Using Marketing To Generate Awareness
Marketing in any business is both a necessity and a potential pitfall. While required to achieve success, the goal of increased business will not be met if it’s not executed properly. And ineffective implementation will result in a net loss if it’s an especially costly initiative. With this warning in mind, it’s especially important to get it right. Find a winning blueprint, study it thoroughly, and go about it like a pro.
Incorporating powerful strategies to snare new customers is a bit like hitting a moving target. As novel ideas are tested and adopted they become familiar to more people and eventually lose their distinction of being creative or “out of the box.”
The inherent realities about the self-storage industry can present other difficulties. According to Steve Mirabito, president of Storage Pro Management in Walnut Creek, Calif., self-storage is a commodity customers will access out of necessity. That is, it serves strictly a need, not a want. Also, once a facility is constructed it remains at the mercy of its location—for better or worse.
“Site selection is absolutely crucial,” says Mirabito. “A facility must be conveniently located for its intended clientele, which means being near a community’s major commuting routes.”
Despite these limitations, there are plenty of stimulating ideas owners and managers can try with the ultimate goal of boosting sales and profits through improved occupancy. Best of all, many can be implemented at little cost.
Build Your Brand
Anne Ballard of Universal Storage Group in Atlanta, Ga., is a fountain of enthusiasm when it comes to marketing her properties. Her company manages more than 35 properties throughout the eastern U.S., most of which are concentrated in the South. Each site has an average of 538 units, slightly above the national average of 400. Although her company does own a few of these locations, most are retained by independent owners; therefore, the various brands apply to just one site.
For this reason, building and sustaining brand recognition is crucial. Ballard explains that each of her managers is required to spend considerable time “on the street” engaging in activities to promote awareness their property. Typically this is done by paying courtesy calls to businesses in related trades such as moving companies and real estate agencies. Leaving “goody bags” stuffed with personal items to pass onto those businesses’ customers piggybacks on their “meet and greet” marketing efforts. And of course, each item in the goody bag identifies the self-storage property.
With this type of arrangement, if a prospect is satisfied with the service rendered by Sunset Realtors, for example, they’ll look toward West Side Storage to park their furniture while they wait to move into their new home. A more formal version of this arrangement would be to create an “affiliate program” where an owner/manager can offer a referral fee corresponding to a percentage of the business an associate provides.
Ballard’s managers are also expected to make their sites visible by hosting special events. The ideas are almost endless, but a few examples include charity fundraisers, meetings for business networking groups, and holiday parties for locals.
The key is visibility, Ballard explains. “The more a facility can capitalize on its location and show itself off, the more passersby will notice it and remember it in the future.” Offering new customers free use of the company truck—emblazoned with hard to miss advertising—also builds visibility.
Holidays offer an opportunity to present existing customers with simple gifts such as Christmas ornaments, coffee mugs or drink tumblers, and baseball caps. Of course, any item should be adorned with the facility’s logo. This idea serves the twofold purpose of demonstrating customer appreciation and building brand awareness. Another community-based strategy is to maintain memberships in local Chambers of Commerce and business networking groups.
Ballard also stresses the importance of maintaining positive curb appeal. “Fresh paint and landscaping will make your facility stand out from its surroundings and make it more likely to catch a prospect’s eye.”
Widen Your Web Presence
Maurice Pogoda, CEO of Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Pogoda Companies, is a longtime industry veteran. His companies own and/or manage dozens of properties in Michigan and Ohio; the company also provides consulting services to prospective new owners.
A facility owner since 1987, Pogoda has seen the dynamics of self-storage marketing change considerably over the years. When he began, optimally placed Yellow Pages ads were key. With technology and the marketplace now much more complex, Pogoda says that “every effort must be made to stay in front of the prospective customer.” This includes having a substantive web presence (website and social media) optimized for favorable rankings on the major search engines.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a constantly evolving field due to the fact that Google and other major search engines frequently modify their ranking algorithms. Keeping current often requires the services of an in-house webmaster. As technology has taken on a more central role in the operation of any business, many managers have integrated the associated costs into their business plan. A potentially less costly option might be a qualified outside firm.
Web advertising (on social media, blogs, or other online venue) can be both effective and economical. Advertisers can sign up under a “pay-per-click” model that only charges when a visitor actually clicks on the advertisment.
A strong social media presence is equally essential. While it’s clearly a given that each facility should have a dedicated Facebook page and Twitter account, it’s important to recognize the two-way nature of social media. “Liking” other Facebook pages is the best way to receive the same in turn. Pogoda recommends sending out frequent “tweets” to maintain the attention of your followers.
Pogoda’s company also publishes a periodic e-newsletter informing members of the community (not just current patrons) of upcoming special events and offers such as paying a finder’s fee to anyone who provides a referral that leads to a new customer. Ultimately, however, operators need to realize that the self-storage industry offers a need-based service.
“People don’t drive by a facility and think, ‘Wow, I have to store my stuff there,’” says Pogoda. To snare the client, he explains, the basic formula is to have an attractive facility which is well located, clean, and brightly lit. “In the end, it’s really that simple.”
Lastly, remember to coordinate your total marketing efforts (online and offline) into an overall plan. Aim each effort to a distinctly different audience to avoid overlapping or wasted efforts. Remember, in the end marketing is your way of playing the numbers game. The more people know about your establishment, the more prospects you’ll receive and, ultimately, the more business you’ll acquire.
Paul Vachon is a freelance writer and editor based in Detroit. He is the author of four books and has contributed to publications such as Pacific Standard, Preservation, HOUR Detroit, Michigan History, and Costco Connection.