In an increasingly online world, self-storage owners and operators still find value in old-school business networking through their local chambers of commerce.
Chambers are a great way to boost brand visibility and market a business, as well as to generate sales leads from customers seeking storage for either business or personal use.
“We love commercial tenants. We want to attract as many as we can, and chambers are a great way to do that,” said Chris Kirwan, director of development at Oak Management & Development Co. in New Hope, MN. “But more than anything, we want people to know we are there and we have space to rent, and being involved in the chamber is just another way to put ourselves out there.”
The company owns 10 Acorn Mini Storage facilities in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, metro area.
Time and money
A number of self-storage companies encourage employees to become members of their local chamber of commerce and set aside money for membership dues. The cost of chamber membership generally is fairly minimal—typically $100 to $200 a year. The bigger expense is the time commitment it takes to attend chamber meetings and functions.
Kirwan has a unique perspective on chamber membership. He was director of member and community engagement at the Twin West Chamber of Commerce in Plymouth, MN, for nearly three years before joining Oak Management in 2013. In his role at the Twin West Chamber, Kirwan worked to ensure that members were engaged and were making the most of their memberships.
“It’s like a gym membership. If you don’t use it, you won’t get anything out of it,” he said.
Oak Management encourages its members to not only attend monthly meetings, but also participate in at least one activity, such as going to or sponsoring an event or being an ambassador or committee member. However, the company leaves it up to its managers to decide how active they are. After all, they’re the best judges of whether it’s worthwhile in terms of generating business leads, making connections and being more visible in the community, Kirwan said.
Todd Amsdell, president and CEO of the Amsdell Companies in Cleveland, OH, said he thinks chambers of commerce provide myriad benefits.
At Amdsell, it’s company policy for Compass Self Storage managers around the country to join the local chamber of commerce. That being said, Amsdell agrees that it’s best to leave it up to the individual manager to determine the level of involvement. “There is a reality factor that some chambers are more engaging and active than others,” he said.
Some chambers are more active online, while others are involved in a variety of business networking, community and charitable events—golf outings, silent auctions, chili cook-offs and more. For example, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce in Florida hosts an annual skeet-shooting tournament. The Amsdell Companies uses that event as a way to get involved in the chamber, as well as using it as a team-building exercise for employees. The company brings team members from all over the state to participate in the event, Amsdell said.
Getting a payback
It’s not always easy to measure the return on investment for chamber involvement, though. In most cases, the payback tends to be more anecdotal.
For example, Oak Management had one manager who was active in a chamber for about two years and also had participated in one of the chamber’s business networking groups. One of the people the Acorn manager met in that group worked in the sign business. That contact alone ended up providing 20 to 30 referrals, many of whom turned into long-term customers, Kirwan said.
“That paid for every chamber membership across our whole portfolio,” he said.