Pillars of profitability

While a daily onslaught of new information and insights provides more intel than ever about how to conduct business profitably, it's overwhelming for many businesses such as self-storage to absorb. Not surprisingly, a common response to this "big data" environment is to go deer in the headlights and not absorb much, if any, of it.

Consumers making decisions about all things self-storage also can be impacted with too many confusing choices and complications. Think about comparisons that go into cellphone buying decisions. Unless the consumer has a clear idea or comfortable recommendation about what to buy, comparing all the features and benefits can be a daunting task. While self-storage as a whole is not nearly as complicated, there still can be comparison challenges. All of this brings buyers back to their roots-seeking companies that satisfy basic, hard-wired needs.

Self-storage operators seeking to bolster bottom lines need to appeal to consumer instincts first and foremost-and quit trying to take every piece of new advice that springs on the scene. It's somewhat like the current state of health reporting: There's so much conflicting information about what is and is not good for you that many people are going back to their instinctive roots. That's part of the reason that paleo diets featuring food staples of meats, veggies and fruits are becoming so popular-simple, straightforward and something our bodies can easily understand.

In essence, self-storage owners need to think about simplicity and reinforce the following "pillars of profitability"-basic, instinctive offerings that will resonate with the lion's share of buyers. These pillars include:

1. Trust. A recent Inside Self-Storage article detailed the plights of a student who rented storage space, and learned during move-in that the facility hadn't been totally forthcoming. If your facility is a bit dated, don't hide that fact until someone moves in.

Molly Bilker, a publication intern recounted her less-than-satisfying experience: "...we had been given no indication that the space was up a flight of stairs. While we could manage it, the unexpected staircase complicated our ability to get my furniture into the unit...the 5-by-5-by-8-foot space we had rented was not, in fact, exactly 5 by 5 by 8 feet. The ceiling of the unit was also the roof of the storage space, which meant it slanted sharply downward...While these unexpected problems were handled without a hitch, they added extra stress, surprise and frustration...I would recommend full transparency about the state of the storage unit a customer has rented."

To Molly's suggestion, show pictures and provide complete facility descriptions. Let people judge for themselves if the environment is acceptable based on what they're paying. By being honest from the get-go (even when it's not pretty), you'll establish a level of trust that may sustain well beyond any limitations of the physical plant.

2. Likeability. Be nice. Be helpful. Be open to discuss issues in a comfortable, non-combative way. Show appreciation. More than ever, the consuming public needs reassurance that they're getting a square deal. It's much easier to believe in the service when those providing it are likeable. There's a reason for the longtime adage, "People like to do business with people they like." As recently as this past summer, a forbes.com article began with the words, "People ultimately choose to do business with people they like, and everyone likes someone who appreciates them."

3. Safety. Would-be tenants need to feel that they are safe on the property and that their possessions are secure. Even if the surroundings don't look spiffy, they need to be secure. Demonstrating how you protect both people and property is extremely important. If your security isn't up to speed, make upgrades a top priority.

4. Convenience. This encompasses everything from making the rental process simple and accessible (including via mobile devices) to easy 24/7 access to storage units themselves. And, of course, being situated in a convenient location will drive sales; as will bringing convenience to the consumer whenever possible.

On this latter point, a recent article from TechCrunch describes a new service called Clutter that just launched in Los Angeles. The article points out, "...no one enjoys the process of packing up, renting or borrowing a truck, hauling boxes to a storage space, and doing the same thing over again the second you need a stored item. But Clutter, a new service launching in Los Angeles, is looking to hook you up, weary pack rat...After downloading the iPhone app, users can coordinate for their stuff to be stored in reusable boxes that are picked up for storage and/or delivered back home at their leisure."

You've likely noticed by now that "money" isn't one of the pillars. While buyers are undeniably cost-sensitive, there is a growing trend toward buying value, not just the cheapest deal. "Cheap" predominates much of the buying landscape today, but many people miss the value of the buying experience that included well-trained and impeccably-informed salespeople.

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