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Inside Self-Storage Magazine 04/2001:Three's a Crowd

April 1, 2001

5 Min Read
Inside Self-Storage Magazine 04/2001:Three's a Crowd

Three's a Crowd

By Harley Rolfe

When you shift from operating in a situation where you offer a commodity to acompetitive marketplace, the number of elements in your business life increasesfrom two to three. In a commodity marketplace, there is only you (your facility)and the prospects. All that's really required of you is that you make yourproduct or service available. But when rivals show up, there is an importantchange. You now must now factor "distinction" into to your operatingobjectives. You need to give the prospect a reason to choose your facility overothers in your area.

When you were alone (or nearly alone) in your market area, prospectsappreciated that you were there and had space to accommodate their needs. Butwhen the marketplace changes, the buyers change with it. Their attitude becomessomething more like "You're lucky I'm even calling you!" The buyer hasbeen empowered by the addition of rivals and will start to behave like ashopper. The operator who is there during the change must adjust. Thatadjustment is what marketing is all about.

Basic Instincts

In a competitive marketplace, every move you make is designed to enticeprospects and make life difficult for the competition. You try for features thatare attractive to prospects and hard to duplicate. But you face a challenge:Buyer instincts want to simplify the purchasing decision by placing all thechoices side by side and choosing the cheapest--a situation you want to prevent.

Marketing is often invoked as the answer. What marketing usually means tothose who haven't used it much is "media." What can I do to improve myYellow Pages ad, or what about newsletters or a new brochure, or what about theexciting new Internet? What gets lost in the shuffle is the need for owners tomake their offering unique. Media can help you publicize your business, but theywon't solve the overall problem.

The first thing business consultants often ask their clients is, "Whatbusiness are you really in?" What he is hoping the client understands, ashe answers this question, is there needs to be a shift from what the client isnow doing to what the client's customers want him to do. The client oftenrebels when he realizes where the consultant is headed, but the consultant knowswhat must be done. The problem is getting the client to embrace the change.

The changes a self-storage operator needs to make in the face of competitionmust be sufficiently radical to cause the prospect to see a real differencebetween him and his competitors. The operator wants prospects to abandon theirusual manner of shopping--on price. It takes a jolt to get them to do that.

There is no point in talking about the Internet, Yellow Pages,newsletters--any kind of media--until you establish a market posture that willseparate you from rivals in the eyes of the prospect. Unless you achievethat, all talk about media choices is meaningless and wasteful. Open yourtelephone book to the Yellow Pages and review all the self-storage ads. Askyourself why a reader would choose one over another. Better yet, ask a friend todo it.

Do any of those ads have any power? You may start to examine the layout, typefonts, catchy copy, etc. But do any of them have a unique and persuasivemessage? They often attempt to manufacture notability where there is none. Theprospect sees through that on his way to simplifying his shopping task. Suchoperators may well spend a bundle on media, get minimal results, and then blame"marketing" for being impotent. But he wasn't "marketing"effectively. Without a full-fledged marketing plan, utilizing media is a wasteof time.

Developing a facility's attractive features is where a marketer's creativejuices start flowing. The problem is how to establish differentiation. You can'tnecessarily control the supply of units in your market area, so the draw of"location" is diminished. At the same time, you don't want to competeon price. Your choices are few.

In this situation, the operator can use one or both of two things: facilityinnovation (i.e., climate control, sophisticated security features, etc.) orpackaging. The latter wraps allied elements into the offering, shedding rivalsfrom comparative consideration. Packaging may also provide the opportunity forrealizing the convenience premium (see the February 2001 issue).

If you are succeeding in your self-storage business without these techniques,then I'm sure you're asking yourself: Why change? If price competition works foryou, there is no reason to change. But if not, your goal is to change yourmarket posture so you no longer get calls for the price of a 10-by-20 or a6-by-12. Instead, you'll get requests for the "packages" you havecreated. Now you are in control. Marketing can get that done.

It's Your Show

It all starts with your urge to separate your facility from the others. Youcontrol the content of the packages, you set the pricing, so you control theprospect conversation--it's your show! Done correctly, marketing shows prospectsyou are on the ball, not just one more facility. You may get the awkward feelingthat operating this way is entering into a "different" business.Possibly. Storage units become simply the commodity that is now a component ofeach package you are offering. Is this more complex? Yes. Is it more lucrative?You bet!

As competition makes things livelier, the future opportunities forself-storage require differentiation. It insulates a facility from the effectsof competition and is more rewarding. It sounds like win-win situation to me.

 Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose careerincludes executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T.He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfeholds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degreein business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached athis home in Nampa, Idaho, at 208.463.9039. Further information can also be foundin Mr. Harley's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.

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