As many self-storage operators continue to face stiff competition from major players, it’s critical that they treat their brands just like Apple or McDonald’s would—carefully. And it’s not out of the question for an independent storage operator to carry the brand power of an Apple or a McDonald’s, at least on the local or regional level.
“Brand recognition is becoming very important,” said Marc Goodin, president of Storage Authority, a self-storage franchise company.
“The brand represents how you operate but also gives you the recognition you need in the community.”
—Lindsay Jennings, operations manager at Optivest Properties
He added that customers increasingly are drawn to recognizable brand names that promise consistent experiences, whether you’re in California or Kansas.
Your brand is your business identity, according to Optivest Properties, a self-storage management company that offers its clients branding services under the StoreMore! brand.
“The brand represents how you operate but also gives you the recognition you need in the community,” said Lindsay Jennings, operations manager at Optivest.
How to jump aboard the branding bandwagon
For self-storage operators, branding took on greater importance when advertising moved from the local Yellow Pages to the Internet, said Marc Smith, president of Personal Mini Storage, an Orlando, FL-based storage operator.
On the Internet, REITs gained a big advantage over mom-and-pop facilities, according to Chilton Capital Management’s Self-Storage Playbook. That’s partly because REITs can spend tens of millions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing, spreading the cost over hundreds or thousands of properties, according to the playbook.
“The challenge is, you’re fighting the REITs, who have a lot more resources than the mom-and-pops,” Jennings said.
However, there are three ways a smaller self-storage facility can compete with the big boys in the branding department.
1. Master SEO.
Through search engine optimization, or SEO, make sure your website comes up high in Google search results, Goodin said. For example, he names facilities after the name of the city or town because consumers often Google “storage” plus the name of the community. Optivest runs a facility in Fort Mohave, AZ, called Fort Mohave Storage, and it didn’t rebrand the facility as StoreMore! because the existing name makes sense. “It’s easy to search,” Jennings said.
2. Provide stellar service.
“You can beat the REITs because you can provide higher-quality customer service,” said Goodin, adding that REIT facilities aren’t run or overseen by owners. Jennings agreed: “Branding is important, but your service is more important.”
3. Make your facility look great.
From landscaping to lighting, your facility must be in tip-top shape, since curb appeal matters in shopping for a self-storage facility almost as much as it does in shopping for a home. “It is possible to be successful if you’re not branded,” Smith said. “It just requires some heavier lifting.”
The future of branding
All of that being said, Goodin predicts that over the next 15 years or so, the self-storage industry will go the way of the restaurant and hotel industries.
“The vast majority of self-storage facilities are going to be part of a branded group,” he said. “That’s where this industry is going.”