hotel over another? Why you drive the car you do? Why you shop at a particular clothing store?

We all have many choices. The decision to buy is influenced by how the purveyor has influenced you. Maybe its branding, and you like to wear a recognizable label. Or youve had an enjoyable experience (or horrible one) and you either return or find an alternative.

Take a trip to your favorite restaurant and ask yourself: Why do I like this place? Is it the décor? Is it the friendly staff, the taste of the food, the price? Is it because its close to home or work?

Ive done this assignment many times and compiled a database of things I relate to self-storage. For example, I visit a local coffee house not only for the good coffee, but I enjoy the clean environment, roomy seating area, pleasant aromas that change daily, and the quiet jazz music that allows me to read the newspaper without distractions.

The service is awesome with polite, clean, professionally dressed staff in store uniforms. The youthful staff members always seem to have a smile, even at 5:30 a.m. In a nutshell, patronizing this store gives me 20 to 30 minutes each day to relax, plan and prepare for a busy day.

From Coffee to Storage

Now lets relate this to our self-storage world. Whats the first impression your customers have? Is your office appealing and front window clean? Does it smell pleasant? Are employees clean, neat, dressed in professional uniforms and always ready to greet walk-ins with a smile?

Is the office crowded or do you have ample space to conduct business? Is relaxing music playing in the background? Lastly, when tenants finally rent a unit, is it what they needed and are they happy with the product?

Think about it: If you expect the places you visit to be like my coffee house described above, shouldnt your business be same?

Expert Opinion

I spoke with a senior vice-president of sales for Anheuser- Busch, makers of Budweiser beer, and asked him why the company spends so much money advertising a product already well known. He said the goal is to continue attracting new customers (via marketing and advertising) for the product by getting them to believe its the best. The message is continually reinforced with existing customers. If both groups are convinced its the best beer, sales grow and so do Anheuser-Busch profits.

He added that if the company gives up market share to competitors, Anheuser-Busch may never have the chance to get them back. This is one of the worlds largest businesses. If this philosophy helps it to succeed, doesnt it make sense to mirror this concept for our business?

Are you marketing and advertising your storage facility properly, even when you have high occupancies? Do you consistently provide customers with quality storage space that is clean, neat and secure?If you lose customers to the competition, youll likely never get them back. Make sure you maximize efforts to lure customers and retain them with quality products and services.

How do you answer the telephone or greet customers? This could be the one chance to get them in. Are you making sure they dont go down the street to the competitor?

Ongoing Education

I was recently invited by the University of Arizona to participate in the Eller School of Business mentoring program. My role is to attend several classes during the semester, listen as students present business plans and help them refine them.

The students are extremely bright and thoughtful. Working with them has made me question everything about my business. For example, do we have a mission statement clearly defining our self-storage business?

Are we looking at primary markets (one to three miles) but also secondary markets and inclusion of ancillary products or services? When was the last time we really evaluated our competitors? How are they better or worse than us? How can we improve our products and services? By getting the students points of view, Ive learned numerous ways to make my business better.

These days, weve many outlets for learning about marketing: seminars, webinars, online classes and training programs, in addition to magazine articles. Keep applying others successful ideas to your operations and, the next time you visit your favorite restaurant or coffee shop, enjoy knowing your businesses is every bit as good as theirs. 

Mel Holsinger is president of Professional Self Storage Management, based in Tucson, Ariz., offering facility management, consulting and development services to the self-storage industry. He is also president and cofounder of the Self Storage Education Network, providing online-based manager and owner education (www.selfstorageeducation.net). For more information, call 520.319.2164; visit www.proselfstorage.com

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