Vehicle storage can be a profitable entry to the self-storage industry, or an add-on service to boost profitability of existing facilities. If you have open space for parking, the biggest barrier to entry is the additional paperwork that comes with storing vehicles.Some facilities market larger-sized fully enclosed traditional units as vehicle storage units, appealing to a different set of consumers to fill regular inventory. In that case, marketing plays a role in maximizing profitability with new target markets. If you’re developing or operating a property specifically dedicated to car, boat and/or RV storage, properly addressing your target market can also make the difference between success and low occupancy.
To think about vehicle storage marketing, we’ll use the traditional definition of marketing: The science of manipulating four variables in your business – product, place, price, and promotion – to appeal to target audience(s). As an example of how the variables apply to your business, take a look at these specific tips for boat and RV storage marketing from Inside Self Storage:
- Product: “Customers tend to be influenced by amenities, security and conveniences, more so than conventional self-storage renters.”
- Place: “Renters will drive up to 15 miles for their storage needs.”
- Promotion: “Every time a competitor sends you a customer, you should reward, thank and encourage him to do it again.”
- Target market: “If there’s a visual, high-quality cadre of other vehicles, [the customer] will tend to favor a facility, even if the rents are higher than low-end properties.”
Now we’ll cover some practical ways to market a vehicle storage operation in each of these marketing categories.
Target market: How to research your customers
The “if you build it, they will come” mentality only goes so far in the world of vehicle storage. With improper marketing planning, your facility could sit with huge vacancy rates. Start by segmenting your consumer audiences based on whether they are looking for high-end or low-end storage.
High-end vehicle storage customers may turn to a storage facility as a safer, more secure alternative to a parking lot. They could be looking for a centrally located or nearby facility to store a classic car or motorcycle only used in the summer. Or they could be looking for a convenient place to keep an RV safe while it’s off the road. These customers consider their vehicles an investment, and will pay well to keep them in good condition. The high-end customer:
- Wants to protect his or her investment during off-season and/or, in the case of RVs and boats, store it near a recreational area
- Stores classic cars or sports cars, nice fishing boats and huge RVs
- Considers their vehicle an investment, often requesting fully-enclosed indoor storage (some even want climate control)
- May not need storage year-round, but are likely to be a repeat customer over the years
- Shows higher concern for facility cleanliness and condition of other vehicles in the facility
Now, most people don’t have a Ferrari or a million-dollar Prevost RV, but still need a place to keep their vehicle. Low-end vehicle storage customers are less concerned with amenities that prevent weathering. They’re also less worried about security, and rightly so, as their vehicles are less likely to be the subject of theft, and will lose less value from wear and tear than a more expensive vehicle. Low-end vehicle storage customers still value their vehicles, and often consider them a property asset. The low-end customer:
- Needs a cost-effective place to store their vehicle while not in use
- May be storing a pet project or work-in-progress vehicle that is not currently in perfect operating condition
- Is willing to store outside
- Is more likely to need storage year-round
- Is less concerned with cleanliness and appearance – for this customer, a dirt lot is as good as a paved lot
Some managers understand what kind of customers they attract based on a general reading of current and former tenants. We recommend taking a more detailed analysis by surveying consumers in your area or asking new tenants to fill out a survey. Or, include a brief survey as part of your direct mail or door-to-door marketing efforts. Here are some segmentation criteria to consider for current and potential tenants: Distance from the facility, type of vehicle stored, male vs. female, price point, amenities desired, how they heard about you, which newspapers and other local publications they read, etc. Plug the results into a spreadsheet and you’ll begin to discern trends and correlations that will help plan your business.
One Self Storage Talk forum user, ted_deits, operates an upscale RV storage facility named Eucalyptus at Beaumont. He took a survey that indicated his customers cared most about security and the availability of dump stations at the facility. Take a look at his results. You can see how a simple survey guided his decision to add amenities to his facility. It’s how Ted identified the most effective ways to evolve his product.
Product: What makes you stand out?
The product element of vehicle self-storage marketing encompasses everything you do— your service, your physical facility and your amenities. A core concept of product marketing is having a value proposition that makes you stand out. Automobile brands make a great example. Consider these instant brand-value prop associations: Ford = tough, Volvo = safe, Honda = reliable.
Determine the standout feature of your facility (whether that’s low prices or caring service or convenient location), and exploit your competitive advantage in all promotions and every page of your website. In addition to than the fact that your facility is a place to store vehicles, this value proposition should be at the forefront of every communication you put out.
Place: Location affects target market
Most operators don’t have a choice of facility location by the time they decide to add vehicle storage to their list of services. But if you’re in the market to buy or are or developing new self-storage properties, keep in mind that your physical location will determine your target market (thus affecting other marketing factors like place and promotion). If you’re located near a recreational area, such as a park or a lake, you’re more likely to attract RV customers. In that case, outdoor advertising near your facility, including through your own signage, will be one of the most effective promotional means available.
Customers near downtown or in dense suburban areas are more likely to be storing cars or motorcycles. They’ll prefer indoor storage, and might need some extra assurance about the security. We have even had SpareFoot customers call in asking for climate-controlled car storage— of course, we do our best to explain that drive-up access units in traditional facilities can’t be climate-controlled.
Price: Are you a vehicle hostel or a vehicle hotel?
If you’re storing work trailers, old boats and more than a few out-of-commission vehicles, you cannot promote your facility as the place for high-end vehicles. Don’t put a photo of a Maserati on your website if your only vehicle storage space is a dirt lot. You also probably don’t want to advertise in the Arts & Culture section of your local newspaper.
With an improvement to your product, such as adding a dump station or other amenity, you may be able to justify increasing price. Use consumer surveys to guide your way to improving your facility. In the example of Ted’s survey, he determined that in his case, it would be wise to build a dump station before a wash bay, and a wash bay before a children’s play area.
Promotion: Targeting the right people for the most cost-efficient advertising
Your marketing should be uniform in that it all promotes the same product, price and place. Run promotions simultaneously across marketing channels. If you’re doing a free truck rental, this should be boldly stated everywhere from radio spots to fliers to beer cozies. Ask customers how they heard about your special, so you can identify whether it’s the promotion itself or a specific media outlet that is driving volume.
Promotional materials should also convey your value proposition. You want to be able to quickly express to potential customers why they should choose you. List prices for all units, or at least a range of prices for different unit sizes. Your physical address and location information should be clearly identified and search-able. Keep in mind that “the corner of Manchaca and Lamar” is not as convenient as “1100 Lamar Blvd” to those using a GPS or a smart phone to find you. If you have a website, your address and phone number should be clearly listed in plain text so sites like Google and Citysearch can verify your contact information for visitors searching their own directories.
Whether you’re marketing a new facility or using vehicle storage to expand your current market, broadly communicate product, price and place to your target audience to spread the word. Keep these factors in mind as you make marketing decisions with regard to vehicle storage, business storage, student storage and other specialty storage types. Perform research and analysis for each target audience to make the right decisions on these key variables.