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Using Yellow Pages Coupons to Promote Self-Storage

In spite of what you may be hearing from some bloggers and Internet-marketing providers (people who think the Web is the only way to get information), 65 percent of new customers to self-storage still use the Yellow Pages (YP) to help them choose the right facility for their belongings.

When times get tough, people want the best value without sacrificing quality. If your usual customer is a value shopper rather than a price shopper, you have to use every possible opportunity to advertise your specials. Almost every self-storage facility has a special offer—senior or military discounts, free locks or rent, or free use of a truck for move-in. You don’t have to give away anything more than usual to capture these potential tenants, just expand your YP opportunities.

Coupon Clipper

Most of the major YP publishers have coupon sections in their directories, and your representative will most likely try to sell you on the value of coupons. However, if you ask for studies on how YP coupons have performed in delivering new customers, they will likely not be able to prove the coupons’ value. This lack of hard data gives you the upper hand in getting the best deal on this additional advertising.

YP rates typically go up 2 percent to 5 percent every year, but your return on investment (ROI) doesn’t increase at that rate. When negotiating your YP advertising, use that information to ask for a coupon page to increase ROI—and start by asking for it for free. You may be surprised at the response. If that doesn’t work, let your rep know you’re willing to pay very little to test something that may not have proven value.

In a directory where the storage heading is particularly crowded, a coupon gives you an additional place to advertise―again, provided the price is right. Here are some pointers about making these coupons work for you, plus pitfalls to avoid:

  • Be specific in your offer, for example, “$15 off first month’s rent.”
  • State the conditions: new customers only, limited to certain unit sizes.
  • Print an expiration date on the coupon. Make it the same date the directory expires.
  • Be sure your display ad indicates that you offer a coupon. Use a color icon, if available, so it is noticeable.
  • Print “One coupon per customer,” “New customers only” and, if applicable, “Not valid with any other offer.”
  • Keep the coupons or make note of their redemption so you can track the success of the program.
  • If buying coupons in more than one directory, print a code on each so you can track the specific directory’s performance.
  • Include a small map on the coupon so customers don’t have to refer back to the display ad under the storage heading. It’s a subtle way to show concern for the customer’s convenience.

Increase Your Internet Advantage

If you’ve purchased a listing on one of the Internet YP sites, consider adding a hyperlink that says “coupon” or “special” if you can. It may cost a bit more, but an extra link may give your ad higher placement and could give you an advantage over competitors who don’t offer a deal.

IYP sites provide the customer with a link to an information page. If you choose not to use a coupon but mention a special on your facility website, be sure the information is on your landing page. Occasionally, an advertiser will mention a special, but when the customer logs onto the website, he can’t find information or, worse, he sees “No specials currently available” or “Come back again for future specials.” This is the kind of mistake that will alienate prospective customers and drive business to your competitors.

If you get a good deal for a coupon from the Yellow Pages, make sure you track it. If it works, renew it. If it doesn’t, nothing gained, but nothing, or very little, ventured.

Sue Weinman is vice president, yellow page services, of Michaels Wilder Inc., an advertising agency specializing in Yellow Pages, Internet marketing and talent recruitment for the self-storage industry since 1989. For more information, visit www.michaelswilder.com.

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ISS Blog

Got Health Insurance?

Yesterday, I posted an inquiry on the Self-Storage Talk forum that has created quite a bit of buzz. I recently read an article about the health care debacle and what points Congress is considering in overhauling the system. One possibility: Employers MUST offer health care to employees or pay a fine. So I asked forum users their thoughts.

While some forum members agree all employers should offer health insurance in some form to their employees, others expressed concern about Big Brother sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.

“Let’s just image that the government makes it mandatory to provide health care. What is next, should employers be forced to offer sick pay, day care, bereavement time off, paid holidays, paid birthdays off, auto's for employees, college for their children? The point being, when the government takes over and makes things like this mandatory, where does it stop?” asked Mel Holsinger, president of Professional Self Storage Management.

Lisa T shared the sad story of her brother, diagnosed with kidney disease at 16, who lost his health insurance at 19 because he was no longer a student, even though he was too ill to attend school.

What do you think? Should the government force companies to offer health insurance? Post a comment below or join the discussion on Self-Storage Talk.

Great Lakes Self Storage Expo Sees Surprising Jump in Attendance

The Great Lakes Self Storage Expo, which took place last week in Lisle, Ill., saw an unexpected increase in attendance over last year’s event, in spite of (or perhaps in light of) a depressed economy. During June 4-5, the annual event attracted more 100 self-storage owners and managers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin and featured more than 25 exhibiting companies.
 
“Consistent promotion in industry media and direct mail as well as electronic event updates by the industry associations and vendors produced a 40 percent increase in attendance over 2008,” said Michael Lane, executive director for the Indiana and Illinois Self Storage Associations, which sponsored the show.
 
In addition to a tradeshow, the expo included an educational program, an open-forum Q&A discussion and a cocktail reception. Seminar topics included legal issues, presented by Jeffrey Greenberger; Internet marketing, addressed by Jim Chiswell; market analysis, covered by Charles Ray Wilson; and sales techniques, presented by Kyle Zimmerman.
 
The Illinois and Indiana SSAs are independent trade groups providing business services and legal advocacy for self-storage operators in those states.

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Isle of Wight Self-Storage Facility Changes Hands

Robert Hampson has purchased InnerSpaces Self Storage at Readers Business Park in Cowes, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom. The facility offers 24-hour access, digital video surveillance, motion-sensor alarms and a fire-detection system. It includes a retail area for the sale of packaging products and recently launched a new service through which customers can rent a secure mailbox.
 
Hampson has been involved in the self-storage industry for nearly 20 years and previously owned self-storage facilities on the mainland, including a removals firm in Bournemouth, Dorset, England.
 
Source: Isle of Wight County Press, Storage firm under new management

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Bozeman Self Storage Lease Contributes to Public Education

Bozeman Self Storage in Montana is signing a 33-year land lease with the state and, in so doing, is supporting public education for grades K through 12. Money from the lease of the facility’s acreage goes into a common school trust to generate additional revenue, according to Randy Schubert, the facility’s project manager.
 
The schools own a total of 206 acres, historically used for agriculture. By reclassifying the land for commercial use, they can generate 50 times more income. As an added benefit, the land will now generate property-tax revenue. The self-storage lease has two 33-year renewal options.

Langlas & Associates has begun construction on the first phase of the project that includes self-storage, RV storage and light industrial shops on 3.5 acres. The lease is for a total of 10 acres.

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, What’s Up With That?

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MediaBollards

Encore Commercial Products Inc. has introduced a new marketing tool for self-storage properties: MediaBollards, which convert bollards into instant billboards by using a specially designed flat front panel. The panels can be customized with promotional messages and logos, or imprinted with directional or safety messages such as “No Parking,” “Enter” and “Exit.” The bollards fit easily and securely over new or existing bollards and posts. The low-density, polyethylene protective covers come in a wide range of colors. They are UV-resistant and can withstand extreme temperatures.
 
Encore also manufactures and distributes Post Guard, a colorful plastic bollard cover. The company offers a variety of other products that prevent vehicle damage including  Height Guard (overhead protection), Scrape Guard (flexible vinyl cover) and Gorilla Post (temporary magnetic post).

No-Computer Disaster Plan: Operating Self-Storage Without Technology

“Get out your pencil!” I can still remember how much I hated hearing the teacher say those words because it usually meant a pop quiz. Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, so here is your one-question test: How would you operate your facility for an extended period of time—two days, a week or longer—without your computer?

How would you rent a unit? Take a payment? Tell a customer his unit number or how much he owes? How would you answer the question, “What would the prorated rent be if I move in this afternoon?” It’s an ugly picture, isn’t it?

This question came to me as I heard about power outages from the wicked weather some parts of the nation endured this spring. It really hit home when my main file server crashed. I forgot how much fun it is working on a laptop with backup files. Let’s examine the question above, which will hopefully encourage you to revisit your disaster planning and day-to-day office procedures.
 
Backing Up Data

How often do you back up your data to a medium or server outside your main office? The cost of a backup system will pale in comparison to what you’ll spend trying to recover from a data loss without one. And I’m not just talking about your facility operating data.

What about all those other little things you’ve added to your computer and taken for granted, for example, the “remember me” feature on the log in page for so many programs and websites? When I lost my server, I was amazed at the number of unique login passwords I couldn’t remember.

How about when the service tech says, “Now take out one of the original disks that shipped with your computer 30 months ago and load it into the disk drive.” I admit I’m guilty of not having kept good records of every website I use on a regular basis or kept track of every disk that shipped with my computer.

Let’s get back to the more mundane issue of taking a payment. A customer is standing in front of you and politely asks, “Could you let me know how much I owe today?” Your deer-in-the-headlights look won’t instill a great deal of confidence, and your inability to collect a payment from a willing customer could quickly become crippling.

Periodically printing your rent roll may seem like a waste of paper until D-day arrives. Just writing out a receipt for the customer on a blank sheet of paper makes it look like you might put the cash in your pocket. Or how about taking a credit card payment with no computer? Do you even have any credit card charge slips buried in an office desk somewhere? Do you know what phone number to call for manual approval?

Without being able to hit the “F6” key to automatically bring up your vacant unit list, do you know what units are ready to rent? When I managed a portfolio of 35 stores, it was a pet peeve of mine to walk into one of the facilities and ask the manager where the closest, vacant 10-by-15 was—and get a blank stare.

I know some days are crazy with the phone ringing and people walking in with questions, but everyone should find time to print out a vacancy list and know what products they have for sale.
 
Have a Disaster Plan

A “disaster” doesn’t have to mean the roof to the office has blown off or the third-alarm firefighters have arrived at your door. It could be as simple as an electrical surge or lightning that fries your computer. Until you get another computer, install the new software and load the backup data, that pencil had better be sharp and ready to go.

Some owners and managers have a file cabinet in the back of the office containing all of the manual paperwork necessary to keep the facility running. Items like a receipt book to provide a professional-looking receipt along with a separate record of the payment can be a gift sent from heaven. A stack of credit card charge slips with a step-by-step procedure outlined with telephone numbers can keep you in business. If you rely on your computer to print leases, having a dozen pre-printed would put a smile back on your face.

In the Disaster Recovery Journal, Geoffrey H. Wold writes, “The primary objective of disaster recovery planning is to protect the organization in the event that all or part of its operations and/or computer services are rendered unusable. Preparedness is the key.

The planning process should minimize the disruption of operations and ensure some level of organizational stability and an orderly recovery after a disaster.” Does your planning live up to that standard? I know that after my near-death computer-server experience, mine will.
 
Today’s Challenges Are Tomorrow’s Profit

This is the theme for the Inside Self-Storage World Expo in Washington, D.C., Oct. 5-8. This expo comes at a watershed time in America’s history. Will we be on the verge of an economic recovery or dragged kicking and screaming closer to the abyss? ISS has engaged a number of industry veterans from the owner, manager and supplier ranks to provide third-party feedback. The group is called the Educational Advisory Committee. I’m very proud to have been asked to serve on this board.

There has never been a more important time to gather and discuss the issues, problems and opportunities facing our industry than now. As we consider what lies ahead in 2010, I urge every owner to take a hard look at his budget and consider investing in his future by attending as well as bringing key team members to share in the year’s last major tradeshow and educational opportunity.
 
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 interactive 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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Got Dirt? Adding Space to an Existing Self-Storage Facility

In this economic climate, many self-storage owners are looking to increase income by maximizing available space, often adding new buildings to existing facilities. As with most projects, it’s not always as easy as it appears. One of my favorite, worn out, “old guy” construction axioms is, “Building is the easy part; it’s getting to that point that can be rough.”

Just because you’ve already built and established a self-storage facility, don’t make the mistake of thinking there may not be some due diligence to be done before you add on. There are also some proverbial speed bumps to cross whenever you start new construction at a location where business has to go on as usual.

Let’s take a look at a few of the bad and good side effects of adding to an existing site and, hopefully, help you avoid some of the “gotchas.”

The Bad (It Could Happen)

Verify whether any of the original zoning ordinances, development agreements, codes or covenants indicate a maximum land use or maximum total building area allowed on the site. In some jurisdictions, you may not only have to build your new buildings to current codes and requirements, you may also have to update your existing structures to meet them.

If you’re considering the addition of boat and RV storage, some jurisdictions may consider this to be a different building use or occupancy, apart from the storage of household goods. If your local zoning ordinances or building code is interpreted as such, rezoning or special-use permits may be required.

Also, confirm that the existing electrical service to the site is large enough to handle the power requirements for the new buildings. Water-service size and water pressure may need to be considered if additional fire-sprinkler protection will be required. Waste-line sizes may be affected if rest rooms are added.

If possible, find an alternate route for construction and delivery vehicles to access the site so they aren’t driving through the existing facility. You’re opening yourself up to a lot of liability when you expose current customers and their belongings to the possibility of “construction-related” damages.

Fence the outside perimeter of the construction site, and cut off access between the current facility and new construction area. Post the appropriate warnings and signage where they are visible to current customers.

Another consideration: Where are the new construction materials going to be stored? Is there adequate room for a secured “stack lot” of contractors’ and subcontractors’ trailers and materials? If not, the general contractor will need to carefully phase the delivery of materials based on available space. It’s often prudent to negotiate a deal with an adjoining property owner to use part of an empty lot or parking area during construction. However, in doing so, you’re adding them, their building, its contents and their customers to your list of liabilities.

Like a good neighbor, somebody is going to get upset. You may hear: “Your paint overspray got on my car,” “Your dust ruined my air-conditioning unit,” “The vibration from your equipment cracked my driveway,” “The noise is causing my dog, Fluffy, to have anxiety attacks,” and my all-time favorite, “You caused my roof to leak.” These may look like amusing little anecdotes but, believe it or not, these are actual complaints from neighbors of new construction sites. You can’t make everybody happy; do what you can to head it off, but just be ready.

The Good (It Could Also Happen)

In a perfect world, the developer, architect or engineer who originally submitted your project for approval also proposed a “master plan” indicating buildings that might be added in future phases. If so—and if the plan was approved at that time—you’re way ahead of the curve. If the future buildings were also considered when the power and utility services were designed, find these people and buy them a really big steak. Unfortunately, however, on Planet Construction, the world is usually not that perfect.

With the land already paid for and, hopefully, at least partially cleared and graded, your development and construction costs are going to look really good. Combined, this should make your pro forma very appealing to a financer.

It shouldn’t take much research to determine a unit mix for the new buildings. If your occupancy is to the point where you need more units, you should also be at a place where it’s pretty clear what sizes work in that particular market—and which ones to avoid.

All things considered, this is a really good time to build. Material prices are as low they’ve been in several years, and material supplies are abundant. Contractors and subs are not very busy and are looking for work that is ready to start. Most architects’ and engineers’ schedules and workloads are fairly light; no more waiting several months to be accommodated.

Money for new construction is definitely out there. If you’re unable to find it, call me. We’ve found resources putting together very agreeable deals for some of our more savvy developers.

Since you’ll already have experienced subs and installers on your site, this is a good time to talk to them about “those few repairs” on your existing buildings, the ones that have been nagging at you for some time. Remember, when prospective customers come to look at a new unit, the appearance and condition of the existing facility is going to affect their decision as well. Take this time and opportunity to make as many improvements to your existing facility as your budget will allow.

At the End of the Day—It Gets Dark?

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, author and philosopher Ayn Rand wrote, “By the essence and nature of existence, contradictions cannot exist. If you find one, check your premises, and you will find that one of them is wrong.” As I listen to “those who are supposed to know” tell me what I’m supposed to think about our economy, and then see how people are actually responding, there’s an obvious contradiction.

Wise developers, entrepreneurs and investors realize this is a great time to build. They’re finding new and creative ways to put deals together, and moving forward in spite of the downturn. The economy always has been and always will be cyclical, and they’re willing to risk that "We shall overcome," as has happened in history time and again.

It’s not going to be “those who are supposed to know” who bring us out of this financial crisis. It’s going to be the hard-working, clear-thinking, risk-taking, like-minded entrepreneurs who fight their way through this and win. I don’t agree the time of prosperity is over and things will never be like they were before. That is entirely up to us. Personally, I refuse to be a victim. How about you? Isn’t this a really great time to build?

L. Bruce McCardle is vice president of eastern division operations for Mako Steel Inc. Based in Carlsbad, Calif., Mako designs, supplies and installs steel buildings for the self-storage industry, including boat/RV storage, multi-story and custom buildings. For more information, call 800.383.4932; visit www.makosteel.com.

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U-Haul Parent Company Reports Losses

AMERCO, parent company of U-Haul International Inc., this week reported losses for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2009. Net earnings available to common shareholders for the year were $447,000, or $0.02 per share, compared with $54.8 million, or $2.78 per share, for the same period last year.
 
For the quarter ending March 31, the company reported a net loss to common shareholders of $38.5 million, or $1.99 per share, compared with a net loss of $17.3 million, or $.85 per share for the same period in 2008. Self-storage revenue for AMERCO's moving and storage segment increased $205,000 in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009 compared with the same period last year.
 
AMERCO held an investor call for the fiscal year 2009 on June 4. To hear a replay, visit www.amerco.com

In addition to U-Haul, AMERCO is the parent company of AMERCO Real Estate Co., Republic Western Insurance Co. and Oxford Life Insurance Co..
 
Source: Phoenix Business Journal, AMERCO Reports Fiscal 2009 Financial Results

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Boilini Joins BETCO as National Accounts Manager

Bob Boilini has joined BETCO Inc., a single-source manufacturer of self-storage building components, as national accounts manager. Boilini will apply his industry knowledge, experience and contacts to expand the company’s market share and help it maintain a leadership position in a changing business environment.
 
Boilini began his career in the metal-building industry in 1979 as an estimator for a pre-engineered metal-building manufacturer. Since then, he has worked in several aspects of the business, including steel building components and self-storage systems.

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