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Self-Storage Thoughts: Getting Beyond Survival in 2010

Inside Self-Storage's longtime columnist talks about how self-storage operators need to embrace fresh ideas to survive in the new year, his enjoyment of the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C., and looking ahead to the next show in Las Vegas.

November 4, 2009

5 Min Read
Self-Storage Thoughts: Getting Beyond Survival in 2010

Is 2010 is the beginning of a new decade or the end of the last? Regardless of your perspective, a new year has started with new budgets, goals and objectives. Yet despite this beginning, there still seems to be a prevailing attitude of survival.

From owners facing the refinancing hurdle to managers dealing with declining occupancies and revenue, I have talked to many folks who’ve adopted the “bunker mentality” of just trying to make it to the next month. 

During these times, creativity is at a premium, and yet new ideas are often dismissed with a knee-jerk comment about the lack of money or the luxury of trying something new. Given a chance, many of these no-cost or low-cost concepts can produce positive results.

For example, are you thanking every customer who moves out by giving him a discount coupon to use when he needs storage again? Of course, he can pass it along to a friend and still earn a referral bonus, right? Why not make everyone who leaves a salesperson for your facility? An aggressive referral-bonus program is a method of asking people for their help, with a willingness to reward them for their assistance. 

A monthly drawing for existing customers who pay on time can be a cost-effective way to build loyalty. Even passing along a 20 percent discount coupon for all customers of a popular local restaurant costs you conversation time with the restaurant’s owner and a few dollars in printing. The restaurant owner is buying space in dining books, so why not offer him a direct program with you?

Can you honestly say you’ve maximized your Internet presence and visibility, using all of the free methods available? Do you even know if your facility is properly located on Google, Bing and Yahoo maps? Don’t guess―find out and make the changes immediately, if necessary.

The tasks ahead of us in 2010 may be daunting, but if we’re willing to adopt an optimistic outlook and a positive mindset, anything is possible. 
What’s In a Name?

I’ve been enjoying Starbucks’ new instant coffee since it was launched in October.  I bring this up to get you thinking about something. “Instant coffee” was invented in 1906 by Englishman and chemist George C. Washington, so the term has been in use for many decades. But the Starbucks’ marketers weren’t willing to adopt the old terminology. They chose “ready brew” instead.

The words mean the same thing, but “ready brew” gives the product a new context in the consumer’s mind. It made me wonder how many self-storage terms could be given a new twist with a new name?
What Are Your Coordinates?

Do you happen to know your self-storage facility’s latitude and longitude coordinates? This question came to mind as I was perusing the features of my car’s new GPS unit. It allows me to find a location based solely on its “lat and long.” I’ve personally used latitude and longitude during my feasibility work because I’ve found many communities have eliminated street signs in digital mapping, and some businesses don’t display street addresses. 

I recommend that all storage businesses insert a lat and long line on their Yellow Pages ads, websites and brochures. This will automatically appeal to techies, but I’m predicting that within a decade there will be a quantum shift to the use of this fail-safe method of giving customers directions to your location.
A D.C. Field Trip

During the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C., Oct. 5-8, I had the unique opportunity to attend a book signing and author’s reception, thanks to my good friend, Jeffrey Greenberger. Most of you know Jeff as a legal expert in the self-storage field. His sister, Amy Venturi, coordinated the event for Steve Farber, a senior partner in her Denver-based law firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck.

On The List, co-authored by Farber and Harlan Abrahams, addresses the U.S. system of organ donation and transplantation. Farber shares the story of having received a kidney from his oldest son and compares it to the story of a similar transplant between Sandra and Ernesto Delaroca, brother and sister refugees from Guatemala. The book examines the “ethical, legal, political and economic debate” on this topic.

It was fun to meet Jeff’s sister after hearing about all the wonderful charity work she’s doing in Denver. The shift in surroundings, from the many self-storage issues being discussed at the expo to the life-and-death subject matter of organ donation, was really thought-provoking.

Are you willing to be an organ donor? Have you ever thought about it? Thousands of lives could be positively impacted if more of us were willing to sign the simple form the next time we renew our driver’s license. I urge you to read On The List.  A portion of the book’s proceeds are being donated to the American Transplant Foundation, so just buying the book will help others.
See You in Paris in March!

Of course, I mean the Paris Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas for the Inside Self-Storage World Expo, but it’s still fun to say “I’ll meet you in Paris” without having to endure the nine-hour flight from New York. The agenda for the expo is set, and it’s an excellent program. New suppliers are joining established vendors at the tradeshow.

The only missing ingredient is you! There’s still time to register and immerse yourself with other owners and managers at what will be the biggest conference and tradeshow of the year. Look forward to seeing you there.
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. He has served for a number of years on the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, is a moderator on the SelfStorageTalk.com online community and is faculty member of the Self-Storage Training Institute. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.

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