Published in Storage NOW – by John Gilliland
Your store was one of the first built in the area. Everybody knows you and knows where you are located. Historical occupancy has been in the 95%+ range. Now, all of a sudden, a couple of new facilities have been built in town, in better locations than yours and with all the bells and whistles. What do you do? Hopefully, you had some advance warning that the competition was coming and you had time to prepare (calling the local municipalities every quarter to inquire whether any new self storage developments were being proposed and looking at their plans since this is public information is one way to do this.)
Now that you find your store is in a competitive environment, let’s look at your two key areas.
The first impression a customer gets of your property is the overall general aesthetic appearance – it’s the buildings, the landscaping, the cleanliness and the signage. Many stores that have been around for over ten years look their age. Corners of buildings are dented, trees have overgrown the signage, the paint is faded and there are a few potholes in the back driveway. To compete with the new properties for new tenants and to keep your existing customers content, you must keep your property fresh and well maintained. Most improvements that are needed are cosmetic and do not require a lot of capital investment. What is needed is the attention to the details. Let’s look at the most common areas that could use a little sprucing up.
First, look at the parking lot. Is the pavement in good repair? Are the lines and curbs freshly painted? Make sure your parking space bumpers are not cracked and are in alignment.
Is the landscaping well tended? The trees and shrubs should be well trimmed and not blocking any signage. Add color in the summer to brighten things up. Plant some flowers if you can. Make sure there are no bare areas that the sprinklers have missed.
If you have not changed your signage in 10 years, consider replacing the faces or have it repainted to give your property an updated look.
Do the buildings themselves need to be painted? Can you change the color? Is your color out-dated? How about the doors? A product like Everbrite will do wonders for older faded doors. Repair any dings and dents in the metal buildings. The gate should not have any dents in it and should function properly. Make sure you repair any damage from winter snow plowing. Use bollard covers or freshly paint them every six months.
The office shows its age after only a few years due to the amount of traffic it receives. A fresh coat of paint and carpet will do miracles. Check the smell the next time you walk in. Is it pleasant and inviting? Real estate agents say that the smell of fresh baked cookies or popcorn puts the potential customer in a good frame of mind. Check to see that the light bulbs are working and burn bright. Rearrange your retail displays once a quarter to give a fresh new look. Many of the new properties have offices of 1,000 square feet or more. You may want to consider taking over the unit next door and expanding your retail area if you are in cramped quarters.
Trash is the easiest maintenance item to maintain, but it is often overlooked. Periodically pick up the trash on the outside of the fence and on your roof as well. Replace any burned out or dim lights in the hallways. Drive through your property at night to look for any areas that do not have adequate lighting. Repair any fence damage. Your customers will be less likely to destroy or deface your property if it is kept in excellent condition.
The addition of security features may need to be added to compete with the new properties. Key pad operated gates, surveillance cameras, individual door alarms are the most common used in our industry. Survey your competition and attend a trade show to see the latest and greatest in this area.
How does one approach the subject of how your manager looks and dresses. Proper grooming and a friendly manner make that manager a great asset. Look to buy your manager shirts with the facility name on them for that polished, professional look.
After you’ve spruced everything up, look at new flags and banners to attract attention to your property. Temporary yard signs announcing specials and the fact that you offer packing and moving supplies are great inducements to get people to stop. Reader boards, both permanent and movable, work well to get your message to passers-by.
If after you’ve done all of this and you still feel your facility is going to have trouble competing, contact a local architect for a new design retrofit of your store and front area. With new materials out these days, you may find retrofitting in another color and a few architectural re-designs may give your facility a new fresh appeal.
Most stores have a plan in place whether written or by default. I highly advise you to write down your plan and tie it to your annual operating budget. This will help you look at the overall plan and get the most bang for your buck.
Most owners spend 90% of their self storage marketing budget on Yellow Pages. Despite all owners’ wishes, this is still the number one source of business after drive-bys. It is expensive and the rates go up each year. Some owners who have achieved stabilized occupancy, reduce or eliminate their ads. But remember, even those who say they found you by driving past the store still referred to the Yellow Pages for the phone number. Change your ad every year to give your facility a new face.
Brochures are an important part of any self storage marketing plan. Update yours. If you don’t feel you can do it, contact a local graphic artist whose work you have admired and spend a few dollars on getting a professional appearance. You don’t need a four-color brochure in most markets, unless you are competing with some huge facilities. You should give your brochure to all of your potential customers and have them available after hours in a box outside your office. Your manager can also market with the brochure by visiting all of the businesses within a 2-mile radius of the store and giving them a copy for future reference. Make sure you also have a copy that is faxable. Offer to fax a brochure to those who inquire about leasing a room. Brochures can also be placed in the offices of apartment and modular housing communities. Reward the managers of those communities for referring business to you with a cash bonus or gift certificate. Inexpensive cardboard or acrylic brochure holders can be purchased and supplied to make it easier for your materials to be displayed.
Postcards/Value Paks are another direct marketing tool to get your name in front of homeowners/renters. A small printing company may be able to obtain a local database, print the postcards, print the addresses, use their bulk mail permit number and send it out at less cost than you doing it yourself. There are national firms that do this kind of relatively inexpensive marketing, too.
Websites are one of the newest marketing tools at our disposal. A simple one or two page site that mirrors your brochure is fine for most stores. If you are located in an urban area or near a college you may want to consider a more elaborate, interactive site to attract the upscale users. Site design starts at about $250 for a basic 2-page layout. Hosting fees have really been dropping with many options priced at less than $10 per month.
You may want to advertise in the local free newspaper. Joining and participating in the local chamber of commerce is always helpful, especially for those long-term business tenants.
Community and charitable events are a great way to help others and expose your property to potential customers. You may want to be a drop-off point for Toys for Tots or provide organizations with space for such causes as the tsunami relief effort. How about hosting a haunted house at Halloween or an annual yard sale for the community? Keeping up with the local news and offering a month’s free rent to fire victims or other disaster-related needs is commendable. A free unit to the local boy scout troop and police station are also win-win propositions.
Grand re-openings and press releases about new products and services you offer can get you free press in the local newspapers and news channels. Send out a press release that you hired a new manager or promoted your existing one. It would go in the business section, and it’s all about free press and name recognition and retention.
Commercial users like Frito-Lay, Little Debbie, Mac Tools and others frequently use self storage for their operations. Contact their corporate offices or talk to the route salesperson the next time you see them at your local convenience store and ask who to talk to about renting space to them.
Friendly competitors can bring business into your store as well. If your competitor is out of a certain unit size, they can refer that customer to you and vise versa, of course. College housing offices are a great source of customers. Most will take your brochures and pass them out to any student or new faculty member who needs space. Sometimes the college itself will rent from you.
Have you ever thought about marketing to your own tenants? They may not know about your moving and packing supplies. Do they have a need for one of your climate controlled units? Maybe they need more space or know of someone who does. A coupon mailed to them may be enough enticement to get them to make a referral. How about making an offer to sign them up for automatic credit card billing? Research shows that tenants who use credit card billing stay longer, and there is nothing like hitting the send key each month on your computer and having thousands of dollars transfer into your account!
How do you know if your self storage marketing plan is working? Obviously if your facility is full at market rental rates, you are doing something right. But you may not need to spend as much money to achieve the same results. You should survey each of your customers as they rent space from you. A ten question survey is easy to fill out and doesn’t take a lot of time. You can ask them to do it while you enter their information into the computer. It is harder, but surveying your departing tenants will also provide you with great insights into how you did in providing a service to your customer.
So take the time to spruce up your facility. It is well worth it. Drive-by impressions of your facility do count. Cleanliness of the whole look makes people feel secure that their prized possessions are being taken care of. Think of the total make-over package that you could do to your facility like they do in Extreme Makeover and then scale it back to what is reasonable for you to achieve within your budget. Your new makeover look can ensure your future profits.