Long-term rentals guide marketing

A recent Sparefoot blogpost authored by John Egan detailed trends toward longer term self-storage rentals. Self Storage Association study findings identified by Egan included, "46 percent of self-storage customers are long-term renters, up from 38 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, temporary renters now make up 44 percent of the market, down from 54 percent in 2007."

Among Egan's other citations, the study pointed out, "Among future renters (those who currently aren't customers), 68 percent plan to keep their self-storage units for seven months or more, compared with 57 percent in 2007, according to the study. In the long-term category for current renters, 30 percent plan to keep their units for at least two years, up from 17 percent in 2007.

What marketing ideas does this trend portend for self-storage owners/operators? Essentially, it's a golden opportunity to market to the "downsized" among us, including such segments of the population as:

1. An aging population. As empty nesters downsize their residences, they often are reluctant to downsize their memories. Self-storage becomes a handy, legitimate off-site repository. Market to these people literally where they live: assisted living facilities, retirement communities, and the like. And market to them where they play in your community-from golf courses to health clubs. Offer an incentive for people signing up through those facilities. It provides a value-add to the facility for its membership, and can give you excellent exposure.

2. Micro-living enthusiasts. Anyone moving from thousands of square feet into a few hundred, as is occurring with the micro-unit building trend in major US cities and even smaller ones, will need to seriously consider storing stuff. Even if someone is determined to pare down their belongings, that's an incredibly radical reduction. Market to this group in your community if/where it exists. The pitch is straightforward and compelling: self-storage offers a tremendous bargain to deal with valuables that someone wants to keep in light of the savings accompanying residence downsizing. Self-storage costs of $100-$200/month will seem relatively insignificant to those who are now saving hundreds or even thousands on monthly mortgage or rental payments.

3. Reversal-of-fortune group. While signs point to a recovering economy, many families have been hard hit since 2008. Economic pressures continue to drive foreclosures and turn homeowners accustomed to lots of space into square footage-challenged occupants of smaller residences. Yet, similar to the empty nester group, many have treasures they don't want to part with but can't fit into their smaller quarters. Through real estate agents, rental services, properties proving popular among this group, and the like, offer a deal that makes a long-term self-storage commitment seem reasonable-especially in light of the alternative: getting rid of possessions they desperately want to keep. Also, depending on where the new living quarters are, self-storage can be a more secure way to protect valuables from theft or damage.

4. Simplicity-minded. Then, there are just some people who want to pare down their daily clutter, confusion and complications while still maintaining long-term control of prized possessions. This growing group is often driven more by lifestyle desires than economic necessities. One desire often shared is the ability to maintain a simple, spartan living residence that optimizes the ability to take off on a moment's notice for a day, week, month or more.

Self-storage provides both a way to store stuff that otherwise would add clutter and can add a measure of security and confidence about safeguarding belongings off-site. Ways to market this can include developing a promotional tie-in with a local efficiency-oriented retailer such as The Container Store and/or tying in with local home organizer companies.

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