by Mark Lusky
Teddy Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."
Every economy offers opportunity as well as challenges. Through the difficulties of the last few years, enterprising entrepreneurs of all stripes and sizes have thrived by finding the sweet spots in a sour situation.
Some industries, self-storage among them, actually have benefitted in key ways from the economic downturn. As people have downsized or changed lifestyles because of financial and other personal challenges, self-storage has filled a key role of being an inexpensive option for storage of possessions.
So, instead of hand-wringing about the latest negative news, political prognostication, or governmental gaffes, just find ways to succeed. They're always there for those able and willing to get creative.
For example, Santa Maria, CA's Klara Bergman found a way to outshine competitors when Roemer Way Self-Storage started operations. According to an article in the Santa Maria Sun, Bergman targeted nonprofits in her marketing. In the article, she says, "The way we [promoted the business] was we started networking with the nonprofit organizations in town and when they have an auction we will contribute gifts or a unit for six months, sometimes even a year. They will store their merchandise for the auction in our unit for free. So we call those partnerships. It helps their nonprofit organization because it gives them an opportunity to accumulate gifts and store them here."
The article points out that, "The donation of goods and services has been a resounding success for both Bergman and the nonprofits. Some of the partners include the Boys & Girls Club, the Humane Society, the Good Samaritan Shelter, and United Way. In large part through these partnerships, Bergman has gotten the word out without the need for as much traditional advertising. 'At least 60 percent of our business is referral,' she said."
In addition to nonprofit involvement, Bergman designed her self-storage facility to be inviting and comfortable-a homey type of setting. She says customers have remarked about the relaxing environment. Adding to that relaxation is Bergman's humanity. According to the Sun article, "To help customers in difficulty, Bergman often lends them units to help consolidate their goods into smaller spaces or to downsize from two units to one and either sell or throw away unwanted items. This way customers pay less-but because the price is more manageable, they make payments more reliably."
Clearly, this entrepreneur molded a competitive and economically challenging environment into a winner. Following are ideas to aid your brainstorming process:
-Look at your tenant profile and chart out, as best you can, the reasons people are storing at your facility. How many tenants fall into the downsizing/empty nester categories? How many are suffering economic ill effects (e.g., foreclosure, eviction, loss of job)? Is your self-storage operation becoming "party central," moving toward a collection of weekend warrior man caves? Are you seeing more tenants using self-storage for offices or warehousing? Are people dedicating major storage space to high-dollar items such as precious metals or fine wines?
-Armed with this profile, prioritize the type(s) of tenants you want to court in the future. Then, craft an offer that you believe will be attractive. Find a communications channel(s) that can best target the group. For example, if you seek more downsizing empty nesters, talk to area real estate agents. Contact home developments and apartment/condo complexes that cater to this group.
If your downsizing target audience is comprised of younger people gravitating toward micro-unit living, you might want to speak to them through social media. Upload and promote a Youtube video, check out community forums on the topic, seek bloggers whose beat includes micro-living, and the like.
-Determine your "give-take" threshold as part of this process. Are you willing to donate substantial time and resources to build relationship within a particular community, as Roemer Way's Bergman did? Or, do you want to a more immediate ROI? Then, gear efforts accordingly.