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Strike Back Through Repositioning

February 1, 2001

8 Min Read
Strike Back Through Repositioning

Strike Back Through Repositioning

What to do when competition is hitting you where it hurts

By RK Kliebenstein

Theself-storage construction boom is on, and new facilities are popping upeverywhere. There is increasing awareness in owners of older facilities that itis tough to contend with these modern, amenity-packed competitors. Here are sometools for planning a facility facelift and meeting the market challenge, alsoknown as "repositioning."

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Have you formulated a strategic plan? The first step is to identify theproblem or, for the sake of semantics, let's call it a "challenge."Have you done a true survey of your competition? I am sure, like any good owneror manager, you are visiting your competition at least once every six months.(It is a good idea to take pictures so you can compare each visit to your lastone.) What do you notice has changed? Has the office been painted? Is there newfurniture? What about the collateral material--has it changed? Are there newbrochures or business cards? Is this competitor responding to market conditionswith rate increases or decreases?

What about the "new kids on the block"? Is this challenge one thatyou are facing head-on, or is your head buried in the sand under a layer ofdenial? If your competitor is a "B"-grade facility, you may have beenspared--this time. But what about the location? Most new stores tend to belocated in higher traffic areas with better demography. Is the new store betweenyou and your customer base? What does your ZIP-code analysis tell you? Where areyour customers coming from? Has traffic slowed down? Review your traffic reportsfrom last year and see what the numbers tell you. Is phone traffic up or down?Is site-visit traffic up, or are things pretty much the same? How do thesefactors compare with occupancy levels and rate increases? How much new squarefootage is in the market? What does last year's square foot per capita look likecompared with this year's? What about previous years?

Is climate control new to your market? Do you have climate-controlled spaces?Should you add them? Do you have room to construct a new building or are youconsidering the retrofit of an existing building? What are the rental-ratepremiums for climate-controlled space? What is the "pay back" periodfor the improvement? Will your new climate-controlled space increase your value,or is this a hold against the competition?

What about amenities? Do you have individual door alarms? Are they wireless,or are you anticipating a costly upgrade? What about your surveillance cameras?Do they show colorful, crisp and clean images? Are the monitors in plain view ofthe customer, displayed in a high-tech environment, or is this a monitor stuckon top of a desk? Cameras are as much a marketing tool as they are a securitymeasure, and if you are not highlighting this feature, you are leaving amarketing opportunity on the table. Do you have wireless intercoms so yourtenants can call the office? Is there music being filtered through the hallways?

Take a picture of your facility as you drive up or, better yet, have a friendvideotape it. How do things look? Is the signage crisp and clean? Is thelandscape fresh and healthy? What is your curb appeal like? What message are yousending the customer when he drives up? Is the first impression "Wow"?Are things spotless? Are you attracting a tenant who is storing junk, or are yougoing after the tenant who stores valuable personal or business items in anenvironment similar to his own home?

How about that security gate? Do you still have the barrier arm with a manualgate that overlocks at night? Why not replace it with an access-controlled,state-of-the-art security gate?

What about your driveways? Is there a clean sealcoat on the asphalt, or arethere holes in the parking lot?

How well are your buildings marked and your doors numbered? You know wherebuilding 3 is and how to find unit 7624, but do your tenants?

Whatabout your staff? Do they meet the challenge of new competition? Is your rentalmanager armed with the latest facts (not assumptions)? I cannot tell you howmany managers feed a line of "hooey" to their owner, pretending toknow what is going on with the competition. Are their uniforms crisp, clean andneat? Are their shirts tucked in? Do your rental consultants stand when theprospect enters the door? Are they smiling? Is there a spark in their salespitch, or are they simply order takers? Is the inventory up to date? When wasthe last time the manager walked the store to find surprise vacates?

What about your facility's lighting? Is the office bright, clean andcheerful? Are the hallways brightly lit and "clean as a whistle"? Howabout outside lighting? When was the last time a light-bulb survey was done tosee how many were burnt out? Is the lighting adequate? Should additional lightsbe added at the doorways? If it is too dark to read in the halls and doorways,they are probably underlit. Outside, the lighting should be adequate for you toread a license plate without having to get a flashlight. Ambient light willshine on the reflective surfaces of most license plates.

What about your rental agreement? Is it up to date? Do you have a large-printversion? If you live in an area of multiple languages, do you have a translatedcopy? Does the rental agreement reflect current lien laws and late-chargelegislation? What about vehicles? Do you have a rider to your lease to perfectlien on a motor vehicle?

What about your golf cart? When was the last time it was washed and waxed? Isit safe? Are the seats clean and without tears or stains? Is your maintenanceunit a vision of neat, orderly business, or is it a scene from the oldtelevision show Sanford and Son?

If you are not satisfied with the answers to the questions posed above, youhave to ask yourself, "What am I doing to meet the challenge?" Isthere enough time in the day to read the newspaper, but not enough to read thelease agreement or sweep the sidewalk and wash the windows? Is there enough timeto watch TV, but not enough to wash the roll-up doors or paint the bollards? Hasa member of your staff ever said, "They do not pay me enough to..."?Is that your excuse for letting the competitors get ahead of you?

Maybe it is time to get back to basics. If you do not have time to properlyassess the condition of your property and that of your competitors, maybe youneed outside help. And if you have the time to make the lists, do you also havetime to execute the plan?

PLAN A: Get Professional Help

If you owned a small airplane, would you let it deteriorate? Would youmaintain it yourself? Who would conduct the annual inspections? Ask these samequestions about your self-storage facility, and if the answer is "outsidehelp," there are several consulting firms that can conduct management andtechnology reviews of your facility. When selecting a consultant, ask him to faxyou a copy of his facility checklist. Make sure he has a repositioning plan.Find out how long he plans to spend identifying problem areas. Ask yourselfwhether the price of the service accurately reflects the work to be done at yourparticular facility, or if the consultant is using a "one size fitsall" approach.

PLAN B: What Are You Going to Do With the Information?

Do you have time to analyze the data the consultant provides? Can you thenexecute a plan of action, or do you need some training wheels to keep you on thepath? Many consultants will offer to report their findings, but will theyprepare a plan to fix the problems? If the scope of your consultant's workinvolved only the construction of a "to do" list, what is your nextstep? The consultant should be able to take his findings to the next level andprepare a timeline, budget, and marketing and integration plan. There should beredundant bids for major line items. Deferred maintenance may have beensignificant and you may want a structural check-up. Find out if your consultantperforms this service as well.

PLAN C: The Execution

So you have a plan written--now what? Do you have the time and energy tosupervise the work and integrate the changes into your organization? Are therespecific timeframes for completion of the tasks, or are these just lists to linethe birdcage? Once the improvements are made, has your Yellow Pages ad beenupdated to reflect the money you just spent? Has the website been brought up todate? What about fliers and brochures? How are you going to market your"new" facility? What about a grand reopening? Is your consultantplanning these events for you or actually conducting them?

So Much to Do, So Little Time

If you took the time to make the necessary lists or even to recognize you areletting things fall by the wayside, then you are probably proactive enough toalready be working on improvements. If you think you are untouchable by thedemands of the market, you had better hope your competitors, too, are soconfident they do not think they need to concern themselves with curb appeal,customer service or you, the competition. Take this advice to heart.Sometimes we can't see the forest for all the trees.

RK Kliebenstein is the president of Coast-To-Coast Storage of Boca Raton,Fla., which performs technology audits, market studies and repositioning plansfor self-storage operators. For more information, call 877.622.5508.

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