Planting Storage Seeds: Grow Your Business With Grassroots Marketing
Notebook with text MARKETING on table
Large or small, brand new or older properties, we are all in need of a constant stream of inquiries to grow or maintain occupancy and keep rates as high as possible. Community events and grassroots marketing in your neighborhood can do just that while lowering your Cost Per Lease (CPL). In 2020, our managers made an average of 51,961 marketing messages per store per year, or 4,330 per month average. Marketing messages include the following actions: outgoing calls, emails, visits, events on site, social media posts, club meetings, expos, off-site networking, social media reach, referrals, and EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) with the post office. In 2019, pre-COVID, they completed 29,103 visits to local businesses and organizations in their neighborhoods and had a total of 40,557 visitors to our on-site events which are listed below. Our 2020, average Cost Per Lease (CPL) was $62.77 for the entire portfolio. Comparing this CPL to other top operators, we find it to be quite low in comparison.
As professional storage counselors to the public, we are seeing opportunity everywhere; once the restrictions on in-person meeting and group gatherings are lifted, we will commence with on-site events and outreach to local businesses again. Community participation can have far reaching benefits to the operation’s profitability and to one’s personal satisfaction level when one participates with family, friends, and neighbors. Now is not the time to cut back on telling your story; make sure everyone in your community knows you and your self-storage property. Last year we achieved this via Zoom, Constant Contact emails, and Facebook posts. For the upcoming summer and fall, we are hopefully going back to more of our guerilla marketing tactics and hosting on-site events again. All of these efforts are intended to assist us in getting involved on a very local level.
Now it’s up to each of us to generate our own on-site traffic from the community to enhance our web presence and online efforts.
For our grassroots marketing and our managers’ Personal Marketing Goals (PMG), the four tools we use are:
Visits to all local retail and institutions/organizations
Follow up and market electronically
Host events the community is interested in attending
We set a goal for each type of activity and then track our results. Here are the results for 2019 and 2020:
Here’s a list of 20 events we find to be very successful if planned properly in advance (at least 120 days or more in advance) and executed according to plan:
Chamber of Commerce
Business After Hours
Apartment Manager Drop In
Customer Appreciation Week
Drive-Thru Haunted House
Lunch and Learns
Coffee and Donut Tours
Starving Artists Show
VIP Tours and Reception
Fashion Show/Designer Showcase
Small Business Presentations
Community and Networking Events
Blood Drive, Car Wash, Charity Events
Local Club(s) Meetings
Here is the list of those to whom you need to visit weekly, doing about 10 to 20 per week, or about two hours per week outside of the office, making quick visits and dropping off some sort of goodie to each one along with your referral cards so that you are adding at least 40 to 100 new contacts to your email database each month. Don’t forget to sell to your competitors and share referrals with them when they are full on a particular size and when you have an exclusive size or product type. Groups to target:
Apartments, Real Estate Offices, Moving Companies, Building Managers, BOMA, IREM, Apartment Associations, Home Builders Association
Doctors, Dentists, Chiropractors, Title Companies, CPAs, Attorneys, Banks
Service Businesses, Local Retailers, Interior Designers
Crisis Centers, Insurance Companies, Fire and Disaster Clean Up
Chamber Members, Other Club Members
Churches and Synagogues
Once you have made a visit to each of these, make sure to get a business card and contact from each one. When you get back to your office, add them to your email database for announcements about your upcoming on-site events or “Business of the Month” program.
Get Active! Most of us are already members of our local chambers of commerce, but how involved are we in the monthly activities and events? When possible, are you attending each and every possible meeting to exchange business cards, meet new members, and have breakfast with other local businesses? If not, get out there! This is the logical first place to start participating. If your store is new or recently added a new phase or remodeled your office, now is the perfect time to host the chamber’s “Business After Hours” and show off your product. Do they have your materials available to handout to newcomers or those visiting the chamber offices? Make sure they do. And if you pay a referral fee, make sure you express this idea to the staff while leaving them plenty of referral cards.
When we host these on-site events, we make sure to spread out the food and drinks within our units and throughout our property to highlight our amenities, ensuring they touch and experience our best features. We create a treasure map for each guest to follow to find all the goodies and hand this out at registration. We register all participants, collecting their business cards and contact information, and give out door prizes. This enables us to follow up afterwards via email and make them a special offer for having attended. Post pricing signs for each unit type and show its size code (i.e. “10-by-20 for $329” posted on the outside of the unit). We also dress each serving table and bar area and give a goodie bag of our promotional items to each and every attendee. You might want to have music or a band or a special theme for your event as well. Make sure someone stays at the front desk to rent spaces during the event. You should also post a sign stating that those renting tonight get some kind of special not offered anywhere else. Take lots of pictures and post them on your website in a photo gallery of special events you hold throughout the year, naming the date and type of each event. Everyone loves to see themselves in photos of events they have attended; this will also drive more traffic to your website.
These photos are from a Business After Hours with the North Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
First is the sign on each display unit with the size code and price. That particular unit size now rents for $355.
The next photo shows how we set up the food (desserts in this case) in each unit to get them to follow the treasure map for all the goodies.
Also included is the invitation we used in addition to those sent by the Chamber. These were delivered during marketing visits to local businesses and sent to all our contacts via email.
Other ways to make sure you leave a lasting impression on the neighborhood is to let nonprofit groups use your conference room for free or allow various groups to hold their fundraisers at your site. Examples of this might be a car wash for the local high school band, a blood drive for the Red Cross, a collection site for a Can-A-Thon, coat drive, food Drive, or Toys for Tots with the Marine Corp each year.
The more events you hold on site, the more the traffic in and out of the site, the more business and brand awareness you develop. This is the goal; create as much awareness of your property as possible with the funds available. This way, when the need for storage arises, you will be the one they think of. As Stacie Maxwell, our vice president of marketing says, “Remember: People do not buy self-storage on impulse; people do not buy self-storage because it’s on sale. People buy self-storage when it’s needed! When it’s needed, your facility should be the one they think of first!” So, the more you get and keep your brand in the public view, the more likely it is that they will think of your facility when the situation warrants.
Your own church or club might also benefit from having special events at your site. Why not work with your local Parks and Recreation Dept. to hold a haunted house or Easter egg hunt at your store? They will decorate the units with their volunteers and can get local law enforcement to direct traffic. One of our managers did this several times in South Carolina and had attendance of over 3,000. The facility was recognized in the department’s newsletter, website, and on their signs for sponsoring these successful events. In other words, the site scored plenty of free advertising! Maybe the Lions or Rotary Club needs a place to have a barbeque this year.
If you have children or grandchildren, attend local PTA meetings to hand out referral cards. Maybe you could even take your free move-in truck to the meetings and supply your paper or Styrofoam cups (that have your logo on them) to all the local clubs to use for free, or you pass out your logo water bottles at Little League games (ice cold, of course). Anyone can network their way to success if they have a goal in mind. If there are no networking clubs in your area, why not start one as one of our great marketing managers did in Myrtle Beach? Our team saw an unfulfilled need and used it to their store’s advantage. They had been out marketing to all the local businesses, banks, schools, realtors, apartments, retailers, and anyone they could find. They started a new networking group that soon had more than 60 active participants; she made a name for herself and her store. The numbers proved these efforts were well worth the time and energy.
Low-Cost Marketing You can form strategic alliances almost everywhere that will benefit both parties and help fill up your vacant units. Perhaps you supply the flyers to the best-known local pizza delivery place. They put one on the top of each box delivered and you feature them on your Neighborhood Board with plenty of their coupons or menus available for the taking.
Managers can also work on a coupon package for all new rentals inside their move-in gift bag. It involves collecting at least $100 or more of local coupons and providing those inside the gift bag to each new rental. This is a much-appreciated service to the new renters and local vendors alike, and can really help you kick off your outside marketing efforts with a reason for your visit to them, in addition to telling them about your referral programs.
There should not be a day that goes by that you don’t take some kind of marketing action. Send an email or several hundred, make some outgoing calls to generate visits to the site, mail some letters or postcards to some target groups that need your product, and visit at least one local business on the way to and/or from the bank each day.
Use your digital sign to promote one of your customers or their business, in addition to your own specials and the time and temperature. That really keeps the locals looking at your sign. Create an e-newsletter that you email to everyone on your contact list from all the cards you gather at meetings and events and to the membership of all the clubs and groups to which you belong. Feature some fundraising news, a special customer or business, and show photographs of how they use your storage property to run their business more efficiently, along with a testimonial or quote. Show the logos of all the groups and associations you belong to as well. Photos and logos help you build credibility with your audience far beyond what thousands of words can do.
Send out press releases for every event you participate in or sponsor, as well as anytime you have a special message or story to tell. Make sure to include photographs, contact information, and a strong headline with an interesting story. Invite the local media to your events; you never know when it might be a slow news day and you make the 6 o’clock news. Yard sales, wine tastings, ice cream socials, community days, fall festivals, customer appreciation cookouts, and seasonal displays will assist you in building traffic to the site and making your facility memorable to everyone in the area when they pass by and see your efforts from the street.
With the current technology there is no reason you can’t compete and win against the competition. Use email, social media, and the web to stay in touch with customers, prospects, groups, and organizations to which you belong. Email is practically free marketing and our Constant Contact subscriptions average about $65 a month for approximately 5,000 contacts, and then follow up since you have the computer and salaries already covered.
Don’t’ forget about your competition as well. This is an often-overlooked source for rentals. Go by monthly to drop off your current information and let them know you pay for referrals to those they can’t serve due to being full on that size or customers needing a product type they don’t have. Maintain good relations with your competition and make sure you have seen them with your own eyes. This way you won’t get trapped into selling on price only. You will know they don’t have any climate-controlled, contractor size units, or their driveways are too small for large trucks, or they don’t really sell boxes or supplies. You can compete on service, programs, amenities, hours, special unit types, and not just price selling, which is rampant in the industry today. Don’t fall into this trap. Get out there, see everything for yourself, and learn to generate your own traffic through networking and local participation. It is money in the bank.
Just get out there weekly and spread the word; it is easy, costs very little, and produces big benefits for you and your store.