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Self-Storage Call Tracking and Conversion: Maximize Marketing Dollars

In today’s tough and uncertain economy, you must do everything possible to maximize your budget and ensure every dollar spent is contributing to the bottom line. This is especially true with your marketing dollars. Whether you are a small operator with a marketing budget of just a few thousand dollars a year or a large one that spends millions every year, the same principals apply. In order to maximize your marketing dollars you must have effective strategies to make use of every marketing dollar spent.

This is no small feat. So how do you go about marketing on a tight budget and making sure every dollar counts? Two strategies are your keys to success: accurate marketing tracking and proven conversion techniques.

By using both you can maximize your budget, especially if it’s limited, or tighten your budget even more without sacrificing new tenants.

Accurate Tracking

Tracking marketing is one of the biggest challenges. Luckily, new technology makes it a lot easier. If you ask most owners or managers how they track their marketing, most will say they ask the customer how they found the facility. While this may provide somewhat accurate tracking, it leaves a lot of room for errors.

First, customers don’t always remember. When searching for storage, their mind is on their own needs and, many times, they are in a hurry. They don’t necessarily remember every step they took to find your facility. So when asked how they found you, they may simply say the first thing that comes to mind or even make up something.

Also, in today’s Internet world, customers will often default their answer to “Google,” when really they found you somewhere else on the Web. They may initially say they found your ad in the Yellow Pages, but when asked for more specific information, they might remember they really heard about the facility through a friend, then looked up the number in the Yellow Pages.

Another problem is managers do not always ask. While it’s ideal to think every call that comes through your facility or every person that walks through the front door is asked in depth how he found your facility, most likely this is not the case. This is to be expected because managers have a lot on their plates, and asking for a marketing source is not always at the top of their priority list.

Using Technology

So how do you go beyond just asking customer to really hone in on where they hear about your self-storage facility? By using a new technology called unique call-tracking phone numbers.

Call-tracking numbers allow you to:

  • Track the source of each and every call
  • Track the average length of your calls
  • See how many and at what time of the day calls are missed
  • Determine your cost per phone call and cost per rental
  • Determine call-conversion ratio
  • Capture and listen to recordings of calls for live mystery shopping, training and quality improvement purposes (even if you use a call center)
  • Capture caller information such as name, callback number and ZIP code for advanced marketing

Best of all, the reporting is real time, error-free information that you can rely on to make smart decisions. This technology is inexpensive and enables you to put a unique tracking number on every form of marketing you’re using. These numbers are crucial for Yellow Pages ads, your website, fliers, direct mail pieces or other types of marketing.

With technology like this you can begin to get a handle on key success factors for all marketing campaigns: how many calls they’re bringing you; what each one of those calls is costing; how many callers are turning into rentals; and, most important, how much each rental costs.

By evaluating your marketing this way you’ll find that some are bringing you calls and rentals at a high cost, while others are at a much lower cost. You can then begin to cut marketing avenues that are too costly and really trim, refine and maximize your limited marketing budget.

Conversion Techniques

The second key success factor in maximizing your marketing dollars is using proven conversion techniques. By conversion I mean turning prospective customer calls, walk-ins and e-mails into tenants. The goal is to bring these prospective customers to you; however, that’s only half of the equation. You must be able to convert these prospects into paying tenants.

By focusing on increasing your conversion rates for calls, walk-ins and e-mails you will be able to get more tenants for the marketing dollars you are already spending. Increasing conversion rates is essentially the only way to get more tenants without spending more money.

Think of it this way: If you are spending $3,000 per month on marketing that generates 100 prospective customers, you are essentially spending $30 for each prospect. Suppose you are able to convert 50 percent into tenants. Then you are essentially paying $3,000 to get 50 tenants, or $60 per tenant.

Now, if you are able to increase your conversion rate by just 10 percent to a 60 percent conversion rate, you would get 60 tenants for that same $3,000 and only pay $50 per tenant.

Higher conversion rates = more tenants at a lower cost per rental.

So how do you implement these conversion techniques? Here are a few quick steps:

Know your current conversion rate. Use tracking technologies such as the unique call-tracking numbers mentioned above to determine your current conversion rate on calls from all marketing sources. Train and re-train your managers to accurately account for each person that walks into your facility and keep track of those that convert into tenants. Track these elements on a monthly basis.

Train and equip managers on key conversion elements. Give managers tools to increase their conversion rates such as phone scripts and e-mail templates. Phone scripts can be as detailed or as general as you need them to be to fit your business. They do not necessarily need to be used verbatim, but if available can give managers a quick reference to the key elements necessary for every call.

Consider adding a warm greeting, qualifying questions to ask each prospect to take control of the call, key features of your facility that set you apart from the competition, easy-to-find directions to your property, and a strong close that encourages the prospect to commit to your facility by reserving the unit over the phone with a credit card or making an appointment to visit.

The same principals apply with e-mails. Give your managers a template they can use to quickly and properly respond to e-mail inquiries. Make sure the template includes all the details mentioned above in the phone script. With today’s customers, an e-mail is often your first point of contact. Make sure it is friendly, gives the customer key information about your facility and a reason to rent with you.

Without training and tools, most managers will not include all of these key aspects on every conversation with a prospective customer.

Set follow-up expectations. Establish clear expectations with your managers on how and when to follow up with prospects who do not rent with you on the first call, e-mail or walk-in. Many times a caller or walk-in will talk with multiple facilities because either he is looking for something specific or has never rented storage before and wants to make sure he sees all his options.

In a competitive market, great customer service and prompt follow-up can set your facility apart. In addition, customers who contact you via e-mail will be impressed and will be more likely to rent with you.

Monitor success and re-train when necessary. This is an important part of improving your conversion rates. Make sure you have processes in place to shop your managers for the conversion techniques you expect. A great way to mystery shop via the phone is using the call-tracking phone numbers discussed earlier. By recording every call that comes into your facility you can listen to live customer calls and evaluate them for conversion effectiveness.

Because they are recorded in MP3-format, you can save them to your computer and forward them to your managers to let them evaluate their own calls. Many times a properly trained manager will be able to spot problems right away and be more motivated to correct them if he is able to hear the conversation firsthand.

A great way to mystery shop via e-mail is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Fill out an e-mail lead just like a customer would. Monitor how quickly you get a response and what the response says. It’s easy and free to set up an anonymous e-mail account with Yahoo or Gmail for this type of mystery shopping.

Take every opportunity you can to re-train your managers when you spot a problem and reward them for success. Doing so will guarantee an increase in your conversion rates, making you happier, your managers more productive, and your marketing budget more effective.

Megan Eckert is the executive vice president of USStoragesearch.com, which helps more than 12,000 facilities nationwide increase occupancy through affordable Internet marketing. For more information, call 866.880.0742; visit www.usstoragesearch.com.

New Brand Aims to Expand Green Self-Storage

Hall Street Self Storage of Brooklyn, N.Y., which opened in May 2008 as the country’s first green self-storage facility, has changed its name and established the new iStoreGreen brand in hopes of making eco-friendly self-storage accessible nationwide. The company has chosen a site for the next iStoreGreen facility in Manhattan and has its sights set on a brand franchise.
 
After seeing New Yorkers’ positive response to the option of green self-storage, owner Jeffrey E. Sitt started a mission to make it national. “There’s green dry-cleaning and even green wines available today. Self-storage needs to be greened, too,” he said, “especially since it’s an industry that can use a lot of energy and materials, and is one people use every day, not a few times a week. It needs to be accessible.”
 
When Hall Street Self Storage opened, it drew headlines and customers with its groundbreaking green efforts. For example, it received praise from Corporate Social Responsibility News for its purchase of 100 percent clean, renewable energy for electricity.
 
Hall Street also became a model for showing that living green doesn’t have to cost more, with rates that are at least 50 percent lower than Manhattan self-storage spaces and less than those of Brooklyn competitors. Beyond clean energy, it became known for creative green actions like offering biodegradable packing peanuts, reused packing boxes, and alternatives to bubble wrap like shredded paper from the office paper shredder. It also provides a room for tenants’ unwanted items that are given to a local charity.
 
Now, under its new brand, the company is pursuing still more green initiatives, including office desks and unit shelving made from reclaimed wood, solar hot-water heating, and a booklet of green ideas for customers printed on recycled paper with soy ink. Future plans include a fleet of Pedi vans, which will use cycling power to transfer local residents’ possessions to their storage spaces for a zero-emissions move. 
 
For more information, visit www.istoregreen.com.

New Website Allows Comparison of More than 35,000 Self-Storage Facilities


Store It Here LLC has launched a new self-storage facility search website, StorageSeeker.com, which allows prospective tenants to search, map and perform a side-by-side comparison of nearly every storage location in the United States. Users can evaluate units nationwide based on location, price and available amenities such as climate control and truck rental. They can also reserve units online without using a credit card.
 
For facility owners, the site provides promotional and advertising opportunities. Once a facility is signed up, the search-engine and advertising strategists behind StorageSeeker.com focus on the site’s units for rent. The website is currently in a beta period but is welcoming new facilities to join with a special offer of two months of free service.

Big Yellow Occupancy Slips

Self-storage group Big Yellow's occupancy fell by 3 percent in the three months ending in September, with trading conditions also described as tough in the last three months of 2008.

Total store revenue for the three months to September rose 1 percent to £14.2m, but was down 5 percent quarter on quarter. Like-for-like sales fell by 5 percent compared with the same period last year. Closing occupancy was 1,746,000 square feet across all stores by Sept. 30, down 3 percent this time last year.

"Trading conditions continued to be tough in what has been traditionally our weakest quarter to the end of December. We have no doubt that the cyclical environment for consumer facing businesses will continue to be difficult for the foreseeable future, but we look forward to our seasonally more buoyant spring and summer period," Chief Executive James Gibson stated.

Based in London, Big Yellow provides self-storage throughout the United Kingdom. For more information, visit www.bigyellow.co.uk.

ISS Blog

Media Barrages Alabama Storage Facility While Missing-Pilot Story Unfolds

Yesterday was a day like no other for Wanda Brooks, manager of 280 Mini Storage in Harpersville, Ala. When she arrived at work, a CNN news team was there to greet her at to her office. Reporters wanted to film the storage unit that had been rented, be it ever-so briefly, by a wanted man.

Very few newspapers, wires and TV stations could resist such a story: An investor facing fraud plots to fake his death in a plane crash, parachutes to safety, then rides off into the sunset on a motorcycle, which  he had cunningly stashed away at Wanda's storage facility a couple days earlier in hopes of making his big getaway.

Wanda thinks the GQ-guy-turned-thug had originally planned to parachute from the plane to safety in a nearby field or golf course, not far from the Interstate 280 that runs right through town and for which the storage facility is named. But there was just enough wind that night to swoosh him three miles down the road, she says.

When he wandered into a convenience store with a tale about having survived a canoeing accident that left him stranded, the store owner phoned police to assist him. The police obliged his request of giving him a ride to a Harpersville self-storage to meet friends, but when there were no cars at the meeting spot, dropped him at a nearby hotel.

It was an odd request to begin with, mused Wanda Brooks, since it was the wee hours of the morning. "Had he not mentioned [the self-storage facility] at all, they might not have caught him."

When the news of a plane crash surfaced later on, investigators began putting two and two together. AndWanda and her husband found a lock with a key on the ground outside a storage unit that had been rented to someone storing a red motorcycle days earlier. "It seemed strange," she said. "We never find a brand-new lock with a key still in it just lying around.

Wanda's husband, a local police officer, poked inside the nearby dumpster while Wanta opened the unit. There was no motorcycle, but the dumpster had a pair of pants, shirt, socks and hiking boots.

And so the story unfolded that the man, Marcus Shrenker, had foiled police, dumped his dirty clothes and retrieved his shiny-red Yamaha at 280 Mini Storage, and was on his way to Mexico—or anywhere but back home in Indiana, where his investment career was crumbling, along with his marriage.

For Wanda, the news-breaking crime became a media spree at her site. After the CNN crew passed through, a slew of reporters and camera-persons paraded onto her property. "We had NBC, ABC, Fox, the Associated Press and the New York Post," she laments. "From 8:30 in the morning to 2 o'clock in the afternoon I dealt with them." She finally went home, too tired for more.

I asked Wanda what she had learned from the experience. Did the facility have a plan of action for dealing with media in these type of situations? "No," she said, "but I've been thinking that the best thing to do after something like this is to issue a statement from the business to the media, so you wouldn't have to deal with them all day long, like I did."  

The statement, she said, should include all the details of what actually happened, because she has had to repeat the story over and over again. (Wondering how you might handle a media blitz at your own facility? Consultant/contributor Jim Chiswell has ideas on the subject in his column, Thoughts From the Road.)

Wanda says she likes to watch FBI crime shows on TV, but never expected she'd have to participate in an investigation herself. All the media attention can be exhausting, she concluded. "I could do without the fame." 

Pre-Registration Discount Ends on Jan. 19 for Inside Self-Storage World Exp

Pre-registration discounts are available through Jan. 19 for the self-storage industry’s largest conference and tradeshow, the Inside Self-Storage World Expo. During Jan. 26-29, facility owners, operators, managers, investors, developers and suppliers will gather at the Venetian Hotel Resort Casino and Sands Exposition Center in Las Vegas for educational seminars, exhibits, add-on intensive workshops and networking opportunities.
 
Registration packages and pricing can be viewed at www.insideselfstorageworldexpo.com/vegas09/packages.html. Pre-registration discounts include savings of more than 15 percent on the standard Education Package, Expo Package, Management Workshop and Legal Learning Live. Discounts are also available for the Developers’ Seminar and “How to Make Money in Self-Storage” seminar.
 
For details and to register, call 866.230.2311 or visit www.insideselfstorageworldexpo.com.

Coupons Run Out for Digital TV Converter

The switch to all-digital television from analog Feb. 17 could leave thousands without programming.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) offered coupons for a box that would help those without cable or satellite maintain access to free television programming, including emergency announcements. However, funding for the program has run out. 

The NTIA has already reached the limit of $1.34 billion allocated for coupons.

Source:  Information Week,  Digital Transition Puts Thousands at Risk for No TV

Registration Deadline Approaches for Free Self-Storage Security Webinar

The registration cutoff is approaching for the free Jan. 15 webinar titled “Self-Storage Security: Getting Past the Hype on Systems, Installation and More,” presented by Inside Self-Storage (ISS) and Sentinel Systems Corp. The online registration process must be complete by midnight on Jan. 14 for this live Web event, which will take place at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday.
 
The webinar will teach self-storage facility owners, operators and managers the correct way to protect their storage sites, beginning with the essentials and delving into more complex issues. Attendees will learn about proper site design for security and how to appropriately incorporate components such as video surveillance, door alarms, site graphics, gates and more. They’ll also learn ways to maximize their security budget, whether building a new facility or renovating an existing one.
 
The one-hour event, presented by Sentinel Systems General Manager John Fogg, will include time for audience Q&A. For details and to register, visit www.insideselfstorage.com/webinars.

Lakewood, Colo.-based Sentinel Systems has been supplying security systems and software exclusively to the self-storage industry since 1975. Fogg has worked in self-storage since 1986, originally as the manager and operator of multiple self-storage properties. Company details can be found at www.sentinelsystems.com.

ISS produces a monthly magazine, bi-annual tradeshows and education programs for the self-storage industry.

Researchers Uncover Info About Gene Fusion, Cancer

Researchers may be one step closer to uncovering the science behind cancer cells and how to treat the disease.

Using new technologies that make it easier to sequence the human genome, researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified a series of genes that become fused when their chromosomes trade places with each other. These recurrent gene fusions are thought to be the driving mechanism that causes certain cancers to develop.

The gene fusions discovered could potentially serve as a marker one day for diagnosing cancer or as a target for future drug development.

Source:Science Daily,  New Technology for Detecting Gene Fusions Opens Field in Cancer Research

Empire Boat & RV Opens Another Facility in California

Empire Boat & RV Storage opened a $7 million covered storage facility in Healdsburg, Calif., for owners of boats, motorhomes and travel trailers. The 115-acre facility has space for about 200 boats and as many RVs. The carport-style metal structures, built by Baja Construction Co. of Martinez, Calif., have a 14-foot clear height.

In addition to fencing around the storage area, cameras and fire sprinklers, the facility offers renters the option of installing motion sensors in their craft or vehicles that will be monitored by the onsite manager and armed automatically when the owner leaves.

Empire Mini Storage, owned by real estate developer Jim Menconi, has additional locations in California, including Middletown, Novato, Cloverdale and Forestville. For more information, visit www.empireministorage.com.