In October of 2022, Netflix released a new TV series just in time for Halloween. Guillermo del Toro’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” was well received by horror fanatics, receiving a “fresh” score of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but its first episode, “Lot 36,” may have set the self-storage industry’s image back several decades.
“Lot 36,” which primarily takes place at a scruffy self-storage facility during George Bush’s presidency (between 1989 and 1993), paints a pretty grisly picture of self-storage and the auctions that result from “death, divorce, or debt,” as the crooked manager/auctioneer informs bidders. From a dingy building in desperate need of renovations, with peeling paint, rusty fixtures, cruddy floors, leaking pipes, and dark hallways that require customers to turn dials for timed lighting, to the corrupt property manager who pockets a portion of the auction proceeds and fails to notify a delinquent tenant that her unit is being sold, to the shocking and diabolical contents of unit 36, the show doesn’t skimp on sensational material that could easily sully the industry’s reputation.
What are self-storage owners and operators to do? Although it’s unlikely that you can prevent self-storage from being misrepresented in the media/entertainment industry, here are three tried-and-true tactics for maintaining (or improving) your facility’s image while simultaneously polishing the public’s perception of self-storage.
- Focus on curb appeal. First impressions matter, and they tend to last. Therefore, do your best to view your self-storage facility with an unbiased eye. Some industry professionals suggest photographing the property in both the daytime and at night for a more accurate picture of what potential customers see when they pass by the facility.
Could your property (interior and exterior) use a fresh coat of paint or a good cleaning? Is the landscaping up to snuff, overgrown, or dying? Are the roll-up doors faded or rusted? Do burned out lights need to be replaced? What about the parking lot? Does it have potholes, cracks, or litter? Should the bollards be replaced? Do the parking space lines need to be repainted? Is there a tattered flag still waving on the flagpole? Is the signage up to date? Are the fence and gates in good condition? Are the gutters free of debris? Are there any maintenance issues that need to be addressed, such as roof leaks or broken doors? Is the dumpster overflowing with trash? Anything you find during your examination should be resolved as quickly as possible.
Tending to your facility’s curb appeal is a continuous job, so be sure to thoroughly inspect the property on a regular basis to catch problematic items that may not be visible year-round, such as icicles or standing water. You may also want to add extra curb appeal based on the season or holiday by decorating the property with lights, flags, banners, and/or flowers that coincide with the occasion.
If you or your manager(s) don’t have the time nor skills necessary to keep the site looking its best, consider hiring some extra help. These days, it’s not uncommon for self-storage companies to have landscapers, cleaning crews, or maintenance personnel on their payroll. Remember: Whether you choose to do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you, the goal is to generate a good first impression. And that impression should be that your facility is the cleanest and safest self-storage place in town.
- Be consistent. According to the Oxford dictionary, consistency is “conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.” When dealing with the public, it is important to be consistent with your business practices and your brand.
Why? There are several answers to that question. For starters, having consistency with your procedures can minimize errors, eliminate uncertainty, and streamline operations. Additionally, being consistent with your policies builds both trust and integrity. As a business, you should avoid favoritism and aim to treat each customer with the same level of respect. This is especially important when it comes to charging late fees and enforcing the facility’s rules. A quick way to tarnish your reputation is to make exceptions for some customers and not others.
Moreover, unlike the manager in “Lot 36,” it is imperative that you and your manager(s) consistently follow your state’s lien laws before, during, and after an auction. In that show, he neglected to update the tenant’s address and phone number and sent the notice to an old address. He also served as the auctioneer for the facility’s auctions, which may be considered a conflict of interest to some. To ensure that you are following your state’s lien laws and presenting your facility in professional manner, it may be best to hire a self-storage auctioneer or utilize a self-storage auction website.
As for your brand, consistency is key to build brand recognition. Be sure to use your brand’s logo, color, slogan, and website on all your promotional materials. If your business has a set of core values that it follows, communicate them so both prospective and existing tenants can get behind them as well.
- Be a good neighbor. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to be a valued member of your community. First of all, many industry professionals recommend joining the local chamber of commerce. This is more than a marketing tactic used to secure new rentals; it is a networking opportunity that can generate positive publicity for your facility and reinforce your image. By hosting events for the organization, such as after-hours cocktail receptions or luncheons, community members can see your site for themselves, conclude that your facility is indeed a clean and safe place to store belongings, and suggest your self-storage site to acquaintances who need extra space.
In addition to chamber events, consider hosting community events for the same reason. There are plenty of low-cost options that could be beneficial to your business and brand, such as yard sales, customer appreciation days, pie eating contests on Pi Day, Easter egg hunts, car washes, or even simply setting up nice backdrops for spring formal photos. Look to your calendar and your specific community for inspiration.
Keep in mind that part of being a good neighbor is supporting your local community. You certainly don’t have to help every charity or organization that requests aid; instead, choose to support a few causes that either align with your brand’s values or tug at your heartstrings. Offering free storage space or free usage of a moving truck are two simple ways to assist nonprofit organizations with their various collection drives. If you have a large parking lot, consider allowing organizations to hold their blood drives, car washes, bake sales, etc., on your site.
Last but not least, take the time to build rapport with local law enforcement. By allowing them to stop in for a free cup of coffee or train their K-9s on your property, you are helping them while sending a message to customers, as well as would-be criminals, that the men in blue are looking out for you.
Spread The Word!
Whether you’re making facility upgrades or hosting a special event, don’t forget to toot your own horn a little bit. In other words, be sure to inform the local media about your facility and how it is an upstanding part of the community it serves by sending press releases before and after your news happens.
Individual self-storage facilities may not be able to change how self-storage is portrayed in the entertainment industry, but they can most definitely influence their own image within their immediate market area. By establishing a positive brand image, self-storage facilities generate customer loyalty, and those customers feel good about renting from reputable storage businesses. Then, hopefully they’ll share their storage stories with others.
Self-Storage In Cinema
Self-storage has made brief appearances in several movies and TV shows, including an infamous scene in the cult classic “Silence of the Lambs.” If you’re interested in watching a horror flick that revolves around self-storage, check out one of these titles:
- “The Hoarder” (2015)
- “Blood Shed” (2014)
- “Self Storage” (2013)
- “Storage 24” (2012)
Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, Self-Storage Canada, and MiniCo Publishing’s annual Self-Storage Almanac.