What’s the best way to boost the occupancy at your self-storage facility?
We put this question to three industry veterans: Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training and developmental services at Universal Storage Group, a storage operator; Jim Chiswell, a storage consultant; and Marc Goodin, a storage operator and consultant. Here are their 10 tips to help vanquish your vacancies.
1. Know your competition.
If you don’t know what the other guy is selling, you’re at a competitive disadvantage. “Our managers have to have personally visited every competitor,” Ballard said. “They then make a chart of how we compare to others. Those are tools we have that our competitors don’t.”
2. Follow five simple steps to more sales.
Goodin requires his managers to do these five things. If you do the same, he said you’ll double your profit.
- Be the first to say hello to the customer. “Retail studies show that customers buy 20 percent more if the employee says hello first,” he said.
- Introduce yourself and ask, “What’s your name?” Then use the customer’s name in conversation.
- Shake hands with the customer. “You have to build trust,” he said.
- Immediately walk the customer to a unit. “In 10 minutes, you can build that trust,” Goodin said. “Don’t ask them; just walk while you talk.”
- Ask the “duh” question. “People don’t just ‘look’ for self-storage; they’re there to rent,” he said. “But so often, we fail to ask, ‘Would you like to rent?’”
3. Don’t compete on price.
“You cannot drive demand for storage. No matter how cheap you make it, that won’t create more customers,” Ballard said.
And take down those “One month free” signs. “The REITs have to do that; the rest of us shouldn’t be doing that,” Goodin said. “You’ll rent more units if you get rid of that sign.”
4. Don’t cut your rents–raise them!
“Managers who focus solely on occupancy think they’re losing rents based on price, so they lower the price and start a downward profit cycle, to where one day they’re at 95 percent occupancy and they’re still not making any money,” Goodin said. “The fallacy is, you never want to be at 95 percent occupancy; that means your price is too low. If you want to raise occupancy, it has to be at premium rent.”
5. Evaluate your manager.
Chiswell has one condition before he’ll audit a facility: The owner must be willing to fire the manager, if necessary. “Walt Disney said it best: ‘You can build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.’”
6. Establish a community identity.
“If you have not done any marketing and you’re not participating in your community by hosting holiday events, yard sales, charity fundraisers or other special events, people won’t think of you when the need arises,” Ballard said. “We like to be well-planted in the community so that we get not only our share but maybe somebody else’s share, too.”
7. Solicit referrals.
Repeats and referrals are the least expensive customers to attract. “When they rent, give them two referral cards; they get $30 and the friend they refer gets $30. Every time they pay their rent, give them two more referral cards,” Goodin said. “If you don’t look for referrals, you don’t get referrals.”
8. Don’t sell what you don’t have.
“Only market what you have vacant,” Ballard said. “Don’t be out there wasting time and money marketing what you don’t have in inventory.”
9. Wow your customers.
How? Goodin grows hundreds of tulips at his property in Canada and gives a couple of them to every customer who walks through.
“Even the guys, we ask them, ‘How many girlfriends do you have?’ They smile,” Goodin said. “People at a self-storage facility are often in transition from triggered events that aren’t happy ones, so we put a little smile on their face by giving them a tulip.”
10. Reconfigure space.
“If your big units are full but your smaller ones are vacant, combine 10x10s into a 10×20 or 10×30,” Ballard said. “On the other hand, if you need more small units, cut up those larger ones and earn a lot more money because the smaller ones make more money per foot. There’s cost associated with it, but if that’s what your customers want, of course you want to do that.”
Bottom photo courtesy of the Killeen Daily Herald