If self-storage operators aren’t looking at ways to capitalize on back-to-school season, they could be missing out on big opportunities.
It might be college students returning to school and trying to figure out where to store seasonal clothes or sports equipment. Or maybe it’s schoolteachers looking to store old classroom materials.
Andrew Kelly, principal of Sierra Self Storage Consulting, said back-to-school time means it’s time to generate buzz about your facility.
“The whole thing is getting your foot in the door prior to everybody else,” Kelly said. “Hopefully, you’ve gathered enough momentum where you kind of pre-empt competitors coming in later.”
For example, you might offer back-to-school specials through a college newspaper’s website. In addition, you might post blog articles like “how college students can pack a storage unit to take advantage of space,” said Shari Sutton, president of Sutton Watkins Advertising & Marketing. Or you might create an email marketing campaign aimed at schoolteachers and school administrators.
Targeting college kids
When it comes to the college crowd, you could hand out free logo-emblazoned pens or notepads, and offer student discounts on 5×5 units and other small rental spaces.
“These smaller units are generally what kids need when coming back to school and don’t have enough room in their dorm room, and they can unload their junk from the summer,” Kelly said. “You can pack a lot into these units, if you stack it right.”
Another tactic: Try to hang onto college-student tenants who’ve rented at your facility during the summer.
“There’s a huge move-out as of Labor Day, so we want to transfer them from a 5×10 to a 5×5, and maybe the price will drop from $50 to $25. That may be something they can afford,” Kelly said.
Kelly recommends setting up a program that offers rent credit to college students who refer friends and classmates. After referring customers, some college students wind up with five or six months rent-free, he said.
If you’ve got a number of smaller units available, you could run a promotion targeted at college students—including ones who live in sorority and fraternity houses—that advertises units as “extra closets,” said Sue Haviland, a partner at consulting firm Self Storage 101.
Targeting teachers and schools
Teachers typically report to school a few weeks before school starts. Go to local schools, donate logo-emblazoned boxes and attach fliers touting school-specific offers, Sutton said. Teachers always need boxes and might be looking for extra storage.
“Whatever you’re doing, you want to personalize it,” she said. “If that school’s mascot is a cougar, it could be the ‘Cougars’ special.’”
Good places to leave the boxes are the school office and the teachers’ lounge, Sutton said. She recommends attaching a flier to each box that offers another free box if someone visits your facility.
Teachers and administrators aren’t the only sources of school business, though. Sutton suggests marketing a referral program to PTA groups, music departments and sports teams as a way to earn cash bonuses and raise money.
In tandem with promotions aimed at schools, you can hold a back-to-school drive to gather school supplies and backpacks for underprivileged children. Team up with local businesses to organize the drive—including restaurants that can provide free-food coupons for contributors—and place a wardrobe box in your facility’s lobby to gather donations, experts say. Another possible incentive: coupons for discounts on storage units.
You might even be able to score some publicity through local media outlets or social media.
A back-to-school drive is “a great way to be part of the community and help the kids of the community,” Haviland said.
Anne Ballard agrees. She’s president of marketing, training and developmental services at Universal Storage Group, an Atlanta, GA-based self-storage operator.
“The community really wants to know how you’re part of the community,” she said. “Why should they store with you? One of our stores has a back-to-school supplies drive for teachers. The manager sends an email blast out to her customers, clients and prospects. She collects notebooks, pencils—whatever the teachers need—and puts them in giant tote bags and takes them to the school. The teachers just love it.”
Another idea along those lines: Launch a campaign to raise money for a school needing playground equipment or a band needing uniforms. Perhaps your business could match the amount that’s raised.
You also might consider a “used musical instrument” drive. Put a wardrobe box in your facility’s lobby for accepting instruments, Sutton said, and distribute collection boxes to local music stores and other businesses.
“It promotes your facility to surrounding businesses but also creates awareness about the drive,” Sutton said. “A lot of times, radio stations are looking for community events they can adopt. You have an opportunity to take something that seems like a small event and have it become an annual event that grows exponentially and becomes this big thing in your community.”