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Bumps in the Road

February 1, 2001

5 Min Read
Bumps in the Road

Our Pursuit of Convenience

By Harley Rolfe

Lastmonth we discussed how developing convenience in our offerings might assist inour battle against competition. Recall that General Mills converts a few centsworth of commodity cake ingredients into $1.75 by selling the stuff mixed andpackaged. This concept was radical when it was introduced 30 to 40 years ago,but now it's commonplace. Have you ever compared the price of a frozen dinnerwith the cost of its ingredients? What makes the public so willing to pay more?Convenience. Self-storage can market convenience, too. In doing so, we canbypass the competition.

We want the prospect to look at our product and say, "Oh, this isdifferent." That difference needs to stop the prospect cold. Conveniencedoes that. It is a separate product element that carries its own value.

Bumps in the Road

There are often a number of bumps in the road for a self-storage prospect.Creating convenience is the process of paving them over. In the broadest sense,we are trying to mitigate three things: buyer risk, plus the time andaggravation of doing unattractive things associated with the use of self-storageunits. We know most buyers of self-storage are first-time users. So, let's lookat the unattractive elements of self-storage we can eliminate for the prospect:

  • Decisions: Making decisions when one doesn't know much about the ins and outs is not pleasant. No one likes to err even if on a small scale. The ideal situation would be for a prospect to have to know nothing except what he's trying to do. When a person makes a purchase, he trades a real asset (money) in exchange for a promise. He hopes the promise is kept, but must make the expenditure before he finds out. We want to take the concern out of his decisions.

  • Effort: There is grubby "necessary evil" labor involved in the use of storage facilities. How can we help eliminate the manual labor involved?

  • Time: Shopping takes time. We certainly want to relieve the prospect of that. Packing, loading, carting, etc., takes time. Saving users time--in any form--will unfailingly signal to them that we offer something special.

  • Correct mix, proportions: How big a truck? How large a unit? How long will I need it? How much packing material do I need? How much loading/unloading help will I need, and where will I get it? These are problems the self-storage operator can eliminate for the prospect who doesn't want to learn much or run around trying to find what he needs.

  • Special knowledge, tools, materials: Kits or packages often work because certain needs require specialty tools the subject doesn't have. Those items can be provided, allowing the buyer to do something that might be difficult otherwise. Packing materials, dollies, carts and rental trucks are examples of items that can be provided for self-storage situations.

  • Rationale: Most people don't like to admit they will pay a premium for convenience. It would make them seem lazy. They want the convenience and will pay for it, but will use a "cover" to avoid admitting they are paying a big price for it. We marketers must arrange our offering such that it can be justified on some other basis than simple convenience.

Lemonade From Lemons

Some combination of the above elements is faced by the user in the process ofrenting a self-storage unit. Our mission? To reduce to zero the negativeelements in the purchase and use of self-storage. And we'll try to do it for oneprice. How? By first identifying all the steps a prospect doesn't want but mustendure. Then we methodically eliminate each of them. Either by doing it yourselfor through collaboration, you will vastly simplify the process the prospect goesthrough to achieve his end. He simply pays one lump sum and gets his job done.

To operate in this fashion requires comprehensive knowledge of user habits.For instance, various market segments have a characteristic storage interval. Toknow what it is, you must know what the prospect is up to. Let's say theprospect is moving from one residence to another. Here, typically, the intervalis a matter of a few months. It is different for the lawyer, doctor or bank thatuses us for records storage. Their need is ongoing. It is still different forthe interior designer who needs to strip and store the restaurant fixtures whilehe renovates. And the list goes on.

Savvy marketers will catalog each of those segments (there could be quite afew) and design a set of packages for each. Your measure of success is yourability to reduce the obstacles the prospect must overcome--and offer thepackage most suitable for his needs. Inherent in the self-storage situation, forexample, is transportation in some form, so the most basic packages willprobably integrate those two elements. Anything additional will depend on whatis needed to tailor the offering to the user segment/use.

What's the Big Deal?

Some may say, "I already offer packing materials and rental trucks.What's so different about this approach?" Simply this: The prospect muststill make decisions about how big, for how long, how many, etc. He doesn't knowand doesn't want to know. You do. You must relieve him of his discomfort andreduce his decision to the one that solves his problem. You are assuming moreresponsibility--and get enhanced rewards for doing so. You also obviate thecompetition because your offerings are clearly not the same as the others'.

Everybody's Doin' it...

Since I began publishing these "Hard-Nosed Marketing" columns twoyears ago, we have been discussing fundamental market stances. We indicatedthere were only three broad possibilities: You can control the supply; you canaccept price competition as your way of life; or you can engage in productdifferentiation. The latter is the choice for most suppliers in any competitivemarket. There is nothing particularly original in these suggestions. The adventof competition dictates the need for differentiation--as well as the need foradding convenience to our offerings.

Missed some previous issues? Check the web at www.hardnosed.com.

Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includesexecutive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He alsoowned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds abachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree inbusiness administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at hishome in Nampa, Idaho, at 208.463.9039. Further information can also be found inMr. Harley's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.

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