There’s a saying that “nothing is free.”
In these trying times, self-storage owners are trying to find ways to save money. While there are certain things owners/operators shouldn’t cut corners on, there are a few tricks that can get you free and low-cost marketing.
- The most effective marketing is your brand: Building and maintaining your brand is an on-going process. This includes ensuring your facility is clean and well maintained and that your staff is fully trained in customer service. Requiring your managers to walk the property at least once a day with a clipboard to take notes of anything that might need improving makes them appear professional to customers who are on the property. As they are walking the property, they should be acknowledging customers and inquiring about their needs. At the same time, they can be picking up litter, including cigarette butts.
“Managers should also have a positive attitude about helping people through this time,” says Carol Mixon, president of SkilCheck Services, Inc., in Marana, Ariz. “There have been a lot of people who have passed away during the pandemic and who have lost their jobs. This is a good time to be helpful, compassionate, and caring.”
Become a member of the community: While it may cost a little money to join local organizations such as a chamber of commerce, it is well worth it, says Ann Parham, CEO of The Parham Group in Bulverde, Texas. “Participate and become someone people in the community know and recognize,” says Parham.
“You can also join local neighborhood groups and join or become a member of the board,” says Mike Feuti, a senior marketer with Creative Storage Marketing, which works with Pogoda Companies in Farmington Hills, Mich.
- Become involved in philanthropic activities: Another way to become involved in the community and get the facility’s name out there is to help local charities or assist with fundraising drives. “We actually have a manager that serves on the board of the local senior center,” says Parham. “When everyone who has contact with the center thinks about self-storage, they reference our facility.” Facilities can also donate units to the local high school sports teams, which may provide a banner ad at their stadiums. Clothing, food, and toy drives are win-win options as they encourage people to come to your facility and drop off items to help those in need. If there is a fundraiser for a local charity or individual, you might be able to offer the parking lot for the event, which will bring people to the facility as well.
- Business-to-business marketing: Many managers know that reaching out to apartment and condo managers, homeowners associations, contractors, medical facilities, and other offices that keep records is a primary marketing tool. However, the pandemic may have cooled those efforts. Universal Storage Group in Atlanta, Ga., has its managers continuing their efforts by low to no contact sales with other businesses via telephone. M. Anne Ballard, vice president of marketing, training, and developmental services for USG says their managers will also ask to drop off a small gift basket that also contains marketing materials and referral cards. “Apartment managers typically always appreciates a pizza, too” says Ballard.
- Post ads on local sites: “Post an ad on your local Craigslist; it’s free,” suggests Ken Morrison, CEO for StoragePRO Management in Walnut Creek, Calif. “We do it one or two times a day and we get referrals.” Also, check for your local groups on Facebook, which typically allow businesses to post about their services.
- Use the media: Feuti saysone of the best kept secrets to get free press is called Help a Reporter Out, which is a query service allowing experts in a field to connect with the media who are on deadline for stories. Sign up on the website as an expert, receive three query newsletters per day, and watch for reporters seeking experts in self-storage, moving, retail, or more detailed expertise in HVAC, lighting, making a store safe, etc.
Feuti also advises to send out press releases informing the media of any events being held at your facility, as well as any major upgrades, additions, or renovations.
- Maximize social media: “Posting on Facebook and other social media is free,” says Parham. “We post a lot of photos.” Different social media platforms work better in different areas, so you will have to test each platform if you’re new to social media. Facebook is one of the biggest platforms. You can pre-schedule posts on most platforms (including cross posting). Just make sure you’re not overwhelming your audience with too many posts. Three times a week or up to once a day is recommended. Post things of interest to the community. Social media is mean to be social, so you don’t want to come at your customers with the hard sell. The idea is to get your name out there.
Morrison also recommends setting up a blog on your website that offers customers interesting informational articles on such topics as moving, packing, looking for pet sitters in a new area, etc.
- Claiming your free listings: Each business with an online presence also has a Google and Yelp listing that is free to claim. As you are claiming your listings, you should cross check to ensure your name, address, and phone number is consistent across all platforms, including your website and social media. For example, if you have a facility located on South 49th Street, it should read the same on all online platforms, not S. 49th St. on some.
- Ensure your customers are reviewing you online: “This can be a game changer,” says Feuti, who explains that 80 percent of consumers look for a review online before making a buying decision. “You want to have good reviews, so train managers to ask customers to give them, but remember, you cannot offer anything for those reviews.” Conversely, if you have a negative review, do not ignore it. Politely address the issue publicly, explain how it is being resolved, and invite the reviewer to contact you with any further questions. Never engage in a negative way; this will show others you care when there are issues.
- Hosting events: Universal Storage Group is well known for its facilities hosting many events per year, including events for Memorial and Independence Day, Halloween, and Christmas. While the pandemic has slowed the company’s hosting, they are adapting, making the events socially distanced (drive-thru trick or treat and online costume contests), photos with children standing at the end of Santa’s sleigh, etc. These events bring people to your physical location or website who may not have visited otherwise and helps with brand recognition.
Another way Parham’s managers get out there is to decorate their golf carts and enter them in local parades.
Ask For Suggestions
According to Feuti, another good way to market for free is to email a questionnaire to tenants at least twice a year asking for their opinion on how your facility might improve. This may call attention to issues of which you weren’t aware; simultaneously, it will build good will with your current tenants who will then be more inclined to stay and refer their family and friends to the facility.