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Thursday, March 17, 2005


4 Steps To Storage Marketing Success

I always tell my clients that storage is a simple business, but it’s not an easy business.

There are 4 steps that everyone knows intuitively in this business. But the real trick is to use them to your advantage to make more money. The 4 steps are (1) get people to pick up the phone and call you (2) Get those who call to come in and visit. (3) Get those who visit to sign a rental agreement. (4) Get those who rent from you to stay “forever” and tell all of their friends.

Before we go through the 4 steps, we need to first talk about measurement. Keep reading, you’ll see why.

In order for you to have an accurate picture of your business you need to measure. I always use the example of a weight loss center. What do they ask everyone to do on the first day they get there? To weigh in. Why? You need to establish what your current weight is in order to determine whether or not you have lost weight in the future. You need what’s called a baseline. Makes sense. Sounds logical. Right?

One problem. Virtually no one in the storage industry keeps numbers. Sure they keep some of the obvious numbers like occupancy rates and total gross dollars generated per month. But the real numbers that you can use to diagnose your business problems, aren’t kept by 99% of storage owners. This isn’t your fault. You weren’t told to keep them. But they are as important as any other numbers you keep. So start now! Here’s how.

It would be somewhat like the guy on the weight loss program who you ask how he’s doing. He responds: “I feel like I’m losing a lot of weight.” You then tell him that’s interesting, but you want to know how many pounds he’s lost. He tells you that he really feels better and must have lost a lot of weight already. If you are a good friend, you will probably be persistent and say: “Well smart guy, that’s real nice, but how many pounds have you dropped?”

Everytime I give a storage seminar I ask people: “who can tell me exactly how many calls they got at their storage facility last month? I stress the word exactly. Inevitably, no one responds. It is truly amazing how little we know about out business. The numbers which are critical to making good business decisions aren’t even being kept.

If you aren’t currently keeping these numbers, don’t give yourself a hard time. Clearly, you aren’t alone. But if you continue not to keep the numbers we discuss after reading this piece, then you have a problem. The reason why people haven’t kept these numbers in this business is they haven’t had to. Business was so good that you really didn’t have to care. You opened up a facility, and people rented your units. No problem. Those days are over! In this age of increasing competition, you need to know some critical numbers to make intelligent business decisions. Not having these numbers will kill you in the current competitive storage climate.

You must keep the numbers described below if you want to know what’s going on in your business.

Why measure and keep the numbers? Simple. You can be your own marketing consultant. Keeping and tracking the numbers will allow you to be able to diagnose where you have problems. A trend line in the wrong direction will let you know immediately where you need help.

You will also need to track the source of all calls that come in. This in addition to some quantitative way of tracking your customer service. I suggest a simple postcard questionnaire when people move out.

As a marketing consultant I am continually giving people advice on how to better market their storage facility. You can virtually do it yourself with these numbers. If you need my help, I’m always here.

If you need help in getting the phone to ring, pick up a copy of my “51 Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success” audio tapes. They are a live recording of my one day seminar on self storage marketing. You’ll find them listed in the back of this manual.

Step 1
Get people to pick up the phone and call. Get the phone to ring! You need to measure the total number of calls you get. What does this statistic tell us? It measures how well our marketing effort is going. Marketing in the storage business is defined as any and everything we do to get the phone to ring.

We aren’t concerned with the "absolute" number of calls we get. We are concerned with the trend line over time. If you get 120 calls per month and another storage operator gets 250 calls, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she is doing a better job of marketing. Maybe they are a much larger facility. What we are primarily concerned with is whether your number are going up or down. The trend line.

How do you accurately keep this number? First, you don’t want to spend your time and energy doing this measurement manually. It’s time consuming and almost always, inaccurate. I don’t want any manager of yours spending their precious selling time putting tick marks down on a sheet of paper. They should spend their time doing what you hired them to do: SELLING!

Another fairly obvious reason why I don’t want people measuring these numbers “by hand” is the inherent inaccuracy of a system like this. Mistakes will be made if a human being is involved with counting anything. You know this is true!

I want you to make this a completely automated task. You can do this in one of a 3 ways. First, call your local telephone provider and ask them if they can compile for you the total number of calls that come into your phone. Some phone companies will say yes. Most will say no. They almost always do. They have these records. They just don’t want to give them to you. If someone wanted to subpoena your phone records for legal reasons they could produce them “chop-chop.” They just don’t feel like they want to give them to us. Don’t ask me why!

Many local phone companies around the country have been giving my clients this data (for a fee, of course), but don’t freak out if yours says they can’t.

If you can get them that way, fine. If not, you have a couple of other options. You can have your regular number forward to another number. The act of forwarding allows you to “trap” some of the data that we need. I can hear someone reading this complaining about the additional expense. Yes, it will cost you a few bucks more a month. But, if you want to know how well your marketing efforts are going you need accurate measuring devices.

Paying money to have accurate measurement in your business is money extremely well spent. It is also the only way you can make intelligent decisions.

To more fully explain, here is what you need to do. Let’s say you are advertising 555-1212 in your yellow page ad. You then set up another number that that number gets forwarded to. Let’s say the number you forward calls to is 555-1313. No one ever sees this number. Don’t even let your staff know it exists.

So all the calls will really be ringing on 555-1313. But to the customer, all they know is 555-1212, which is the number you advertised. The act of forwarding these calls will allow you to “trap” all of the information you need. This is the quickest and easiest way to do it. Unless your phone company can provide you with these numbers as described in the first scenario.

At the end of the month you will get a report on your phone bill that will tell you how many calls got forwarded. This is the total number of calls you were looking to find out. You will also find out 2 other important things that will be helpful to you. You will get both the time and duration of each call. Check how big a drop you get in the average call length (duration) once you have your hotline in. We’ll talk about the hotline later.

Another option is a piece of hardware that you put onto your phone system to “front end” the phone calls. This piece of hardware (a computer) will “trap” the data that we need for later use. This method will cost you more “up front” and less on the “back end.” I have seen a few of these systems in place. I’m always suspicious of new fangled devices. If you have a computer/phone guru that you know and feel confident in, you may want to ask them if they can set you up.

Whatever method you use you’ve got to get a system to let you know the exact number of calls you get per month.

What about the calls that come in that aren’t business related? Personal calls and wrong numbers? Unless something very unusual happens, these numbers will remain constant over the course of the months you keep this data. Therefore it will not affect the trend line. This is true except in the case of some unusual event that occurs. Here’s an example.

I was working with a client for a few months who was keeping his numbers very meticulously. All of a sudden we saw a 15% spike in the number of calls over a 3 month period. I asked him what he was doing marketing-wise that may have affected the numbers. He said nothing that he knew of. After further investigating we found out that the manager had recently gotten involved with a person who was fairly neurotic. This individual was calling the manager 5 or 6 times a day and skewing our numbers in an upward direction. Other than a situation like this, the numbers will tell us what we want to know.

One measurement we are going to have to keep manually is the source of the calls. This is the only item we will have to keep manually. But it is critically important.

As you take calls you need to ask people how they heard about you and record the responses. Unless you keep track of these numbers, your advertising dollars could end up being wasted. You need to explain to any and all staff members how important keeping an accurate tracking of these numbers is. To hammer home this point, I have a few clients who tape a $20 bill to the phone. This is to remind anyone who answers the phone that the call is worth about $20. For some people, in some markets, it is worth much, much, more. It needs to be well-handled and we need to know where it came from.

Where the call came from is a piece of data you need to keep. What prompted their call? A yellow page ad? A referral? This is information you need to capture. With a client, one time I attempted to keep this data automatically. I set up a phone system with an “automated attendant” which asked people where they heard about the storage facility before transferring the caller to the operator. This concept is a good one. The problem that we had was that we had a lot of hang-ups after implementing the system. People want to speak to a live person in this industry. It hurt the client. We discontinued the tracking that way and reverted back to tracking the sources manually. As much as I like automated systems, in this case, it didn’t make sense that way.

Like the other numbers that I encourage people to keep, it is a good idea to put these numbers on graph paper to be able to monitor the trend lines. You will end up with a total of 4 or 5 graphs if you keep all the numbers that I suggest.

For steps 2-4 , please find out here - Self Storage Success