Today’s self-storage operators are well-oiled, unit-slinging machines capable of generating a powerful revenue flow with the touch of a button. Their customer service is inspiringly effective yet never lacks that personal touch, and they possess organizational skills that would put Martha Stewart to shame.
How did these self-storage masters perfect their craft? What sacred arts have been passed down through the generations? There’s no mystifying trick; they simply take advantage of the technologies available to improve the customer experience.
While finding and renting a storage unit can take mere minutes for the end user, the processes that work together behind the scenes to streamline that experience are intricate and precise. The real magic lies in careful planning and efficient execution of modern technology. Let’s look at a few key tools being used today.
SEO and SEM
According to a study by Forrester, a market-research company that advises on the existing and potential impact of technology, 71 percent of consumers start their buying journey with a Web search, and 74 percent use search engine information when purchasing. That means nearly three quarters of your potential customers are already making judgements about your business before they even see your website. To make a good impression, you must first get your business in front of them. Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) complement each other and become crucial points in your business plan, as they ensure your presence isn’t lost in local search results.
SEO is an extremely broad subject with many aspects, but it focuses on the overall goal of reaching your desired audience though organic search. This includes but isn’t limited to on-page SEO, such as unique content with naturally flowing keywords, image optimization, and all manner of meta data, and off-page SEO, which includes local listings, backlinks and anything that speaks to a website's quality and authority. Basically, if you don't know your way around some code and understand what factors are important in this area, it's probably a good idea to let a professional assist.
SEM, on the other hand, refers to paid advertising results within search engines on a pay-per-click design. The most commonly recognized form is Google AdWords. Usually the first three results from a Google search, these customized ads appear marked with a small “ad” tag. Implementation of these tools involves a forgiving setup process and isn’t as expensive as you might think. They allow you to set budgets and bids at will for testing at an average cost per click between $1 and $2. In general, I consider SEM easy to learn but difficult to master. It’s worth considering.
So, now you have some tools in place to direct traffic to your website and you’re ready to be found by future renters. This brings us to your website itself.
The most important thing to remember is you only have a few seconds to grab peoples’ attention. In fact, Chartbeat, a content-intelligence company, looked at more than 2 billion visits across the Web and found that an astonishing 55 percent of searchers spent fewer than 15 seconds reading the pages on which they landed. This means you have an extremely short window in which to make an impression on your visitors and ensure any services you offer are readily available.
Integrating your website directly into your management software has become a standard within the self-storage industry and allows services tenants have come to expect. Luckily, most cloud-based software providers will manage this integration at little to no additional cost. These include online payments, reservations and rentals, all completed with an electronic signature. Once integrated, your software will update unit inventory and customer accounts in real time.
Because I’m a firm believer of providing consumers with as many options as possible, I strongly recommend you offer, at the least, a combination of online payments and reservations, or online payments and rentals, to give your visitors the opportunity to secure the unit they need quickly while avoiding the hassle of time-consuming, onsite data entry. Many studies have been done on the subject, and they’ve all shown today’s customers expect these options. If you’re reluctant to embrace them, you may be preventing your business from thriving.
Global Distribution System
Another fun acronym taking the self-storage industry by storm is GDS (global distribution system). This system of networks provides the end user with a series of services in a centralized location, allowing transactions to occur more easily. While seen often in other industries such as airlines and hospitality, GDS is quickly becoming a self-storage operator’s best friend by simplifying many business steps for operators and renters. Here’s an example:
- First, the GDS collects information on available storage units at your facility.
- Next, it distributes up-to-date information on this inventory across search engines and social media sites.
- At this point, customers who are looking for self-storage can search online and find the perfect storage unit at your facility.
- Once they’ve found what they’re looking for, GDS incentivizes them to purchase any storage- and moving-related add-ons you offer.
- The lease is signed digitally and e-mailed to the facility and customer, while your management software is automatically updated with the new tenant’s information.
The result? Increased profitability through higher occupancy with more upsells and a seamless customer experience. To further exemplify this, a 2017 study of the hotel industry showed GDS bookings increased by an astonishing 11.6 percent over the course of a year. They’re on the rise in many industries and will undoubtedly be prevalent in the increasingly technology-focused self-storage industry as well.
If you’re looking to fully automate a storage facility or simply want to offer customers another level of convenience and security, electronic locks are another asset to consider. Not only do these battery-independent tools allow for the 24/7 sale of units with instant access, they continuously monitor the status of the unit door, giving you more visibility into tenant behavior patterns and overall facility security. Directly integrated with your management software, these locks eliminate the need to manually overlock delinquent units and provide a truly automated solution for operators who like to work remotely.
From enhancing tenant conversion to driving operational efficiency, technology is helping self-storage operators rent units faster and bring in more revenue by keeping the customer journey within scope. While modern advancements continue to impact the storage industry, embracing the change will always lead to a beneficial outcome for you and your tenants.
Kevin Kerr is the marketing manager for Empower Software Technologies, a Murrieta, California-based supplier of the Storage Commander Web-based and onsite facility-management software. To reach him, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.storagecommander.com.