Being part of your local community isn’t just a nice thing to do, in these times, it's a necessity if you want your facility to stand out from your competition. Communities are starting to understand self-storage as it evolves and becomes ever more visible on Main Street USA.
We're all more Internet-savvy, but sometimes your Web presence is all customers know about you. As paid advertising becomes more costly, it might be time to step back and focus on really connecting with your market. Instead of thinking about “driving customer traffic,” let’s try BIP (bringing in people). For starters, even the words have a more customer-friendly sound.
Everybody is trying to BIP. We need to work on BIP at all levels. Yellow Pages and drive-bys still reign as the king and queen of BIP, but their son, the Internet, is growing quickly. The one that we should be nursing now is our connection with the community.
Bringing in People
Good property managers know the value of a close relationship with their communities and are active in their local chamber of commerce, and post fliers and business cards around town. Then there are the great managers, those who leverage their marketing skills into community events that bring people to them.
Edie Nesbitt, property manager for Shepherd Self-Storage in Boardman, Ohio, understands this well. Nesbitt uses her contacts and background as an event planner to plan a health fair every spring.
The facility, a converted Sam’s Club, had some unused retail space that owner Joe Sylvester was able to turn into a nice room for the health fair. Nesbitt arranged to have about 30 vendors from the medical field display their wares. Some were in a retail space and some were set up in storage units. There were light refreshments, and the day brought new people that ordinarily wouldn’t think to visit a storage facility. Many toured the facility, heard about its many features and even got to know the staff.
Shepherd Self-Storage is also known for its expansive parking lot. During the summer, 300 to 400 hot rods of all ages and styles are on display for the Valley Cruzers weekly car cruise. This year, Nesbitt plans to host a home and garden show and a “RibFest,” complete with bands, games and concessions.
Joyce Stiles, property manager for Southside Storage in Leesburg, Fla., is planning to host a chamber of commerce business-to-business event that will introduce the community to the storage facility. Stiles is also partnering with a nearby high school to host a carwash fundraiser this spring. The facility also participated in the Florida Self Storage Association’s Toys for Tots promotion during the holidays.
Another facility took advantage of the holidays to BIP. Doug Williams, an employee at Grand Slam Storage Center in St. Louis, Mo., donned a Santa suit, while co-worker Kimberly Martinez snapped photos of him posing with kids in the neighborhood. Another employee, Glynes Jordan, gave parents a facility tour, handed out coupons and registered people to win prizes in a drawing.
Something to Talk About
Using your space and facility to host special events in your community is a great way to BIP. These events allow folks to visit you for a reason that is, in some cases, completely unrelated to renting a self-storage unit. This is the ultimate in word-of-mouth advertising. First, a self-storage facility may be viewed as an unusual place to hold community events so people will surely talk about it to their friends, family and co-workers.
Also, many of your visitors likely have never even visited a self-storage facility before. If your facility is top-notch, you will fair favorably to what they imagined a storage facility would look like. This will also have them talking. Lastly, for those who have rented a storage unit before, you will likely compare favorably as well, and they will talk about it.
The point is to get the community talking about your event and, therefore, talking about you. If you do not have a large parking lot for a hot rod show, what then? Events don’t need to be grandiose, but they do need to attract people. Develop community events based on the size, location and attributes of your facility.
For example, a facility with a fortress-style design sectioned off a wall and invited art students from a nearby high school to submit mural art. The students got a canvas, the wall became community art and people slowed down to look. BIP!
Get to Know Your Customers
To turn visitors into tenants, you need to collect data. Ask event attendees to sign in, register or provide contact information. This will help you develop a database for a mailing list, auction bidders, etc. Having a drawing for door prizes is a fun way to collect that information. Be prepared with brochures, coupons or other materials about the facility.
You don’t need to host a community event at your facility to get involved, either. If your facility doesn’t have room for a large number of guests at one time, consider other opportunities, such as sponsoring a local sports league. Often the team will add your facility’s logo to team shirts or banners. Or offer to buy the team pizzas and sodas after a game.
Gene Wise, manager at Shepherd Self Storage, recently manned a table at an Air Force base open house, which had more than 36,000 attendees. Wise had plenty of coupons and facility brochures on hand.
How about sponsoring breakfast or refreshments for a networking club, a realtor meeting, rotary club or other community organization? Few will refuse your coupons and brochures when a box of Krispy Kreme donuts is in the balance.
Where can you participate in community events set up by someone else? Do you have a truck with your logo and website that can be used to deliver or pick up items for an event, or deliver food to the homeless during the holidays? These types of special events are still “BIP,” you just won’t be able to quantify it as well.
Becoming an integral and evident part of your local community is a great way to enhance business and BIP within your local target market area. When putting your marketing plan together this year, look for opportunities to get involved in your community.
Making quality relationships with your business neighbors, family neighbors and other community members goes a long way toward establishing your self-storage business as a key player in the community. And those relationships will last as long as your facility does.
Linnea Appleby is president of PDQ Management Solutions Inc. in Sarasota, Fla. The company provides full-service storage facility management, consulting, new facility startup services, auditing, management training and more. For more information, call 941.377.3151; visit www.pdqmanagementsolutions.com.