In the self storage industry, it is estimated that approximately 12% of facilities are owned by publicly-traded REITs. The other 88% of facilities are mostly owned by small and mid-sized operators. (Source: Self Storage Association) Sometimes as a small or mid-sized operator, it may feel challenging to compete in the world of marketing and operations. Resources (both time and budget) can be constrained. Today, I want to share a strategy that can truly transform your small or mid-sized business, one that levels the playing field and allows you to fight above your weight class. Let’s discuss how you can “go vertical” as your differentiator.
Large Businesses Have Scale, Small Businesses Have Depth
There are pros and cons of both large and small self storage businesses. Large self storage operations offer scale, branding power, and large advertising budgets (both online and offline). Smaller operators offer vertical depth. When you only own one or a handful of self storage properties, you can truly go deep (and hyper-local) in everything you do.
The “go vertical” strategy means all bets are placed on a single (or a handful) of properties. Those properties must be absolutely unique and special from all angles.
Manifestation of the Vertical Strategy
In many ways, I think local, vertical businesses will be entering a new renaissance. Let’s look at a few areas where smaller operators can focus, outmaneuver their competitors, and fight above their weight class.
Run An Immaculate Property With Pride of Ownership
When you own a single property, you should be sure that it is 100% immaculate at all times. Visit your property daily, if need be, and keep close tabs on your investment. Partner closely with your on-site management team to make sure no detail is overlooked. Think of your property as a lovingly-maintained craftsman home that shows incredible pride of ownership.
A great property is customer service personified. Customers will immediately see your effort and not only rent from you, but have a higher propensity to share their enthusiasm online via social media and reviews.
Bonus Tip: An immaculate property lends itself to great online photos. Make a point of building a choreographed collage of property photos on your website, one that is more detailed than any other facility in your local market. I recommend at least 30 photos. Consider video as well.
Share Local Knowledge and Pride In Everything You Do
When you only own a single property (or a handful), it is a lot easier to get to know your local community (or communities). You live in the community, support the community, care about the community, and ultimately champion the community. Hire managers who truly know the area and care about the area. This local (vertical) knowledge will manifest in conversations with customers, local sponsorships (why not sponsor the local high school baseball team?), blog posts, and even decorations in your office.
With the vertical strategy, you become more than a self storage. You become an advocate for your local community. Customers want to buy from the friendly, local, neighborhood facility. More than anything, this adds a whole other layer to your greater business purpose.
Leverage Hyper-Local Marketing To Differentiate Online
When your website highlights a single property, you are actually at an advantage for local marketing. Via blog posts, graphics, videos, and social media content, go hyper-local. Show your passion for your local community. Show your knowledge. Show your customers that you care. Search engines will quickly pick up on your deep, vertical roots in the local geography and send more local leads your way.
Offer Hands-On Customer Service
Vertical operators should hire on-site managers who exemplify great customer service. When customers dial-in, their calls should be picked up right away (by the actual managers). Customers will feel at ease working with local experts. When you’re a vertical operator, it’s easier to hire, train, and retain world-class, local managers. It’s possible to regularly sit down with managers to grow their skills and careers. Ultimately, customers will truly appreciate the white glove treatment and share their enthusiasm via social media, reviews, and referrals.
Know When To Avoid Going Vertical
Going vertical in the above areas will differentiate your self storage facility as the local, community facility. At the same time, you can’t go vertical in everything you do. There are certain areas where only large scale businesses should invest in-house. The greatest example: engineering and web development. Smaller operators should leverage partnerships and outsourcing for technology. As a local operator, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and build a website from the ground-up. Thankfully, platforms exist that can power your website, allowing you and your team to focus on the hyper-local content that populates your website.
You Are At An Advantage
It is easy to feel like the underdog when you own a smaller self storage portfolio. And, it is true that you may be an underdog in certain respects, especially in terms of overall scale, resources, and budget. That being said, you are also at an advantage to truly go local and deep with your marketing and operational strategy. Regularly brainstorm how you can develop even deeper roots in your local community. Ultimately, this vertical strategy becomes your brand because your facility becomes synonymous with your community. It’s your core differentiator and your competitive moat. It becomes the fabric of your business and your greater purpose.