‘Tis the season to be jolly, but if you’re not effectively marketing during this historical slower season you might find a lump of coal in your bottom line at the end of the year.
There are a few effective marketing tips that have helped in years past, such as providing specials, hosting holiday parties and events for tenants, and supporting local charitable organizations.
The COVID-19 crisis may change up how you market during the holidays, but industry experts agree there are still things you can do to effectively market this year.
“I think especially this year during covid, we’re concentrating on more outside activities,” says M. Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training, and developmental services for Universal Storage Group in Atlanta, Ga. “Holiday and seasonal specials and decorating is something we always plan.”
Light It Up
While most facilities might not think about Thanksgiving as a major promotion time, Ballard says that’s when their holiday promotion begins.
“We might do a promotion that has the tag line, ‘Stuff yourself not your closets,’ in which we start offering specials for smaller units in which people can store Christmas gifts,” she says. “On top of it, we will give them a turkey and match each rental by giving a turkey to a local food bank or charity.”
The holiday season ramps up for Universal facilities by the day after Thanksgiving, when the facilities are expected to be decorated with lights for the holidays. “We want our managers to put up many white lights on their buildings and we give them the budget for it,” says Ballard. “They can put up multi-colored lights if they like, but white lights show up easier from the road.”
Using lighting during the darkest time of the year brings attention to facilities, especially the ones located in jurisdictions with many signage and lighting restrictions any other time of the year. “It helps bring attention and looks sparkly and appealing during the slowest time of the year,” Ballard says.
Some of Universal’s managers also add special displays such as using flag poles to run lights up and then pull them out, forming the appearance of a huge lighted Christmas tree. “They can also put up simple messages in lights on the side of the office, such as writing ‘Noel’ or ‘Ho Ho Ho,’” Ballard says. “The lights can also provide direction to customers calling on the phone, we can tell them ‘We’re the one with the lights.’”
Lights aren’t the only means of decorating. Some of Ballard’s managers put out displays, such as manger scenes or Santa sleighs. “It really depends on the road view,” she says.
Universal’s managers are not only provided with the budget to create eye-catching and creative lighting, they are given an incentive. Each facility is involved in a lighting competition in which they send three to five photos of their holiday light display. The marketing and training team at the corporate office then judges the winners, who receive a bonus. First place receives $500, second place $300, and third place $200. “Plus, they get bragging rights,” says Ballard.
Natolie Ochi, president of SKS Management, LLC, in Oakland, Calif., says another great attention grabber is putting up the giant blow-up displays. “Those are really eye-catching.” Giant blow-up decorations can be found for every major fall and winter holiday, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Donald Jones, owner of Donald Jones Consulting & Service, says blow-ups are a popular decorating tool that can be purchased or rented for the season. His managers will typically use the opportunity of the holidays to decorate the offices with angel trees, in which tenants can come in, pick an angel (child) from the tree, and buy a gift for the child. Many local and national non-profits organize angel tree drives during the holidays.
Charities Universal facilities help include The Marine Toys for Tots Program, Feeding America, and local charities such as Meals on Wheels.
The eye-catching lights and displays are just a part of holiday marketing. “In addition to the lights, our catch phrase is ‘Santa stores with us and so should you,’” says Ballard. “We get those real estate type yard signs and put them up along the property.”
Typically, the signs are printed in an eye-popping red background with white snowflakes. The tagline is in white as well and includes the phone number to the facility. The facilities offer specials on 5-by-5s and 5-by-10s from Black Friday through the end of December, with extended hours offered through that same time frame.
Once tenants have leased, they will also find a gift basket in their storage unit, which includes a Christmas ornament (or a chocolate bunny at Easter), and this year, a pair of rubber gloves, hand sanitizer, cleaner, large trash bag, and referral cards. “Those are there when they open their units,” says Ballard. “It is incredible customer service.”
Universal holds a lot of events on its properties each year that draw thousands of people who normally wouldn’t be on the property. Ballard notes that 23 percent of their overall leasing comes from repeat event and referral customers.
Although COVID has halted some of those events, Universal is still going to try to hold holiday events, including Santa’s Workshop, in which an empty or model unit is supplied with tables, giveaway pens, and all the wrapping supplies necessary to wrap presents.
“Due to COVID, we must limit the use to one person at a time this year, but we’re still planning on doing it,” says Ballard, who adds that free wrapping is a service that most stores don’t offer any longer. “If the facility is near a mall or strip mall, we can even print 11-by-17 fliers to advertise it. Some stores have contests among the retailers and the store with the most referrals will get a prize. This is a good way to generate more traffic in December.”
Other ideas include decorating a golf cart and having kids sit or stand away from Santa to get their photo taken. Santa can also provide a gift bag to the parents with goodies and referral cards.
Marketing The Marketing
However, none of the event marketing will be effective unless you also know how to effectively market the marketing events. “You have to market the heck out of it with press releases to all media, putting it on the website, Facebook, and all social media, as well as email blasts in plenty of time to get them to save the date,” says Ballard.
Planning is also key, which begins as soon as the holidays are over. “As soon as the holidays are over and everything is on sale, our smart managers are out buying their lights and building up their displays,” says Ballard.
Though it’s the season for festivities, Jones’ company tends to concentrate on their fiduciary responsibility to their clients more during the holidays. “We do love the holidays, but customers tend to be delinquent more often during that time,” he says.
They deal with those delinquencies by sending notices in Christmas envelopes since people are more likely to open it if they think it is a card and not a late-fee letter. “When they open it, they will get a notice, but we also tell them if they bring their account up to date, we will waive the late fees as sort of a gift,” says Jones.
Another holiday promotion Jones does is offer a holiday raffle entry to all customers who pay their current month’s rent before the second week of December. “We put the names in and draw for a big gift and the manager takes it to their home,” says Jones. One memorable winner was a woman with little financial means who cried when she won a big-screen television. “That is not only good for the customer but also for the manager who gets to experience some of that Christmas joy,” he says.
When thinking of any type of marketing during the holidays, you should remember that it’s your managers and staff who are ultimately responsible for the customer service they provide. “If your managers are happy, they will provide good customer service,” says Jones. One way his company does that is by providing paid time off on the major holidays.