As a self-storage owner of more than 20 years, I understand what it’s like to compete with the real estate investment trusts and the other big guys in the industry. I’ve also learned what can set local owners apart from the competition. You don’t have to own hundreds of facilities to be successful if you’re willing to adopt technology.
Some operators may be hesitant to embrace new platforms and tools, but technology has expanded our reach and improved the way we do business. For example, if you’ve been in the storage industry a long time, you remember when our primary advertising method was the Yellow Pages. (No wonder so many facility names begin with the letter A!) Now that we have the Internet, marketing has expanded to include so much more. With Google and other search engines, users have almost limitless access to information. One simple search can yield thousands of results.
We don’t have to understand everything about how technology works to know that it produces results. Let’s explore a few key platforms that are positively impacting the industry today.
Revenue-management software can help you with dynamic pricing for your self-storage facilities, just like the hotels and airlines use. Having software that can automatically recognize when you’re low on specific unit sizes and types and charge the customer more for those spaces can mean thousands of additional dollars over the course of a year. If you’re not using dynamic pricing, you’re missing out on potential revenue that will go straight to your bottom line.
Another thing you must have to compete in the storage industry today is a responsive Web design. People search for self-storage on their mobile devices now more than ever. If your website isn’t optimized for this shift, you may lose business to a competitor who has adopted this technology.
We’ve all heard the importance of having a business Facebook page, but let me tell you why an up-to-date page is important in self-storage. When I do staff interviews with Millennial candidates, I learn how they’re using social media. I was surprised to discover they use Facebook to get information about a company as often or more frequently than they use Google. They look to Facebook to find businesses in their area, hours of operation and phone numbers. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your facility, you may be losing the younger generations as customers.
Many consumers are reading online reviews on Facebook, Yelp and other websites to make decisions about whether a business is trustworthy. Self-storage operators are sometimes scared of online reviews because these platforms feel out of their control. However, if you get someone who knows what they’re doing to manage your profiles and write a professional response to every review—positive or negative—you’ll be able to interact with customers in a way that protects your business. At my facilities, we’ve even had customers remove negative reviews after we professionally and kindly responded to their criticism because they were satisfied with our reply.
If you have more positive reviews than negative, you’ll always be a step ahead of your competition, no matter how large or small your facility. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your best customers to leave you a review! Often, they’ll gladly write one for you.
Another technology making a difference in self-storage is the online auction platform. Instead of standing outside in the rain or summer heat hoping someone shows up to your live lien sales, you can list your sale online from the comfort of your office. Online platforms allow you to hold auctions more regularly, with any number of units, and achieve better recovery rates for your business. You can also market your events to a larger audience of bidders.
With online lien sales, there are no more chaotic auction days, no more crowds on your property with trailers filling your parking lot, no trash to clean up. Your success is no longer dependent on the weather. Bidders can come from farther away and only need to drive to your site if they’ve won a unit. They can also view unit photos and research items in advance of bidding. This gives them time to form an emotional attachment to a sale, which means they bid higher amounts and you can recover more revenue.
Whether we like it or not, technology is here to stay. We don’t have to understand everything about it to realize its potential. I don’t know how my iPhone takes better pictures than most cameras and is small enough to fit into my pocket, but I like that it does. Why not give various platforms and tools a try and see the results for yourself?
Lonnie Bickford has developed and owned five Appletree Storage facilities in Greater Baton Rouge, La., and is a board member of the Louisiana Self Storage Association, where he’s worked closely with the national Self Storage Association to make changes to the state’s lien law. He’s also the founder of StorageAuctions.com, a provider of online self-storage auction services. For more information, phone 866.944.8530; e-mail email@example.com; visit www.storageauctions.com.