Welcome to the PhoneSmart self storage blog, a diary of the self storage industry.
We recently wrote our 300,000th lead/reservation. That gives us a little experience to talk about. Many things have remained consistent since we started talking to self storage callers. Here is our take on what we have found.
Most callers do not know what they need or how to shop for storage. They often assume that price should be the issue, but they don’t know what their money is buying them. Store features and amenities become a great way to show callers that they are buying more than the cubic footage of storage area. Features and amenities also give us a chance to create some value in the property to justify the cost and to differentiate the store from others in the area.
Most callers are frustrated with the entire storage shopping experience and are not storing because of a happy situation in their lives. Many shoppers have gotten answering machines, busy signals, unprofessional phone treatment and very little help on previous phone calls. Being able to be helpful while professionally selling a property brings a certain amount of relief and comfort to the caller.
Price is usually not the main issue. Most callers are far more concerned with convenience of location and with getting a clean, friendly, secure place for their belongings. Price may be the first question out of their mouths. But it is usually number three or four on their list of priorities.
The window of need is a little wider than many expect. There are many storage callers who do not need a unit immediately but want to do shopping and decision making now. The window of need seems to be about 4 weeks in many cases, but can be as long as three months. This is why you should never give up on a lead.
Callers often think they need to do comparison shopping to find the right location at the right price. What we usually experience is that a great many shoppers will make a decision now if you can satisfy their emotional needs and assure them that the store they are calling will meet their needs and expectations at a fair price. Even buyers who won’t need storage for a few months would like to decide where they will be storing in a few months. You need to take them off the market the first time they call if you can.
You will also get many people who will call you back after a pleasant initial contact and will decide to rent on the second contact.
This is why many of our clients are experimenting with ways to send us more prospective renter calls and less current tenant calls.
The Storage Market:
It is very local. Pricing varies tremendously from market to market, sometimes even within the same town. Callers generally accept this as being a part of local supply and demand issues and a part of paying for the convenience of storing close to home.
The state of Sales in self-storage or how stores sell themselves:
It appears that the standard approaches of educating and counseling callers about storage are outmoded. In a time when demand outpaced supply and most people storing were ignorant about storage, it may have been enough to let callers know your office hours and your features to bring them in to the store. Consumers are becoming shoppers. Supply is exceeding demand in many areas. People have more choices. Competition is heating up in many markets. The “build it and they will come” days are gone. Stores that do not adopt effective sales techniques will simply educate callers who will rent at the next place they call. Most storage owners are trying to create a retail atmosphere and get away from having caretakers on the site and have sales people at the site. This transition is slow in happening. Stores that are not simply being friendly on the phone but are also selling will rent more units.
Stores are missing a lot of phone calls. We talk to about 50 live callers on average per month in the summer for our stores on the overflow call service. Since about half of the people we talk to are current tenants, you can assume the average store is missing 25 rental opportunities in a month.
There is a wide variation in the actual number of calls we take for a store. Some smaller properties in smaller markets only send us 20 or 25 callers. And some larger stores are sending 75 or 100 callers.
Anyway you slice it that amounts to a lot of money left behind. The bulk of the calls come during office hours while the manager is busy doing something else or while the office at the store is full of tenants and prospective renters. We also get a good amount of calls in the hour or two just before and just after opening and closing.
We also see very little late evening calls from the west coast. Many believe that people like to shop after work. The bulk of the calls we get late in the evening are from the east coast. In our experience, west coast shoppers are done shopping by six or seven in the evening.
What we don’t know is the value of talking to current tenants. Does reaching a friendly person on the phone rather than a busy signal or an answering device help a tenant stay an extra month or two? If that were true, than there would be some real value in making sure all callers got a live voice. We must assume that any excuse a person can come up with to leave their belongings in storage is a good one. If the pain of paying the bill is less than the pain of going and removing the stuff, than the stuff stays. So if the phone experience is not painful, it must help in the long run.
Driving People to the store:
The old tale says that if you can get someone in your store, you can rent to him or her. This proves to be truth time and time again. So our mission is to get people to our clients’ stores. We have found the best way to get someone to the store is to take a credit number to reserve a unit. If this option is not available, a conditional hold or a first-come, first-served reservation is good. If this option isn’t available, for instance the caller does not know for sure when a unit is needed, a site tour or visit works. When all else fails and we can’t do anything to get the caller to the store, a follow-up call from the store staff can do the job. Between the time we talk to a caller and the store calls back, the situation may have changed. Or the store manager may know enough about the local market, that this knowledge can help the caller overcome any hesitancies and come on down to the store.
Effective business models for call centers in self-storage:
There are only a few models that seem to work. We have tried many and will try more. One advantage of being a part of a company that owns 40 storage facilities is that we can use them as a laboratory, and they can use us as a laboratory.
1- Overflow calls. The store misses a call and it goes to the call center.
2- All calls. All callers reach the call center and do not go to the store.
3- 100% of rental inquiries. An auto attendant sends rental inquiries to the call center and tenant calls to the store. This can be done for overflow or all calls.
In the overflow scenario, the call center is the back-up to the manager and is there to keep the crumbs from falling off the table. The call center can also be used to reduce staffing hours at the store during the slowest periods of the week. It is cheaper to let us handle a few calls, than to keep a person at the site during the slowest times.
In the “all call” scenario, the call center handles all issues but complicated customer service or billing issues. These issues can be sent to the store by email, fax or voicemail for the manager t
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