One of the first things prospective customers take note of when driving by your self-storage facility is how it looks. If they’re on the market for a unit, they’ll ask themselves, “Do I feel comfortable placing my belongings here?” Public perception is in part shaped by the visual condition of the property—your curb appeal. It’s what creates their first impression.
Is your landscaping in order? Is the signage clean and legible? Are the drive aisles weed-free? These and many other routine maintenance items will serve as either an attraction or a deterrent for prospects. They impact a person’s decision of whether to rent with you more than you may want to believe. Let’s look at what it takes to assess and maintain positive curb appeal as well as its benefits to your business.
In-House vs. Outsourced
Most self-storage operators handle many aspects of curb appeal themselves but outsource more time-consuming or technically challenging tasks. It's important to know which things you can do yourself and which are better left to a professional. As someone once told me, “If it isn’t something you’re willing to be the best at, outsource it to someone who will be.”
For example, facility lawncare may seem easy, but for many managers, even simple landscaping can become a secondary priority when business picks up. Curb appeal can start to deteriorate because employees can't be the best at customer service and after-hours lawncare. For staff to generate the most value for the business, they need to focus on sales and customer experience. You may even find that the cost of outsourcing certain tasks is offset by increased manager productivity.
One way to determine which tasks may be better suited for a vendor is to keep a simple log over the course of a couple weeks. Track the responsibilities you handle in-house and how long it takes to complete the work. Look at the quality of the work being performed and whether it’s hindering you and others from performing more valuable roles. Decide whether to continue performing duties in-house or look for a service supplier. If you lose three to five rentals per month because you’re focused on the wrong jobs, this could easily justify outsourcing.
Tidy = Mighty
If you’ve ever analyzed your competition, you’ve probably driven by their sites. One thing I’ve noticed is the facilities of the larger operators are almost always tidy. Even if a property isn’t modern or in a prime location, the larger brands typically maintain very good curb appeal.
Smaller competitors sometimes fail to maintain the same standard. Things that jump out are weeds, trash or dirty drive aisles. Some operators don’t pay attention to how well their outdoor parking spaces are aligned or how many vacant-unit doors are left open. The accumulation of small factors can lead to a big deficiency in curb appeal.
One way to ensure things stay neat is to create a checklist for simple tasks like picking up trash, checking outdoor signage, pulling weeds, etc. It should be followed during normal facility walk-throughs. This helps create team accountability and maintains a philosophy of being proactive.
Cleanliness Breeds Happiness
Having a clean facility means much more than nice landscaping and tidy driveways. It bestows staff with a sense of pride and comfort in knowing the property is in good condition. In contrast, a messy office, buildings and grounds can create unnecessary stress that ultimately hinders the team’s ability to close sales and increase revenue.
Staff will appreciate their workspace when they see the power of positive curb appeal. This, in turn, instills a sense of pride in their work and company. This is something customers notice, making them more likely to rent a unit without hesitation. Ultimately, keeping your facility clean does more than improve curb appeal, it helps improve employee attitudes and mindsets.
Think Like a Customer
One of the best training practices I’ve used is to have our managers place themselves in the shoes of our customers and see things from their perspective. We even use role-playing in which a team member acts as a customer going through the entire rental process. We take him on a facility tour, show him a unit, and then bring him back to the office for paperwork.
When finished, we review the “customer’s” perception of the facility and whether he’d do business with us. This allows staff to immerse themselves in the factors true customers consider during the decision-making process. It also lets us see just how important first impressions can be for renters. After all, if you wouldn't store valuable belongings at your own property, what should you expect from a customer who’s new to your facility and brand?
Use the 5 Ps
“Prior planning prevents poor performance.” This motto is a good way to instill a mindset among staff and leadership that positions everyone for success. When you implement processes to check and balance curb appeal, employees become more proactive in tackling issues before they become problems.
Remember, the goal in managing facility curb appeal is to create a great first impression. Customers want to feel confident that you care as much about your facility as they do about their belongings. Consider outsourcing time-consuming tasks and maintenance issues, and be proactive with in-house responsibilities. This will help you optimize and maintain eye-pleasing curb appeal, drive new rentals and maximize value.
Joseph Biard is operations manager for U Storage, which operates four self-storage facilities in Arkansas. He leads a growing team of facility managers and works to develop the company’s operational framework. He has experience in team development, sales and marketing management, budgeting, and facility maintenance. To reach him, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.myustorage.com.